Network documentation – usually the job of the dutiful technical author or, failing that, the resentful software developer – is a crucial yet often neglected area. With computer networks becoming ever more vast, abstract, and complicated, diagrams are the beating heart of good documentation. Here we look at five reasons why.
Why Illustrate What You Have?
Though time-consuming and soon out of date, network infrastructure diagrams should be created (and maintained) for good reason:
1. CHANGE IS A CONSTANT
At some point, you’ll no doubt need to upscale, move, rearrange or even downscale your network. If your network administrators have an accurate picture in their heads of how all assets are arranged, you could argue network diagrams aren’t really needed. But, it’s when that picture is later discovered to be actually slightly off that the “fun” begins.
CIO points out that without mapping unique descriptive names and IP addresses to servers, network appliances, data backup devices, and the like, a crazy risk is being taken. Long-term employees will, at some point, remember things wrongly, and a new starter or contractor tasked with making network changes will likely have to spend much longer than they should do figuring things out.
But much worse is the increased chance of catastrophe – for example if a mission-critical-system is restarted without sufficient warning or is unplugged.
2. STAFF WILL COME AND GO
Leaving things to the on-site expert generally makes sense. But, it’s when a problem crops up and he/she is on holiday that things get tricky. If all the information is only stored in one head and a server goes down, it’s much more likely to stay down.
What’s more, having adequate network diagrams means the required knowledge can be transferred when said expert eventually moves job or retires.
3. CUSTOMER REQUIREMENTS
An IT consultant who designs networks for others will need to present their proposed design, as well as leave the client with a record of the completed job when it’s finished. Diagrams are needed for both these activities.
And when a customer buys software and hosts it themselves, architectural diagrams of the product will often need to form the user documentation that the vendor provides. Typically found at the start of a deployment/user guide, such diagrams help customers get to grips with new systems faster.
More widely, shipping quality documentation with a product has been shown to increase customer satisfaction and reduce the amount of support calls.
Why Illustrate What You Need?
The value of network diagrams doesn’t stop at just representing your current architecture – much also lies in planning and securing its future.
4. STRAIGHTFORWARD PURCHASING
A handful of network diagram tools will let you put the network assets you’ve planned in the visual editor straight into an online shopping basket. Instead of handling the design process as a separate task to purchasing, you can view live prices from sellers as you design.
This makes it much easier to test, reshape, and match your design against your budget. Having all the kit you may need presented in one portal, priced and ready is also a much quicker and easier way of buying network infrastructure than conventional methods.
The traditional way is to trudge from seller to seller, querying the hardware you need, requesting quotes and haggling over prices. And your main point of contact with this route is usually the seller’s sales team, who rarely have the same level of knowledge as IT procurement staff.
5. SMOOTH PROVISIONING
Needless to say, drawing the new network you need in a visual composer and selecting the kit to buy are basically the easy parts of setting up a new network. So, the tools out there that can actually enable the deployment of the network assets you’ve designed and bought lighten the load nicely. This could be:
- The provisioning of physical equipment into automated data centres via network and provisioning APIs.
- Having someone come to your workplace and actually physically setting up server racks etc.