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How important are network infrastructure maps for engineers or admins?

Our network administration expert explains how important it is for an IT admin or engineer to have a network infrastructure map, in this response.

How important is it for network engineers and administrators to have a mapped view of the enterprise network infrastructure?
When troubleshooting problems, the root cause greatly resembles pirate's buried treasure chest. While you may not get a chest filled with pirate gold coins, finding the true root cause of a problem is vastly rewarding. And like all good pirate treasure, "X" marks the spot on the map. It continues to surprise me with each account how many enterprises do not have a good network architecture map to help them document the topology of their network. It's a lot like Captain Jack Sparrow landing on a remote island without rum. It simply isn't done.

In all seriousness, network infrastructure maps provide comprehensive information in a condensed format to facilitate communication across many layers of an organization. Now what this really means is that without maps, it may take quite some time to identify the connectivity, upstream, downstream and dependencies affects of a problem. Maps provide a quick way to articulate all of these things. When overlaid with alarms, exceptions, or baseline deviations, maps can quickly help you pinpoint the scope of a problem, who's affected, what area of the network. It may not give you the exact root cause but at least you won't be searching at the exact wrong end of the island for the buried treasure.

In the below graph, I've illustrated in Visio how an Internet Services problem affects only users accessing corporate web functions, leaving the rest of the organization not feeling any ill effects. This was taken from an Internet Brown out event to show the scope of an internet-facing service problem.

Internet-facing service problem scope
Scope of Internet Service problems affecting an organization
(Click image to enlarge screenshot.)

There is one caveat however with maps. They're only as accurate as the people/services that maintain them. If there's one constant in network infrastructure, it's change. And in environments where vast change occurs, the maps tend to become obsolete rapidly without being updated. It's a lot like a hurricane coming to the remote island and completely changing the landmarks for the buried treasure. So if you want to find the buried treasure quickly, use maps that provide you a dynamic discovery and re-population ability. This will give you the greatest chance of finding your buried treasure even after the worst natural disasters. And let me know if you ever find a scepter clustered with rubies and emeralds or a diamond and sapphire tiara.

This was last published in July 2009

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