Resources, Tips and Knowledge

Introduction: Are Visio & Excel Driving You Crazy?

The problem: chaos, growing networks, not enough information about them

Paying taxes and network documentation have a lot in common: you want to avoid it, put it off entirely, evade it…but, eventually, you’re going to have to do it.

Network administrators and engineers across the world are still using Visio and Excel to document the network. It makes sense, at first glance: they’re widely available tools that many or most organizations already have on hand. There isn’t a sizable learning curve. The files are easy to share and access.

However, if you are using these two top tools for network documentation, you’re probably not exactly over the moon with how these tools are helping you solve your network headaches.

The state of network documentation for many organizations is, at best, a tedious one: spreadsheets somewhere on your S drive. Your coworker’s brain. Visio diagrams somewhere else. It’s a little too easy to forget about network documentation and move on to other projects that seem to have a bigger priority at the moment.

We humans are good at this: we put off oil changes or furnace maintenance and think we’ll get to it. Sometimes we do get to it, sometimes we don’t get to it, and sometimes we don’t get to it and things go awry.

Chaos Theory

The problem with letting your network documentation accumulate dust is this: eventually, your boss is going to need you to have that network information that documentation would give you. Maybe there’s an audit. Maybe there’s a major outage. Perhaps there’s a compliance issue.  You have to drop everything and scrounge around for whatever archaic documentation you have laying around the network.

It’s not a good situation.

Once the fire of the moment is put out, the next steps go something like this:

1. Back to Normal

Everything goes back to normal. It’s that simple. There aren’t any attempts to document the network to stave off future heartache. Everyone is all too relieved to say “that’s behind us” and continue business as usual…until, of course, the next disaster.

2. Change is Discussed

Once the crisis has ended, folks start talking about how to avoid another big disaster.  People are feeling positive, and everyone has an attitude that this is a learning and improvement experience. Eventually, the talks fade away…and…well, see the item directly above this one.

3. Trauma Response

Unlike the above two items, in this one: there’s organizational trauma. A gigantic, enterprise-grade system is purchased — and everyone is tasked with rolling up their sleeves and taking on this mammoth project ASAP. A huge purchase order is sent out…and implementation begins. It turns out that the expensive solution is unwieldy, restrictive, and getting in the way of actual work. Eventually, things quiet down, documentation keeps getting put off until the consultant can fix this or that thing…and then, boom: see the first item. 

Even if the examples above are extreme, the sentiment is the same:  most companies just don’t take the need to document the network seriously…and it comes back to bite them in the end…and again…and again.