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What Does Having a “Well-Documented” Network Really Mean Today?

by Valerie Dimartino Jun 16, 2024

Documenting a network is one of those IT practices that has been done manually since the early days of networking. The term “network documentation” conjures visions of diagrams and stacks of dusty 3-ring binders full of processes, procedures and stale topology maps. At one point or another, network engineers have suffered through the painful process of updating these static diagrams and playbooks, sometimes from notes scribbled on the fly, as they try to troubleshoot a problem, answer questions about security incidents or look to meet new requirements.The value of network documentation is measured by its usefulness in enabling network teams to store and transfer knowledge.

In the era of IoT, Cloud, and Mobility, business units are demanding more and more of the network and the teams that manage it, while injecting a level of scale and complexity not seen before. The traditional toolsets and practices used by most network operations teams date back 20 years or more. We are starting to realize that when it comes to meeting new business requirements, visualizing hybrid networks and managing virtualized environments, “conventional methods” are no longer going to cut it.

We measure the value of network documentation by its usefulness in enabling network teams to store and transfer knowledge. This knowledge goes beyond merely recording IP addresses, hostnames, and logical connections; it must also effectively harness the tribal wisdom accumulated over the years by the subject matter experts, for use in the future. Network documentation is, therefore, a foundational element in critical IT workflows.

Isn’t it time we update our understanding of what good network documentation is, considering today’s new requirements?

Most importantly, shouldn’t we adopt a faster, more effective approach to keeping the network documentation perpetually up-to-date, no matter the complexity?

The answer is a resounding yes, but truth be told, documenting a network – especially using manual methods – is not an exciting task, far from it. However, network teams can derive an incredible amount of value from having up-to-date network documentation. From saving time during troubleshooting to visualizing different areas of the network for service expansion to isolating an attack. So, let’s take a moment to understand the tenets of a well-documented network: