Network documentation/Diagram

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DataCenter
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Microsoft Windows
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I am curious as to how others are documenting their network; both visually and configurations. I am familiar with MS Visio for drawing the network. Are there better options? What about documenting all equiptment? IP addresses? Settings? Changes? I am just using MS Excel/word to create all sorts of lists. Is there a better way? Software? ALL suggestions welcome. Thanks!

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This greatly depends on the complexity of your network. For smaller networks, a notebook with device configuration an electronic backups and Visio drawings is fine. There are even some freeware/shareware applications that can help with the visual part of this.
For security and operations requirements, documentation is very important. IP ranges, protocols used by each application, routing methods, VLANs, etc, should all be documented. If this is a complex network with manning corporate applications, there are some very powerful applications for maping networks, VLANs, protocols, etc. They are also very expensive.
Would need to know more about the scope before a good recommendation could be made. But I recommend maintaining some level of documentation even for small networks. I use a freeware product (be careful which one you download so as not to introduce a security vulnerability) for the small network I maintain for a family business. For my main job, I use several powerful tools from Computer Associates and a few smaller vendors to map and maintain the network.

Discuss This Question: 20  Replies

 
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  • GeekDaddy665
    I used Visio to map the AD groups/containers/etc., and a SQL database with a web-based front-end (intranet only) to do the 'excel sheet' on a bigger, more customizable scale. I work for a school district, so I log things such as UNC name, ip range, vlan, basic hardware, location, etc., My database was made in such a way that the techs, for instance, could sort the list by RAM size, giving them an 'at a glance' look at the machines that need memory upgrades. Same with hard drives, etc., The database interfaces with another database (they both use the same tables) which not only looks at laptops, specifically, but also includes fields for listing the current 'owner' (the teacher/staff responsible for the laptop) so that when the laptop changes hands through official channels, we can keep tabs of where it is. As for the servers themselves (and switches, etc.,), these are listed in a third database and list the static IPs, software, hardware, and a small changelog, among other things. Excel, while powerful, is more difficult to work with in comparison to .asp and a sql server, imho.
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  • Twhite
    Fluke has a program called LAN MapShot that integrates w/ Visio. It does discovery and automatically chooses the correct Visio symbols for devices it recognizes. It also reports IP addresses and draws correct links as to which device(s) are attached to which router, hub, switch, etc. It's not cheap, but definitely less than most of their hardware. Another usefull tool (and a free one) is SpiceWorks IT Desktop (www.spiceworks.com). It doesn't do mapping, but does relay all sorts of detailed and usefull info about desktop machines, servers, printers, switches, etc. and it does it from an auto-discovery depending on the subnet you scan. You can then group the devices depending on physical location, subnet, AD OU's, etc.
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  • Celtic
    Hello, For drawing the network (WITH IP addresses) I would stick with VISIO (used with the official Cisco stensils which you can freely download). As for settings and changes, I think Word/Excel are good tools... You can also use Easy-IP (from www.crypton.co.uk) for IP management if you have large-scale IP allocations. Hope I helped...
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  • Skepticals
    Great info. Thanks for the replies. I work on small to mid-sized networks, but I wanted to get in the habbit now before I start on large-scale networks. It's better to get my system in place now. Thanks for the help.
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  • Meesha
    All great replies. However, sometimes you have to go back a step to understand "why" this is a necessary function and if it should be done to support other corporate objectives. In my case, we need to provide accurate info about all network - N2N, as well as which apps reside on which server and are dependent on which other server, etc. This is for the proper change management process as defined by ITIL Service Delivery and Management. Configuration Databases such as those from BMC, IBM or HP (who just bought Mercury) also have the proper "discovery" tools that fully documents the environment. Although some of these tools are more expensive they also provide better, and automated, discovery, tracking and management of your IT environment. IT Asset Management which Configuration Management is just a part of, is a very important and serious operational function that greatly assists in all forms of compliance. It will go a long way for other areas such as your Help Desk, your support technicians and your SLAs. http://www.bmc.com/ http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/newsroom/press/2006/060725a.html http://www-935.ibm.com/services/us/index.wss/offering/ebhs/a1000318
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  • Meesha
    All great replies. However, sometimes you have to go back a step to understand "why" this is a necessary function and if it should be done to support other corporate objectives. In my case, we need to provide accurate info about all network - N2N, as well as which apps reside on which server and are dependent on which other server, etc. This is for the proper change management process as defined by ITIL Service Delivery and Management. Configuration Databases such as those from BMC, IBM or HP (who just bought Mercury) also have the proper "discovery" tools that fully documents the environment. Although some of these tools are more expensive they also provide better, and automated, discovery, tracking and management of your IT environment. IT Asset Management which Configuration Management is just a part of, is a very important and serious operational function that greatly assists in all forms of compliance. It will go a long way for other areas such as your Help Desk, your support technicians and your SLAs. http://www.bmc.com/ http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/newsroom/press/2006/060725a.html http://www-935.ibm.com/services/us/index.wss/offering/ebhs/a1000318
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  • ShadowDBA
    These were excellent replies but did anyone mention the ability to create custom properties with visio for the different Master shapes. This gives you the ability to use the default properties (IP address, Computer Name, Default Gateway, etc...) for the shapes as well as the ability to create your own. This functionality will also let you create reports(which can be exported out to other formats)and allow you to create shapes based of the report information to summarize within your drawings.
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  • Jjuliannc
    Even though I use Visio and MSAccess to document my environment I have recently reviewed a product from/called SpiceWorks that may at least take the place the non-visual side of the documentation. Auto-Discovery of various types of network devices with Alerting/Reporting and custom Asset documentation capabilities. I recommend a review. Aideme
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  • SlimDude
    I run linux on all my boxes in the home office now. I use Cheops-NG to document both mine and clients networks. It does discovery with OS detection and so on and draws a really nice diagram. It's also free. Cheers, Slim
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  • Lsholland
    I know much has been said on this topic but I have a few other thoughts: I use Visio. But one diagram obvious does not suffice. To have a complete "big picture" and detailed view of your network I decided you need to have a couple of visio drawings: 1. Security topology, this is an "overview" including IP addresses, subnets, VLAN's, and routing information. 2. Data, including where your volumes of data are, how they are being replicated and/or backed up and frequency. 3. Servers, including their locations, functions, and applications. (I like to include Memory for each server) 4. Switch topology, a general overview of how/where your switches are setup and where workstations, servers, are plugged in. This corresponds to your security topology if you have DMZ zones etc. 5. Disaster recovery topology, a topology showing how your network is setup (at a remote site for example) if your main network were to go down. Anyway, this is obviously very general and varies from network to network. Have a good set of Visio's with excel spread sheets outlining DNS records and public records etc., can give you a "big picture" which is essential for decision making on a large scale.
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  • Skepticals
    [...] I have recently reviewed a product from/called spiceworks that may at least take the place ...http://itknowledgeexchange.techtarget.com/itanswers/network-documentationdiagram/Daily IT Matters DIM: November 2006Spiceworks 2.0. How to restore a file in a DFSroot with [...]
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  • Juanete
    As many posters responded here, it depends on the complexity of the network. For simple networks (a few dozen servers) Visio will do. It soon becomes a nightmare once you need to automate the process a step further as Visio is inherently a manual drawing tool. For years I have used netViz, a Computer Associated product, which has the ability to import information from databases and automates the process further. Unfortunately the product is not available for purchasing anymore. There is a new product from Graphical Networks called netTerrain that maps out the topology of the Network as well as the physical and Data Center Infrastructure Management.
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  • Chippy088
    I use angryip to search the lan networks for all the info, and export it to excel. Then visio is used to provide the visual network drawing, with the imported data from excel to complete the device template. It just depends on what you are comfortable using, really. i have to agree, it is time consuming, but it becomes second nature after a while. If the documentation is electronically stored, some form of import and manipulation is possible, to ease the work load.
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  • ServiceManagementSpecialist
    All great answers Many Service Management Tools (Software) allow the above mentioned components to be stored as Configuration Items within a CMDB (Configuration Management Database). You may wish to check out what is available as there are plenty of options around. The benefit of managing these components as CI's in a CMDB is allows easier overall management including management of changes, and many CMDB's allow you to store related network designs etc. Good Luck!
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  • Jaideep Khanduja
    So many options are there, check with your network vendor to guide you.
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  • Yasir Irfan
    I am using Visio to document my network, use CDP neighbors if you network consists Cisco devices. SMART draw is good tool as well, before there was an application called LAN surveyor which used to draw the network layout automatically, recently solar winds acquired LAN Surveyor.
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  • mitrum
    I use spiceworks
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  • PainPoint
    Try OPNET's NetMapper - has price options for both large and medium networks. This is the only solution I know that actually automates the collection and creation, has fantastic layer 2, 3 and routing views, and outputs in Visio for futher manipulation (although you will unlikely not need it). It is also designed to keep these diagrams up to date as the network changes.
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  • JefferyLiao
    I have been using a great tool NetBrain to automatically create the map and other network documentations. NetBrain allows you to create a map instantly from a set of configuration files, map the application path between two end points, create the map for a network site or you can map around an IP address. It supports both Layer 3 map and Layer 2 map. Besides mapping, it provides many amazing features to support the automatic documentation and troubleshooting with a surprising low prize. I love this product and you should try it out. They have free personal edition for mapping, the Operation Edition we are using now are really powerful and I cannot manage my network without it. http://www.netbraintech.com
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  • thongtarget21
    Thanks for all the info!
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