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Network Documentation Best Practices and Checklist

How to Create Network Documentation? 

Like renovating an old Queenslander, when a business is new, there are a lot of hiccups. Some of them are easy to deal with and others take more time and effort. In order to increase its profitability, each business tries to attain an optimum level of efficiency.

Today, businesses all over the world are largely aided by technology to become better and stronger. Technology helps them get from point A (current situation) to point B (desired position). Every business has an extensive network infrastructure and wants to have a complete grasp over their IT estate. Once they understand what they have at their disposal, it is largely all about strategising to reach the promised land. Here, network documentation is the tool of choice.

What Is Network Documentation?

Network documentation is a type of specialised technical documentation. It is the practice of keeping records relating to the networks of computers that the customer is using. This documentation gives a glimpse to the administrators about the look of the network, its performance and where to troubleshoot when issues arise. Complete network documentation, along with a comprehensive network diagram, will help you reach your intended goals.

Benefits of Network Documentation

There are many benefits of network documentation, especially for service providers:

  • It allows for efficient handling of issues when they arise.
  • It also points out those areas of the client network that require upgrading.
  • It will become your best defense if ever a client files a network-related complaint against you.  

Network Documentation Checklist and Best Practices

Your network documentation checklist is also proof that you follow the best practices of the industry to the best of your capability.

1. Make Network Documentation Policy- Network documentation policy is the blueprint of your intention. It outlines those parts or portions of the network that need to be recorded. It also tells the administrators the roles that each one of them will be playing in the complete process of documentation.  

2. Make Network Topology Diagram - Topology is the manner in which constituent parts are interrelated or arranged. So the network topology diagram will include not only each network segment but also the routers that connect them and all the other aspects like servers, gateways and the networking hardware that is connected to each of the said segments. If the network happens to be small, you can create one single detailed map of all the segments and its components. If it is a large network, you will first have to make a basic segment map and post that more detailed maps for each of the segments.

3. Document Server Details - While making a topology diagram you may be confused about what details to enter for each server. To make it easier, go by the thumb rule that all pertinent information is to be entered. This includes the name of the server, IP address and the role performed by it. If the server has multiple IP addresses or network interface cards you have to include them all.

4. Make Log Book for Each Server to Document Change - The idea behind creating a log book for every server is to document change. The change could be in the form of a patch fix, new application installation or changes in security settings. In the event of a server failure, it can be traced back to a change that was made to it. The logbook will show when the change was made and also the kind of modification that was done. Needless to say, the logbook is tremendously helpful in troubleshooting and also in server rebuilding if there is an irrevocable failure.

5. Document Application Details - This is especially useful in case of a software audit and also to know the current status of the application. Application details usually pertain to its version and a copy of the software license that allows you to use it.

6. Document Networking Hardware - Networking hardware constitutes of the physical devices (such as switches, routers and gateways) that facilitate communication between the devices on a computer network. Documenting networking hardware will include information like the manner in which the device is connected to the network, its configuration, whether there exists a backup of the same, the firmware revision running by the device and whether the device is configured to ask for a password. Do not ever mention the actual password in the document.

7. Active Directory Documentation - Active directory allows the administrators to create and manage domains, users and objects within a given network. Documenting the active directory is necessary to keep track of all the activity taking place. For effective documentation of the active directory, include all the domain names, the site structure of the active directory, server hierarchy in the active directory and the setting and contents of each group policy. If there are any external trusts they too should be mentioned.

8. Backup Documentation - You have a backup, but is it documented? Remember backup documentation helps make sense of your backup procedures. Having procedures which nobody knows how to use are of little help. To avoid any chaos, document the backup software used along with its version. Additionally, give a basic description of each backup job along with the location of the actual backups.

9. Labeling - One very important thing that is often overlooked is labeling. At a glance, you cannot tell which is which server, router or cable in the absence of labeling. A good lable maker will help you sort this problem. Get one to expedite the labeling of all the important components. In the time of need you will not want to waste time trying to identify each one correctly. That information should be readily available.

10. Evaluate Complete Documentation - Now that you have all the information, it's time to see whether it is complete and makes sense. The idea is to ensure whether it makes sense to somebody without any previous knowledge to reconstruct the entire network from the ground up. If you feel that your document serves that purpose, you have succeeded. However, if there is a doubt take the necessary action to remove it and make your document complete.

Closing Words

You are now aware of what needs to be collected in order to complete your network documentation. This information should be your guide in what to include in yours. You can add more details as per your specific requirements andow you collect this information is completely up to you. Thanks to technology, there are many tools available that can ease the burden of your work by automatically collecting a portion of the data and storing it. You can also choose to do this manually. No matter which way you go, the data should not only be consistent but also accurate. After all this network document is your disaster recovery strategy!

 

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