Network engineers and administrators are no strangers to restrictive budgets and the need to get creative in order to resolve network headaches. As a result, if you’ve met one network engineer with a small budget’s attempt at network documentation, that’s just it: you’ve met just one network engineer and learned about just one method for cheap or no-cost network documentation. There are probably as many creative ways to document the network as there are networks out there.
Because there are so many creative approaches to network documentation, let’s rule out what doesn’t constitute network documentation.
The following is an incomplete list of what network documentation is not:
- A network monitoring (NMS) solution: this is not network documentation. Diagrams created in an NMS tool are lacking in needed details. As, for example, monitoring solutions are only able to give you the the elements they discover, this means that devices from other vendors, patch panels, devices using other protocols, cabling, elements that aren’t discoverable, and more are not able to be documented.
Further, the diagrams from an NMS tool aren’t exactly easy-to-understand or easy-to-act-on.
Solutions like Wiki, GoogleDocs, SharePoint, and AutoCad: these are not network documentation. Though many creative solutions for trying to stay on top of the network have been improvised using solutions like SharePoint or AutoCad, here’s the hard truth: they’re not giving you true network documentation. Yes, AutoCad allows you to get very detailed — but you’re not trying to create artistic renditions of the network: you need real-time and reliable information that’s easy and fast to locate. You can’t get that with beautiful AutoCad drawings.
Spreadsheets, Visio, and Wiki: nope, not documentation. Yes, if the network fits in a shoebox, the above may constitute network documentation for you. Most likely, your network has never been able to fit in a shoebox and attempting to keep your organization’s network that has more than 100 nodes up-to-date is an impossible task with spreadsheets, Visio, and Wiki.
Today’s networks are in a state of constant evolution: teams need to be able to respond quickly to issues and work collaboratively. Only having visualizations of the network won’t cut it for true documentation and neither will having rows and columns of devices and inventories without the graphical context needed to make sense of them.