Ah, Visio: it’s been around since the dawn of man…or 1992 to be exact. It’s one of the most widely used tools for diagramming the network, even though it’s not a network-specific documentation tool.
1. Maintaining your network via Visio diagrams is time-consuming: there’s no easy way to ensure your diagrams stay current other than via your manual efforts.
2. Being able to see the relationships between your diagrams is immensely helpful when you’re managing the network. Visio doesn’t give you this ability.
3. Clear delineation between physical and logical diagrams is essential to proper network documentation. Visio doesn’t offer this.
If you ever have to troubleshoot the network, Visio diagrams don’t have the detail and accuracy you need to respond to network issues in a timely way and get them fixed fast (so you can go home on time and not miss another soccer game). Visio can help if you’re starting small…but, when you need to document more, it’s not a good solution for the above reasons. The network is constantly changing, and the people who manage networks need up-to-date information – not static diagrams. The network is constantly growing — you need scalable documentation that makes growing up easy. The network isn’t just logical – you need to be able to see both your logical and physical networks as needed.
Excel is frequently used for documenting the network. To get started with Excel for network documentation, you have to invest a great deal of time and energy. And, truth be told, you can achieve some fairly detailed and impressive documentation using just spreadsheets. That being said, how much time does it take to achieve that? How long does it take to update it?
What happens when you need network information in a jiffy? How long does it take to get answers when something’s down, the phone’s ringing off the hook, and your daughter’s expecting you at her soccer game at 5?
Though the effort to document with spreadsheets alone really can yield worthwhile results in the end, using Excel as your documentation can lead to headaches in the long run.
1. It’s a manual process: this leads to errors that can come back to haunt you at some critical point in your work.
2. Spreadsheets are not visual — the network pro is tasked with looking at data on a spreadsheet and doing the visualization in their head. This is almost an impossible task when you need to find the physical location of a connection point but you have a sheet showing your patch panel connections and then another one showing switch ports.
Combining Visio and Excel
Because, as we just discussed, Visio and Excel come with considerable inadequacies when it comes to documenting the network, many folks end up using a combination of the two.
It makes sense at first glance. Afterall, Visio can give you the visualization that spreadsheets don’t. Spreadsheets give you the level of detail that Visio can’t. A marriage made in heaven? Not so fast: while documentation that’s a combo of the two tools may sound good on paper, and may even give you more detailed and usable documentation than just using Visio or Excel, ultimately it can lead to even bigger headaches in the end.
You’re left dealing with the shortcomings of both tools — and your information is even more disconnected.
Beyond documenting with Visio and Excel, various organizations try other methods for network documentation. Other methods include:
- Simply not documenting the network (if that could be called a “method” rather than a death wish)
- Relying on everyone’s favorite coworker BOB: who knows everything about the network
- Post-it notes here and there (yes, we’ve heard tales of documentation attempts on post-its)
- Hieroglyphics (this one’s a joke…we think)
The problem with not documenting the network is when something goes very wrong and you really need that documentation, or there’s an audit coming up, or a compliance issue, etc.
The problem with Bob is…well: he’s probably going to retire soon.
The problem with post-it notes, or piecemeal documentation, is self-explanatory.