Let’s See Your Papers!


Documentation is the most important tool you have when it comes to troubleshooting network problems. It is something you have to do BEFORE you have network problems. Primarily I mean a Network Topology.

What is a topology?

Dictionary.com defines a topology as:

The arrangement in which the nodes of a LAN are connected.

Basically that is a map of all your key devices on your network.

Why is a topology so important?

If and when you have network problems that require you to get outside help, you will likely get a request for your topology. You may be asked for your network map or your VISIO (which is a Microsoft Office product used to create a topology). If you don’t have a topology already created you may have just added and hour or more onto your bill. In this day and age of budget reductions, at $100-$200 per hour that is a costly mistake that could have been easily avoided.

If you can’t quickly and easily produce a map of your network how can someone unfamiliar with your network get started troubleshooting your network? By having that map to submit to your 3rd party consultant they can review it prior to arriving onsite; reducing the onsite support time and reducing the overall cost of the downtime.

What goes on a topology?

The key components of your network will go on your topology. This includes:

  • Firewalls
  • Routers
  • Switches
  • Servers
  • VOIP

There certainly are other things you can put on your topology. Other items you might consider adding could be:

  • VLANs
  • Define Network Closets
  • Computer Labs
  • Important Computers
  • Important IP Addresses

What tool can I use to create a topology?

Most spreadsheet programs have flowcharting and drawing tools which can be very useful. An easier program to use is Microsoft Office Visio. Visio has specific features that allow you to create a topology very quickly.

A topology can save time and money.

Documenting your network prior to problems will decrease the amount of wasted time troubleshooting. Document important IP addresses either in your topology or in a separate document. You should be able to get all of your IP addresses for servers, switches, firewalls, etc within seconds. You don’t have to remember them all but you should know how to find them quickly. This also includes VLANs. VLANs should be well documented and their subnets.

It is also a good idea to document what you do to solve your network problems. A simple Word document can suffice but over time you may find you want something more robust. I currently use a help desk product called OSTicket. To find out more about this product go to http://www.osticket.com if you are interested.

Documenting past problems may make it easier to solve new problems or to see trends to prevent problems from occurring. This can save you an immense amount of time.

Technology can become a tangled mess very quickly if you choose not to take the time to document what you are doing. The only thing more important than documenting is keeping that documentation up-to-date. A topology does no good if it’s three years old and inaccurate.

A topology should be a standard practice in your network. When it is, troubleshooting will seem easier and take less time, and that makes everyone happier.

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