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Network documentation and why it matters

NetworkTigers on the value of network documentation.

High-quality system administration requires a deep knowledge of network behavior and detailed network documentation. However, network documentation is often overlooked and IT teams may regret their failure to document processes and network details when rebuilding systems following a cyberattack or network crash.

What is network documentation?

Network documentation comprises system diagrams, records, hardware information, software configurations, and network connections. It may also include information related to hardware troubleshooting, customer support contact information, and the names and contact information of the team members recording information on any given day. 

Network documentation provides an administrative team with a reference blueprint of a network’s structure and operations and valuable information for upgrades, expansions, migrations, or recovery. The more organized and detailed network documentation is, the easier it is to repair or recreate a network system, resulting in less downtime.

How does good network documentation help?

Superior network visibility

  • Diagrams. Visual representations of a network’s connections allow administrators an overview of a system’s infrastructure and topology. A simple visual aid’s effectiveness in network rebuilding can be tremendously helpful in high-pressure situations such as system recovery.
  • Inventory. Records and paperwork associated with network components such as routers, servers, and switches allow insight into network hardware. This encompasses everything from warranty information and customer service contacts to specifications that can assist in making resource allocation and usage decisions.

Greater network optimization

  • Performance data. Monitoring the performance of a system and keeping records gives an administrator the data they need to see what is working efficiently and where bottlenecks or misguided allocations may be present. Using this data, a network’s operations can be fine-tuned at a granular level for maximum efficiency.
  • Resource capacity. An IT team can more accurately anticipate how, why, and when specific resources may be spread thin or improperly allocated when they have documentation to consult. Good record-keeping and notes allow for tighter capacity planning. 

Easier troubleshooting

  • Issue resolution. Having detailed records of typical network behavior and connections makes it much easier to solve problems through elimination. Instead of casting a wide net and scrambling to track down an issue, an administrator can quickly determine where a problem may originate from and make informed decisions on how to remedy it.
  • Trending problems. Keeping accurate records allows IT teams to take note of issues that may have occurred in the past and address them accordingly. Downtime and costs increase when people have to perform the same troubleshooting tasks each time a recurring problem rears its head.

Less stressful disaster recovery

  • Backups. Including detailed backup procedures within your network documentation protects data from being lost in the event of a system crash or cyberattack. Having a step-by-step road to recovery can relieve stress, get a system back online with minimal downtime, and allow IT teams to focus time and energy on the finer points of the process.
  • Recovery plans. Network documentation is useful when building a recovery plan. Taking note of a system’s behavior, quirks, and prioritizations can restore operational status with minimal roadblocks or hiccups.

Network documentation best practices

Following a few simple practices can ensure your network documentation is valuable and reliable when it is needed.

Be consistent

Develop and adhere to a note-taking system that remains consistent over time. Deviating from known shorthand, list formatting, and templates can confuse when records need to be compared.

Consistency is even more critical among teams. Members must maintain their records using the same format to allow others to understand their data. This level of consistency is also helpful if an outside consultant needs to examine network behavior or if a team member changes roles or leaves the company and is no longer available to explain their procedure.

Be accurate

Don’t underestimate the importance of detail. Keep track of everything from firmware versions and IP addresses to update schedules and hardware vendor/support data. Missing information can result in time and money spent tracking down the minutiae. As long as records are neatly kept and easy to navigate, having more information than needed is better than having too little.

Keep your records updated

Network documentation should be updated constantly and consistently. Record gaps can leave administrators in the dark without knowing what may have transpired. Records documenting periods when nothing remarkable seems to happen are still helpful, as every nuance of a network’s behavior has relevancy.

Make sure documentation is accessible 

Keep your records accessible to those who have authorized access. Jumping through hoops to check documentation negates the benefits of keeping detailed logs and is an unwelcome bottleneck during an emergency.

Cloud storage solutions allow IT teams access to records no matter their location and are a good choice, provided that security measures are in place that prevent unauthorized access that could result in disorganization, theft, or vandalization of network data.

Keep staff on the same page

Regularly update staff on note-taking procedures to keep network documentation consistent and organized. New team members should be trained in the manner in which an organization documents, as well as how to read and browse existing records.

Invest in automation tools

Tools and programs that automate network documentation can significantly facilitate the process. Wherever possible, configure your system so that nothing slips through the cracks and all records are kept in a central location that can be searched and consulted without hassle.

Just as network automation saves time and money, documentation automation frees teams up for other tasks and, when correctly set up, eliminates much of the risk of human error when it comes to detailed reporting.

Derek Walborn
Derek Walborn
Derek Walborn is a freelance research-based technical writer. He has worked as a content QA analyst for AT&T and Pernod Ricard.

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Network documentation and why it matters