Network documentation: Why a simple checklist may be your best option

As the number of network-connected devices grows, IT needs a reliable method of keeping track of device info. Erik Eckel advocates using a simple checklist for quick access to the critical details.

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Almost without fail, organizations are increasingly deploying network equipment. Whether for door access control, wireless networking, voice communications, or data connectivity, network devices are pervading facilities.

A December 2018 TechRepublic article, 8 emerging technology trends you can expect to see in 2019, observed that "82% of respondents in an international Forrester IT survey said that they were unable to identify all of the devices connected to their networks." All indications are digital trends, so the number of network-connected devices will only increase.

With various projects deploying network gear at different periods throughout the year, and with a variety of equipment having different manufacturing dates, warranty expiration periods, and lifecycle windows, simply tracking what equipment is physically deployed where is a challenge. Regardless of size, businesses are struggling to keep pace.

Fortunately, an old school tracking method works really well: the checklist. All companies require some mechanism for tracking technology assets, and network equipment is particularly critical.

While electronic asset management systems and automated management platforms all promise to discover and track network devices, most network administrators know from experience that there's no substitute for simple lists. Basic, manually drafted documentation isn't subject to database corruption, failed discovery due to incompatible firmware, omission due to a device being powered down, or routing and switching configuration problems and other issues that can result in automated software platforms missing or incorrectly reporting inventory.

Quick access to fundamental network device information is necessary when planning and coordinating office relocations and renovations, platform upgrades, and system audits. A checklist collecting production status, location, make, model, and IP information permits double-checking asset and inventory lists generated by software platforms, auditors and managers.

A March 2019 ZDNet piece, What is the IIot? Everything you need to know about the Industrial Internet ofThings, noted, "the advent of tiny low cost sensors and high-bandwidth wireless networks now means even the smallest devices can be connected up, given a level of digital intelligence that allows them to be monitored and tracked, and can share data on their status and communicate with other devices." That's both good and bad, considering every legitimate device connected to a network offers potential productivity and efficiency improvements while also presenting an opportunity for compromise, unauthorized access, and corruption.

For this reason, all organizations should maintain an accurate list of network equipment in inventory. And knowing some devices might be missed by automated inventory platforms or might even be long-forgotten as part of a long-passed legacy initiative, there's no substitute for keeping an old-fashioned list for each component.

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