Network documentation: generally speaking, it’s not for the weak of heart. In its natural state, you’ll generally find it outdated (when you do find it, that […]

Network Documentation: For Whom the Bell Tolls

Network documentation: generally speaking, it’s not for the weak of heart. In its natural state, you’ll generally find it outdated (when you do find it, that […]

Network documentation: generally speaking, it’s not for the weak of heart.

In its natural state, you’ll generally find it outdated (when you do find it, that is). It will probably be dispersed across numerous lackluster spreadsheets and drawings somewhere on your S drive. Always out of sight, never out of mind (how long has it been on your to-do list again?): network documentation is the one that got away…time and time again.

For some, network documentation might as well be the Loch Ness Monster. In fact, we know people who claim it’s a complete myth and simply doesn’t exist. Others claim to have photographs of it (but of course, they can never furnish the evidence when asked). To be a bit more realistic: your network documentation may be a bit like your house’s furnace… you know you need to get it routine maintenance but you put it off – and eventually, you pay for it. Big time.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Imagine this: your network documentation has been collecting dust and rumor is it may not even exist. Enter your manager, in a frenzy. “Drop everything right now,” she says…”Get those network diagrams ready. The Bobs (also a mythical creature until now) are on their way to perform a major audit on – insert random mandate here- compliance. Or, even worse: maybe something just caught fire.

So…everyone starts running around like chickens with their heads cut off in a desperate hunt for sheets, files, and basically anything that will keep the auditors, or the major outage, at bay. When the storm finally winds down (and maybe the lost revenue totals or fines are finally in), you may find yourself and your company in one of two positions:

  1. Nothing Happens
    The first rule of network documentation is…you don’t talk about network documentation. Your files and disparate sheets go back to collecting dust until the next big event.
  2. Bargaining
    There’s a feeling of uneasiness that nobody is comfortable with…so: big ideas are proposed that will “change everything” and processes and guidelines are drawn up that rival the U.S. constitution. Everyone feels good and so does the trainee who ultimately gets the task. And, yeah, eventually the headless chicken thing repeats itself (as do the fines and downtime costs).
  3. Post-Audit/Outage PTSD
    Hypervigilance sets in: enter the so-called “mega” system (usually after a five alarm type situation). It’s not just the missing network documentation that’s the problem: it’s everything. The guys upstairs issue a very expensive RFP for a CRM/BSS/OSS system of monstrous proportions. Expensive consultants are flown in. Deployment takes at least a year (often more) and eventually, everyone ends up with a sore case of buyer’s regret. After sometime, the product becomes shelfware and the headless chicken thing repeats.

There are three things you can count on in life: taxes, death and the need for proper network documentation.

Ok. So the above examples were a bit extreme. Many companies do understand that an important part of an effective IT strategy is effective network documentation. With just a modest budget and a blessing from the guys upstairs, the average IT department can compose a detailed, flexible and user-friendly system that not only automates a great deal of the documentation process but also documents the IT objects that are mission-critical to operations.

Networks are now a critical player in the efficiency and success of business today (and not simply layer 2 and layer 3 networking). There’s been a big increase in the number of teleworkers out there. Simple phones have been replaced by smart ones; laptops are connecting to servers run on virtual machines via VPN tunnels, wireless and so on. On top of all that, a plethora of applications that run on end-user systems and servers, all kinds of database engines, and of course: employees accessing all of this concurrently from all over the world. Needless to say: the resulting picture is not a pretty one.

And what happens when any of the above fails?

The network is to blame.

Well, that’s what your users will say (you know: the ones that are coming at you like zombies in The Night of the Living Dead) because they can’t fill out their all-important TPS report.

Truth is, a proper network documentation not only helps you troubleshoot:

  1. With proper network documentation, you’ll be able to find stranded and underutilized assets (and report on them). According to analysts recent findings, underutilized assets can make up anywhere from 5% to 40% of your IT base (just in case you needed to give someone an ROI justification).
  2. Streamline and improve your capacity planning. Allocation is key, and without a proper inventory of assets, your budget allocation will suffer if there isn’t data on growth rates. With proper network documentation in place, you can actually plan ahead for what needs to be purchased and deployed (and you can avoid purchasing redundant hardware, allocating needless bandwidth that was never actually needed or piling up on VMs).
  3. Reduce your mean-time-to-repair. You don’t need to have a highly sophisticated root-cause-analysis engine…but it should at least paint a portrait of how everything is connected and to what. Know what is impacted and why.

So, unless your corporate network happens to fit in sneaker box…making the case for proper network documentation really is as easy as asking LeBron James to do a layup into a Little Tikes net. Whether you need to design, optimize, plan out for capacity or solve a problem, you need to keep track of how your assets are configured and how they are connected – in an organized system that’s accessible for appropriate stakeholders to access from wherever they happen to be and at any time (with proper permission and security levels).

Jan Durnhofer
Jan Durnhofer
As CEO / Product and Engineering Manager, Jan joined Graphical Networks with the purpose of creating the most advanced DCIM and IT visualization company on the market.

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