A while ago, I bumped into one of my ex-colleagues who now works as a traveling network consultant for a network services company. Among the various topics we discussed over a cup of coffee, photography and networking took the center-stage. My ex-colleague, being always on the move and meeting various clients, also takes great pictures with his favorite smartphone. What he really likes is the geo-tagging feature that documents which pictures he took at a specific place or list of places. He also compares this nifty feature with his network mapping tool that has been his best friend in this line of work—discovering, documenting, analyzing, and troubleshooting networks!
Ping, tracert, and ipconfig are still the most used commands when understanding interconnectivity. But, in this day and age when everything is delivered in an instant, using a manual method of mapping a network, be it simple or complex, looks ‘stone-age’, and can be ruthlessly time consuming.
The usual suspects – still a headache!
He then went on to explain that studying and documenting network infrastructure for his clients, especially in a time crunch, is often extremely difficult. The most common reasons for this were that the clients:
- Didn’t know the importance of network documentation
- Didn’t have their network mapped and documented
- Used a network diagram they had on Visio® that didn’t match the current setup, or was out-of-date
- Had their network mapped in multiple formats—making it extremely difficult to collate, validate, and standardize into one master document
- Had huge gaps in network documentation—probably, an administrator left, and the person that filled-in didn’t continue with the documentation
If the above is true for a small, static network, it isn’t much of a pain. However, it becomes a major headache when a company has to merge into another network or is planning for network expansion.
For example, one of the clients that my ex-colleague worked with had a 300 node network, but the Visio® map that was provided by the client had documented only 120 of them, and was 7 months old. Since my ex-colleague had access to the network mapping software in his laptop, all he had to do was to enter the IP address range, scan and discover the network, customize the maps and then export it to Visio® and PNG, as the client wanted in both the formats.
So, what will give you a head start if you want to accomplish network documentation and mapping, the easy way?
Automate discovery – that’s exactly where you must start!
Network mapping is a three-step process in itself:
- Network discovery – Manual or automated—knowing what’s where
- Mapping – knowing how devices are connected
- Customization, presentation, and reporting—the way you like it
Network consultants, like my ex-colleague, would appreciate an automatic network discovery and diagram software that can automatically discover all devices in the network and map through a variety of discovery methods like SNMP, CDP, ICMP, WMI, or any other standards. For the purpose of documentation, labeling and presentation, the maps can be exported to a variety of formats, including Visio, PNG, and PDF. Exporting the maps to Visio can become handy, especially if the network engineer wants to play with the map and bring it up to his or her liking.
The last question I had for my ex-colleague was “Has mapping with whiteboards and paper become a resource drain? Should we still be doing things the same way we did a decade ago and save costs here and there? Or is it time for more companies to automate network mapping and diagramming?” Of course he believed that network consultants and engineers cannot afford to be laid back, and automating network mapping and documentation is the way to go.
How about you? If you still think whiteboard/paper or any other manual mapping still cut it, give us a holler.