What is IPAM?

No IP address, no network. And no network equals no business, so let's make sure we have good IPAM.

Feb 25th, 2021

Here we are. IPAM. The epic conclusion to my DDI explanation magnum opus is the crowning achievement of the succulent blog series, ' What is DDI?'. Okay, so:

Everything is IP address management.

There. We done? You happy? No? <sigh> okay, let's take a closer look.

Ladies and gents, this is the moment you've waited for

IP addresses are the fundamental building blocks of a network. No IP address means no network activity. (Technically speaking, if it doesn't have an IP address, it's not part of the network, period.) But why manage them? For the same reason you need to know how much money is left in your bank account, how much charge is in your electric car's batteries; the examples could fill this blog so let's just leave it at those.

IP addresses come in two flavors: IPv4 and IPv6. Managing them is crucial in both cases, but for different reasons. As if they're two sides of the coin, the latter is all about the problems that come with overabundance, and the former is the stark opposite. We have enough IPv6 addresses (theoretically) to assign a unique one to every atom (!) on the Earth's surface. IPv4, on the other hand, are scarce: we've run out of the publicly available IPv4 addresses at 15:35 (UTC+1) on 25 November 2019.

Thus, no matter the type of pool you're wading in (smart wordplay <pats himself on the head>), you'll need IP address management.

Enter the Greatest Showman (of Network Management): IPAM.

Honey, I shrunk the network!

Not keen on musicals? Okay, how about 80s comedies with Rick Moranis? (No, not Spaceballs. No, not Ghostbusters either. Wow, he was in a lot of them.)

While IPv4 and IPv6 present very different challenges for IPAM, the function stays the same. Put it simply, IPAM ensures your company's network can support any number of connections needed to do whatever it is you do. Maybe you have dozens of printers. Maybe you have hundreds of people carrying laptops, smartphones, and tablets every day to the office. Every connected device needs an IP address, needs to give it back when it's no longer using it, and the whole affair needs to be smoothly operated and secure. Order all that in a Starbucks, and it'll stump the barista more than the "Double Ristretto Venti Half-Soy Nonfat Decaf Organic Chocolate Brownie Iced Vanilla Double-Shot Gingerbread Frappuccino Extra Hot With Foam Whipped Cream Upside Down Double Blended, One Sweet'N Low and One Nutrasweet, and Ice." (This, unlike many other things in this series, is not a joke.)

My point here is: you can't just dump an IP address pool into the network and go about your day. Either you have too many IP addresses and need to establish limits or don't have enough and need to establish different limits. Good IPAM needs good rules and good visibility, or it's not good IPAM. (Bad IPAM also does a Number Two on the office floor, and you have to clear that up. Bad IPAM! Bad!)

IPAM, you pam, we pam

Oh, the 80s! (An alternative for this headline was "Everybody was IPAM'ing" just to keep the retro vibe going.) Innocent times, when the internet was a dorky college thing, enterprise networks were simpler than your average wifi network in a single college grad's studio apartment today, and the music was better. (That last one may be debatable. Don't @ me.)

Most of the network technologies we use today were also invented in the 80s. Although they have evolved since, it's still worth noting that they were created in and for a very different network culture. And tech bubbles or not, the whole "let's connect everything to the network whether it needs it or not" (yes, I'm looking at you, internet-connected toasters) kinda snuck up on them.

Back in the day (<insert 'old man yells at clouds to get off his lawn' gif> IPAM was able to get away with a bunch of Post-Its on the frame of the IT admin's screen. Eventually, of course, it became "sophisticated," and people started using spreadsheets…

… and they still are today. Not everyone, and thankfully less and less, but if I told you the number of serious people from serious companies I meet at trade shows who still have their IPAM data in a spreadsheet, you'd be shocked. Sure, technically, IPAM is about manipulating a spreadsheet. Then again, technically, the internal combustion engine is making tiny explosions to propel your car forward.

IPAM software exists for a reason. That reason is that the complexity and sophistication of networks are not only increasing but compounding. And that's a conservative statement; put IoT and 5G and cloud/edge into the mix, and we have a whole other ballgame. The sheer number of IP addresses we need to manage day-by-day, even in the limited realm of IPv4, is staggering.

You need IPAM. Everybody who runs a network needs IPAM, preferably one that can automate most of its operation while overseeing a diverse range of platforms and locations your company uses.

Everything is IPAM

At the end of the day, everything is IPAM. DHCP is just a higher-level abstraction and technical automation of it, while DNS makes whatever magic DHCP does into a human-readable abstraction.

Yes, both these statements are a gross oversimplification, but that doesn't make them any less accurate on the base level. As I said: no IP address, no network. And no network equals no business, in most cases, so let's make sure we have good IPAM. (And also good DHCP and good DNS.)