Thoughts on Dental Floss and Documentation

written by Michael Anderson posted on January 4, 2011

I have a confession. I hate flossing. I know I should do it, I’m aware of all the dental health benefits, but I can’t bring myself to make it a habit.

If there’s a flossing equivalent in network management, it has to be documentation. And yet, it’s one of the most important things that a company can do.

Very few of the companies that we meet with have current network documentation. Even fewer have an understanding of the risks and costs that absent or out-dated documentation creates.

Here are 5 reasons (among many) why network documentation is critical:

1. Business Continuity

In an absence of documentation, the current IT solution provider, or Network Administrator becomes the sole information source with respect to how a company’s network functions. The loss of that provider or employee then becomes a significantly disruptive event, as the company scrambles to maintain basic operations in the absence of this knowledge. Current, accurate network documentation protects companies against this risk, and ensures that there is continuity in their IT knowledge, despite potential resource interruptions.

2. Transitional Costs

In the event that a company elects to change IT providers (or has a change in Network Administrators), the absence of network documentation adds incremental costs to the transition. The new service provider or employee must effectively start from scratch, learning and documenting the various elements of the network. Some companies understand these costs, and are reluctant to make a change – instead, continuing with a service provider who may not be driving full value from their technology investments. Good documentation allows companies to have flexibility in selecting a technology partner, and confidence that they can transition easily if their needs are not being met.

3. Security

Companies without current, accurate documentation are more likely to have security risks present in their environment. External attacks target vulnerabilities in a network – open firewall ports, old (but active) user accounts, default account names & passwords. Without proper documentation, it is easy for these vulnerabilities to get overlooked and ignored.

4. Avoiding Unnecessary Complexity

Nobody sets out to design a rats’ nest of a network – so why do we see so many of them? While incremental changes to the network may seem reasonable or justified in isolation, the cumulative result can be a nightmare. Having proper documentation, identifying each piece of equipment’s role, when it was implemented, and the rationale, can ensure that companies avoid unnecessary complexity as their network grows. From there, each decision to add to the network is made logically, with understanding of its impact on the overall infrastructure.

5. Identifying User Impact

Without proper network documentation, it can be difficult to determine contingencies between the various network components. This dramatically increases the risk of unwanted user impact when making changes. Having a clear understanding of how the various elements work together can ensure that an administrator avoids unexpected disruptions to the business operation.

What should be included in your network documentation? The folks at network-documentation.com have a fairly comprehensive checklist that can serve as a starting point. Beyond this template, you should look to include any information that would be required to properly understand how the network has been designed, and considerations in its ongoing management.

One last comment: documentation is a process, not a one-time event. Incorporating your network documentation as part of your change control processes, and ensuring that your documentation reflects the current reality of your network is essential. Cisco has written an excellent white paper  on processes which can be implemented to manage ongoing changes to your network.

If you could use some help with your network documentation processes, Ask Us. We’d love to help. As for dental health? Well, you’re on your own for that.

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