Another point to discuss and clarify. When someone is trying to install a piece of software for network management, and having an issue, should that be on or off topic?

Even though it is more of a server type question, it directly relates to something a network engineer may need to do and could run into as part of their job.

For instance, see this Q.

4 Answers 4


Originally, I thought Craig hit the nail on the head.

This Q is primarily about Puppet. If it was primarily about using puppet to do something net eng related, then I feel it would be on topic.

However, I don't think it's that clear cut in practice.

In this particular instance, the OP would likely have received a decent answer on both SF and here. However, imagine a situation where a user is using a management tool like Puppet, Chef etc., but the problem lay in the configuration of the network device they were trying to manage.

That question would ideally be a prime candidate for here, NE, rather than SF; network device configuration is our domain ("man"), not theirs.

It's almost impossible (IMO) to expect the user to determine (accurately) for themselves whether the problem lay in their network device (i.e. "ask on NE") or the tool configuration ("generally ask on SF"). Therefore, if we say yes to some but not others, I expect to open the doors en-mass to off-topics being posted on both sites (well, not off-topics but better suited for the other), and huge user confusion.

Using management tools to manage a network is an network engineering issue, and with all this considered, I think they should be on topic on here.


Broadly (very broadly speaking), a question about using puppet to do NE tasks is certainly on-topic here. If the problem is actually how to get puppet to go, it is on-topic here, and I wouldn't migrate it to SF, but it could be asked on SF as well.


For any disciplines there are some problems which are strictly intra-area and some problems which have inter-area bleed and can benefit from opinion of experts from both areas.

I don't believe it's necessary to find exactly one destination for every question, I hope we can accept that some question are acceptable in both areas.

Networking people also tend to have forced generalism in them, since we are often the ones who are at fault, until we've proven to fault to be elsewhere.

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    I agree on all counts, but I also share @Matt's concern above - how do we keep the bleed from turning into a hemorrhage? Commented May 25, 2013 at 7:01
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    Fair point. I wish I'd have good answer. Is it crucial that the rules are set early and set to stone? Or is it possible to be bit more relaxed on beta and then if we're above certain questions/day rate review to more strict?
    – ytti
    Commented May 25, 2013 at 7:10
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    It's a hard problem to solve, but I think when the site is in a beta stage, we can probably afford to be a little more relaxed, but no so much so as to also turn folks away when we move out of beta (and start to get more questions per day) and we have to "crack down". It's a learning process for everybody involved, and at least that's a good thing. Commented May 25, 2013 at 16:52

Installing the server itself, the OS, or prerequisite software for the NMS or the NMS itself: off topic. This applies to troubleshooting any of the aforementioned activities as well.

Once the NMS itself is actually deployed and operational, this does get into a grey area.

Question about non-obvious error message you saw in your NMS? Probably off topic - contact the vendor (or community if it's open source). Is there a chance that someone here has seen the error? Yeah, sure, but going back to the looking glass question, this shouldn't be the default place to come and get operational support.

edit: If you've done your homework and have exhausted all other possible avenues, and/or you don't have a support contract, it could be considered on-topic.

Question about best practices for deploying an NMS? Probably on-topic, but the author should be careful so as to not ask the question in a way that leaves it "more open" to discussion. Here is a somewhat decent example.

See that your NMS supports SNMPv3? Don't know what that is? Definitely on topic.

Question on how to configure a Juniper/Cisco/Brocade/whatever for SNMPv3? Definitely on topic.

There are probably other good examples, but with respect to the linked question, I think it's easy to make the mistake of thinking that it's on topic if the OP has zero experience with Puppet or Ruby.

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    I am personally split on how which way this should go. I do have a concern with saying "once the NMS itself is actually deployed and operational." That concern is which community is more likely to have seen this or a similar error while installing/running an NMS and be able to provide an answer? While SF may speak to the answer better in a general sense, NE might be better able to speak to the answer specifically. I can see it either way.
    – YLearn
    Commented May 24, 2013 at 20:44
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    I'm not so sure that non-obvious error messages should be considered off topic (although I also agree this site shouldn't become the default place to come to get operational support). Error messages are an everyday occurrence to everyone, and provided it isn't a self descriptive message, or well documented (either in official documentation or locateable via simple Google), I don't see why we shouldn't support such questions; such that the next person to come across the error can get an easy answer.
    – Matt
    Commented May 24, 2013 at 21:51
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    You and @YLearn have valid points, I guess my concern is keeping the quality of the questions and answers high. There are always exceptions - it's one thing to post a specific question (regarding an error message or something else) and note that you've exhausted all possible avenues - I think that this would be more common with open source products. But chances are if you've paid for a COTS NMS you should have also paid for a support contract, and you should use it. But I do agree with the "pay it forward" concept. Commented May 25, 2013 at 2:13
  • @JohnJensen So are you saying that someone's question that's strictly about management software for devices, and not the devices directly, shouldn't be on topic? For instance, let's say.. "When I make a change in ASDM, how do I determine what commands it ran on the ASA?" Commented May 25, 2013 at 6:28
  • I'd consider your example question to be on topic (but I wouldn't say that it was strictly about management software). There was a recent Q that the user deleted about wanting to know how to set up a RADIUS server on Ubuntu in order to use it with his Cisco switches. The question itself was about setting up RADIUS on Ubuntu. IMO, this is off-topic. However, if the user had specific questions about Ubuntu RADIUS server compatibility with Cisco switches, or Cisco RADIUS configuration assistance, IMO that would be on topic. Commented May 25, 2013 at 6:51
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    @JohnJensen: Completely agree with you about the necessity for high quality posts. I guess the type of error-message questions I'd like to see accepted on your site (from your comment) are those from open-source products, and also from those people who have COTS products, and have exhausted all other support channels (Google, useless response from support, or no contract). Asked in the right format (clear description of error, proof of prior research) etc, I can see these questions being of high value due to their usefulness amongst the community.
    – Matt
    Commented May 25, 2013 at 11:41
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    @JohnJensen, you do realize that probably at least half of the Q's (coservative estimate) could be covered by your "paid for a support contract" stance as it would apply beyond NMS products? How many people running Cisco/Juniper/HP/Brocade/et al don't have a support contract. Today, support is not what is used to be and I think we all know this (ask anyone who dealt with Cisco TAC pre-2000 and today how they feel). Sometimes it is simply faster to go outside support channels and I don't think this community will suceed if we only go with questions if we hold them to a standard that high.
    – YLearn
    Commented May 25, 2013 at 14:07
  • Re: the RADIUS server question. I saw that one and would consider it be off topic as RADIUS has far more application that just networking and is used in many ways. The Q was also very general, covered by easily found documentation (all RADIUS servers have an install guide of some sort), and is not a complex subject that would confuse someone who had looked at such documentation. I agree we need to have a quality level to questions and when the OP clearly hasn't tried at all on a topic then those Q's should be closed but definitely commented on
    – YLearn
    Commented May 25, 2013 at 14:14
  • @YLearn, I do agree with you about support not being what it used to be. But take this question for example. Is it on topic? Sure. Is it lacking too much information to make it a good question? Yes. This goes back to my bleed vs. hemorrhage point - sure, outside support channels can be faster and awesome, but if we welcome every single question about NMS's/equipment/etc down the pike, then we turn into the default support channel. Commented May 25, 2013 at 16:39
  • There's an inherent "conflict of interest" between actually getting the community off the ground/established and also ensuring that the questions and answers asked are quality and relevant to network engineering. I'd like to think that there's a middle ground. Ultimately I guess what I'd settle for is that any potential question on an NMS will indicate that the person asking it has done their homework before asking it. Commented May 25, 2013 at 16:47
  • I personally am more concerned about what is considered on or off topic. I think the structure of these sites already has mechanism to take care of the low quality Q/A's by the community down voting, commenting, and/or editing. The post you mention already proves this as it is at a -2.
    – YLearn
    Commented May 25, 2013 at 17:39

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