Getting GUI with Cisco routers and ConfigMaker 2.5

Does the thought of configuring a Cisco router (via command line) make your eyes well up with tears and your skin crawl? Never fear! Robert McIntire introduces a GUI configuration tool that will take the fear out of this otherwise heinous job.

When it comes to router configuration, some network administrators don’t rank the job among their favorite tasks. It may be because they don’t perform this task very often. Let’s face it—if you don’t do it on a regular basis, it can be a bit daunting.

There is help to get you over this networking hump, though. Rather than spending all that time learning the Cisco command-line interface (CLI), why not use ConfigMaker, Cisco's GUI interface configuration tool? It makes basic router and switch installation and configuration tasks a piece of cake. And the great part is that you can download it free of charge from the Cisco support Web site. In this Daily Feature, I’ll walk through the configuration (or reconfiguration) of a Cisco router with ConfigMaker.

ConfigMaker in action
To evaluate the effectiveness of ConfigMaker, I started with an Internet access router that had already been configured with network address translation (NAT). The Cisco IOS firewall feature set was already installed and configured and the external interface was set up as a DHCP client, acquiring its address from the ISP. First, I backed up this configuration to a TFTP server, and then I erased it from the router NVRAM. Next, I started over with ConfigMaker. On opening the ConfigMaker program, I was pleasantly surprised when I was immediately prompted with an online tutorial.

I gave it a quick spin to see how much actual knowledge the tutorial would provide. The opening screen offers a menu of different configuration options and a Getting Startedsection. Navigation is straightforward and frame contents are clear and concise. Other than a few misspellings, I could find little to criticize. All in all, it is an effective quick-start tool.

ConfigMaker layout

Figure A
The default window is as close to drag-and-drop networking as it gets with Cisco.

The screen is divided into several areas (see Figure A). The Devices window lists Cisco devices that are configurable via ConfigMaker. The Connections area appears below. The large center window displays the network diagram, and a window on the right displays the scrolling index of Help topics, which Cisco calls the Task guide.

I was disappointed to see that there was very limited support for switch configuration but encouraged by the number of router models available, from the basic 800 to the 4000 series. The focus of this tool is definitely low-end to midrange routers. The support for voice device configuration was a surprise. Also, I was happy to find a wizard for auto-detecting network devices. The Connections window displays different forms of WAN and LAN encapsulation and physical connection types. Unfortunately, there appears to be no support for broadband technologies like xDSL, cable, or even T1. The Configuration and Tools menus at the top of the screen contain several interesting items; most useful are the WAN Configuration Worksheets option and the Delivery Configuration option. At the bottom of the screen, there is a status bar that displays information about devices and connections as you progress through the configuration process.

Setting up the router
I started with the auto-detect function. The tricky part with this function is trying to detect and configure a device across the network. In my scenario, it was not a problem because the router had been previously configured. When I deleted the startup configuration, the router continued to run with it in the running configuration, so accessing the router across the network was a breeze. But if I had had a virgin router without any configuration at all, I would either need to use ConfigMaker via a console connection or perform a basic setup on the router beforehand to assign an address to a LAN interface. Essentially, this feature is of limited usefulness when setting up a large network environment with new devices. The auto-detect feature did a good job of reading the existing router configuration, as well as IOS version information.

To configure my router, I added it to the Network Diagram window by clicking on the model in the Devices window and then clicking inside the Network Diagram window. In this case, diagramming the network was a piece of cake because I was only configuring one router. It’s easy to see how handy this tool could be when configuring several devices in a larger network too. A wizard appeared to collect information about how I wanted the router configured. The information collection window seems organized and well laid out, with tabbed menus across the top for task categories. Also, the right side of the window has a context-based status screen that keeps you informed of what needs to be done. I was able to set up password security, protocols, etc. And, while setting up a device, I was able to read the configuration file as I built it.

The next step was to connect the router and the networks in the Network Diagram window. At this point, I was again prompted for information, this time about the connection I had just made. Unfortunately, there was no facility for configuring an interface as a DHCP client. After setting up the inside and outside interfaces, I was able to set up NAT with little difficulty. The firewall configuration went fairly smoothly but fell short when setting up inbound access in conjunction with NAT. When I was finished with the graphical part of the process, I viewed and edited the configuration that I had just built. After a few modifications, I was ready to upload the configuration to the router. The configuration delivery process went off without a hitch. The Delivery Configuration option even rebooted the router when the delivery was complete.

Although it’s great to have a graphic tool to configure network devices, I recommend spending some time learning the basic CLI command modes. ConfigMaker is a wonderful tool in the hands of those with the experience necessary to read a configuration file, understand the contents, and correct potential errors. It is not a replacement for the CLI. It is a good, basic tool for visualizing your network, as you can use it offline with no network devices at all. Accept it for what it is—a tool to get you up and running. It doesn’t support some advanced features but does handle basic necessities. For instance, it won’t assist you with an IOS upgrade. But, on the other hand, it will auto-detect network devices. After using this tool, it becomes easy to see how network designs could be expedited rather quickly through the implementation phase. If you’re interested in such a productivity tool, visit the Cisco support Web site and search for ConfigMaker.

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