It's amazing how often new clients describe an intermittent networking issue and, upon troubleshooting, I discover the client doesn't possess any documentation — no passwords, IP addresses, architecture data, nothing. When consultants cannot even log in to a problematic device, we're often left with no alternative but to reset the component to default factory settings and start from scratch.
Once my IT consultancy begins documenting the client's setup and preparing a simple network diagram, basic issues typically become evident rather quickly. Maybe there are two DHCP servers on a network, subnets are improperly architected, or MPLS circuits aren't properly bridged. If the original consultant had taken the time to document the project, these issues would have been readily apparent; it's unprofessional to leave a client in such a predicament. Plus, proper documentation is a best business practice, so much so that it's a tested objective on CompTIA's Server+ exam (PDF).
Follow these documentation best practices
- Note the device, serial number, purchase date, warranty information, LAN and WAN IPs, and similar data for every project.
- List complete WAN circuit information, port forwarding requirements, VPN settings, and corresponding routing data for all firewall rollouts.
- List usernames and passwords required to access routers, firewalls, VPN concentrators, managed switches, servers, wireless devices, and other administrative consoles.
- Save the username and password required to access all devices in a safe location.
- Record systems information.
- Draw topology maps for network initiatives, site diagrams and, when required, individual rack diagrams.
- Draw network diagrams. Even simple network diagrams help identify a surprising number of errors and issues.
Should clients pay extra for documentation?
Clients should not have to pay extra for professionally collected documentation packed in a simple, bound file. You should already be building this documentation to ensure they're properly planning and executing projects. The only remaining steps are to clean up the notes and drawings, print them, and collect them neatly in a binder.
Benefits pay off in the present and the future
Consultants who adopt proper documentation practices will find deployments complete more smoothly. Better yet, any time changes, replacements, or additional systems are required, the process will prove much simpler because you or another consulting firm can refer to the complete original documentation.
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Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.