We  spend so much time on the network side of things, dealing with IP  addresses, URL’s, MAC’s etc. that often the physical location of a  device is all but forgotten.  When things are going well, this isn’t  much of a problem.  We know that all the devices are out there somewhere, tethered  to the rack of switches.  But what happens when things aren’t going so  great?   Port tracking software bridges the gap between the network and  physical world.  Below are a few scenarios that illustrate the value of  knowing where things are and sometimes, where things were.

Bad Machines

Security  issues and rogue devices present a formidable challenge to the  unprepared team.  If a machine is flagged as having a virus or malware,  and only an IP or MAC is given, what is the quickest method to deal with  the problem?  Yanking the power cord would be the most direct action,  but first you’d have to physically find that device.  Knowing what  IP/MAC/Hostname is attached to each switch port at this moment would  prove most beneficial.  In fact, you wouldn’t even have to get up from  your desk.  Just log into the correct switch, and disable the port for  the offender.  The same method would apply to deal with a rogue or other  unknown device.  Once the IP or MAC has been detected on the network,  it can then be traced to the current switch port, which ultimately leads  to a physical drop.  Won’t they be surprised how fast the IT Police  show up after plugging in their personal wi-fi router?

Lost Assets

Misplaced  or lost devices introduce another problem that can be easily solved by  integrating the network and physical worlds.  How often has a computer  been “borrowed” from a department, never to be returned?  As with the  previous example, the current physical location of the missing device  can be determined with a simple lookup of the MAC or Hostname.  But what  if this machine was used briefly, turned off, cast aside, and forgotten  about in some dark corner of a lab?  If our port tracking software  keeps historical data as well, we can discover the last known location  of the device, which will give us a good lead in finding it now.

Digital needle in the haystack

Saving  historical switch port data gives us one more twist, and that is  rewinding the network a few months to find out who or what was  responsible for an event in the past.  Perhaps it took a few days or  weeks of analysis in order to spot a trend that points back to something  that needs attention.  Or maybe a law enforcement agency is asking for  help in identifying an individual responsible for some online  activities, and all they have to offer is an IP address from the past.   At this point, you can either pore through old DHCP logs, or ask your  port tracking software for the history of this IP address.  This can be  correlated with a MAC or hostname, which will point to an individual.


Switch Utilization

An  additional benefit of all this switch port monitoring is that it gives  you the opportunity to view switch utilization in a concise and  consolidated fashion.  A rack full of switches and cables may look  “full”, but just how many ports are in use?  How many have never been  used?  Vendor-agnostic port tracking software can easily display which  ports are currently in use.  A glance at this information will let you  know what switches are operating at or near port capacity.  Click on a  “dark” port to see when it was last used, or if it has ever been used at  all.  Reclaim enough ports on the rack and perhaps a new switch  purchase can be delayed.  Don’t forget the switch’s own CPU and memory  utilization.  As long as you’re monitoring all these ports, might as  well query these values to make sure none of the equipment is overloaded  another way.


Here  at SolarWinds, we recognize that these scenarios can represent a lot of  frustration and needless effort for an IT staff not properly equipped.   Clearly an affordable, effective tracking tool is needed so that these  problems will be solved with just a few mouse clicks. Would you like to see what we're working on?

Finding where devices are connected in your network