Network Discovery and Mapping – it isn’t that difficult

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About a week ago, I bumped into one of my ex-colleagues who now works as a network architect & consultant for a network services company. Among the various topics we discussed, networking being our common topic of interest, we really got into how things were 10 years ago, and how much networking technology has changed since then.

At one point he mentioned, “You know, we still use whiteboards and paper to map out our network.” Ping, tracert, and ipconfig are still his best friends when understanding interconnectivity! Needless to say, I was a bit surprised. Especially since that’s exactly how we were mapping a decade ago.

The usual suspects – still a headache!

He then went on to explain that studying and documenting network infrastructure for his clients, especially in a time crunch, was many times extremely difficult. The most common reasons for this were that the clients:

  • Didn’t have their network mapped and documented
  • Had huge gaps in network documentation—probably, an administrator left, and the person that filled-in didn’t continue with the documentation
  • Had their network mapped in multiple formats—making it extremely difficult to collate, validate, and standardize into one master document
  • Used a network diagram they had on Visio that didn’t match the current setup, or was out-of-date

If the above is true for a small, static network, it isn’t much of a pain. However, it becomes a major headache when a company has to merge into another network or is planning for network expansion.

Automate discovery – that’s where I’d start!

Network mapping is a three-step process in itself:

  1. Network discovery – Manual or automated knowing of what’s where
  2. Mapping – knowing how devices are connected
  3. Presentation & reporting – the way you like it

Network consultants, like my ex-colleague, would appreciate a software that can automatically discover and map the network through a variety of discovery methods like SNMP, CDP, ICMP, WMI, or any other standards. For the purpose of documentation, labeling and presentation, the maps can be exported to a variety of formats including Visio, PNG and PDF.

The last question I had for my friend was “Has mapping with whiteboards and paper become a resource drain? Should we still be doing things the same way we were a decade ago? Or is it time for more companies to automate network mapping and diagramming?” Of course he believed that it was time to automate due to the many headaches he’s endured from the old way. How about you? Do you think whiteboard and paper still cut it when it comes to network mapping? Or is software the way to go?



Narendran Vaideeswaran

Naren is a Web enthusiast, and has been in the technology space for over a decade. Started off as a network engineer for a large multi-national bank, and scaled out to marketing IT products, both small and enterprise-class.

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1 Comment

  1. Martin Lehner July 30, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    The problem is that most companies don’t want to invest in an expensive network mapping software. The good ones, like the one you linked to from SolarWinds, is fairly expensive.

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