TechRepublic’s senior network engineer, Lori Hyde, has the intimidating chore of generating a complete inventory of the devices—routers, switchers, hubs, workstations, printers—within our company network. She inherited the job after two company buyouts and several rounds of layoffs, so Hyde is faced with virtually the same problem as a consultant who’s been brought in to document the work of many who have come before her.

Hyde’s first inclination was to use autodiscovery tools to help her uncover hidden or forgotten additions in the network. While many tools are available that claim to do this well, Hyde has found that they’re all either ineffectual or cost-prohibitive.

So we turn to our most valuable resource, our members, for an answer. Have you found any cheap, efficient autodiscovery tools that have helped you document an existing network? See which tools Hyde has tried and the results she got. Let us know what suggestions you have for her, or for others who are struggling to document an existing network on a shoestring budget.

Hyde and seek: Efforts to document the hidden and forgotten
Throughout its history, TechRepublic’s network has been added to and changed by many people, many of whom didn’t have the time to keep everything documented properly. For that reason, Hyde said there is some value to using an autodiscovery tool.

“These programs can help to identify things on the network that you are not aware of, like equipment brought in from home by users or changes someone has made, neglected to document, and then completely forgotten about,” she said.

Thus far, Hyde has tried two tools for autodiscovery: Microsoft Visio’s Network AutoDiscovery and Layout and Fluke’s LAN Mapshot. Both provided similar results, she said.

“The discovery process takes a long time, and the output is so cluttered that making any sense of it is like trying to make sense out of a huge bowl of pasta with your fingers,” Hyde said. “It’s extremely time-consuming and quite messy.”

Now, she’s at a standstill as to what to try next because every other autodiscovery tool she’s heard about is out of her budget.

“There are things out there that are much better, like CiscoWorks, but the price tag is staggering in our current economical environment.”

Send your advice

Drop us a line with your advice for a cheap and effective network autodiscovery tool or discuss your experiences below.