In a perfect world, managing a new network would be a breeze. On your first day, you’d find tons of documentation on the IT infrastructure awaiting you. Login credentials would be securely recorded and ready for review.
Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world. That’s why managing a new network can be tough—especially if you’re joining a brand new IT team or taking on a new managed services client and aren’t sure what’s been done before.
So where do you start when you step into a totally unfamiliar network and are looking to make a stellar first impression? Following these six steps will help you do both.
1. Map the network
You can’t manage what you can’t see, which means you can’t effectively manage a company’s IT systems without first learning the topology of the network that binds them together. In the past, you’d likely spend the first few days or weeks drawing out a network map.
Luckily, modern network topology tools like Auvik make mapping networks quick and easy. You don’t have to trek across server rooms and office floors, clipboard in hand, to figure out which devices are on the network and how they’re connected. All you have to do is deploy Auvik, and you’ll have an accurate network map in minutes.
And that’s not all. Auvik will document everything it finds and create easy-to-interpret visual representations of your infrastructure, allowing you to understand its complexities at a simple glance. It also infers connections that aren’t visible, providing insights into the secrets of the network.
2. Figure out how the network is configured
Ideally, the company already has a configuration management solution in place and you can simply log into it to see how the network devices are configured.
But you may discover there’s no documentation on configurations at all, the documentation is static and out of date, or backups have never been made. There’s an endless number of potentially frustrating scenarios.
In that case, your first step to regain control is a complete configuration backup. Logging the configs of every device can be a painful, time-consuming exercise but luckily—just as with network mapping—there are software solutions that can handle it all for you.
A configuration management system—and some network management systems like Auvik—will tell you which configs you have running, monitor those configs over time, and automatically back them up when changes are made. Configuration monitoring allows you to keep track of the changes you make as you get to know the infrastructure—and roll those changes back seamlessly when you press the wrong button (it happens!) and break something.
Bonus points: The person or MSP who comes on board after you will be praising your name for the excellent documentation you’ve created for them.
3. Patch, patch, patch
Hopefully, your predecessor made every effort to apply software updates regularly to the apps, network devices, and management tools on the network. Patches, after all, are the main line of defense against known security vulnerabilities. They also eliminate major bugs that can frustrate admins and users alike.
Lest you find out the hard way that the last person responsible for managing the network did a less-than-stellar job of keeping up to date with software releases, however, downloading and installing the latest updates should be near the top of your agenda.
And patching gives you bang for your buck in terms of both time and money invested. Most often updates are free or included in an annual maintenance agreement, and they’re also usually pretty simple to install. So without using any of your budget, or very much of your time, software updates are a quick and easy way to maximize the efficiency and security of the network early on.
4. Audit licences and certificates
Out-of-date licences are a configuration issue you’d do well to address sooner rather than later. You don’t want to wait until a device fails to find out that the licensing agreement for it has lapsed, and you don’t have access to vendor support at the time you need it most—your first weeks with a new network.
And that’s not all you have to worry about if your licences are out of date. The issue could also result in unexpected bills for your company or your client, especially because some software vendors look to extract revenue from customers who use products without valid licences. Since outdated licences both make your job harder and put companies at compliance risk, don’t put licensing audits on the backburner.
5. Remove or replace obsolete equipment
Over time, network equipment can show the effects of its age—performance starts to slow, vendors stop providing security patches and software updates leaving vulnerabilities in the network, and they lose compatibility with newer devices on the network.
Not only do they become a pain to manage, but they also act as attack vectors that bad actors might use to get onto the network.
While maintaining and replacing old devices should be a priority no matter how long you’ve been managing the network, there’s no better time to eliminate outdated or redundant devices and services than when you first take on a new site.
Since you have no personal investment in existing infrastructure, and are looking at the network for the first time, it can be easy to see inefficiencies that would go unnoticed if you were the one who created and lived with them over the course of months or years. Looking at the network map, you may see servers that could be consolidated, machines that could be turned off, or even unused gear collecting dust in a corner. Now’s the perfect time to get rid of it.
6. Review the company’s BYOD policy (or create a new one)
Once you’ve completed steps one through five, which will help you make an immediate impact and take care of any network vulnerabilities left by your predecessor, it’s time to take on policies, processes, and long-term improvements.
You may be thinking this is out of the scope of “first steps,” but if you want to set yourself up for success with a new network from the get-go, it’s worthwhile to invest some time on these tasks early on.
Using the network map, you can identify any personal devices connected to the network and determine if a BYOD (bring your own device) policy is necessary. If the company already has one, you can review it and fill in any gaps.
If they don’t have a BYOD policy and there are tons of personal devices on the network, you’ll have to build one. Here are some of the initial questions you should ask when starting from scratch:
- What applications and data should be accessible?
- How sensitive are these applications and data?
- Should corporate data reside on end user devices?
- Where are the corporate data and applications housed?
You’ll also need to consider some other essential elements to support your BYOD policy, like additional Wi-Fi access points, separate SSIDs, two-factor authentication, and mobile device management. For more tips on creating and implementing a BYOD policy, check out this article from network engineer Kevin Dooley.
BONUS! Optimize your toolboxIf your first weeks with a network are as a network admin with a new company, it’s a great opportunity to take advantage of skills you have, or tools you’re familiar with, your new company may not have known about.
For example, the company may never have made the jump from on-premises monitoring tools to those that live in the cloud and offer more flexibility. Or, they may have been running an out-of-date file system on the servers because that’s what they thought was best, even though it lacks the advanced features of modern, distributed storage platforms.
Luckily, you can prove your worth by bringing innovative skills and expertise to the table and improving the tools being used.
Of course, you’ll want to be careful not to go overboard. Before replacing existing tools and services, make sure there’s not a specific need for them that newer ones can’t fulfill. And don’t make the mistake of assuming that the software you know best is always best for the job—sometimes it’s worth teaching yourself the systems that are already in place.
BONUS! Review and improve SOPs if they exist
Again, if your first weeks with a network are as a network admin with a new company, your predecessor may have created (and left!) SOPs (standard operating procedures) for you to use.
SOPs are written, step-by-step instructions that describe how to perform a routine activity, like troubleshooting a network traffic spike, backing up configs, or giving a QBR presentation to a team lead. If you’re working with existing SOPs, you can review the steps, tweak them if you know a better or faster way to complete it, or remove old tools suggested to complete the step and replace them with your new tools. If you’re lucky, some of your tools may automate the steps and make the process even more efficient.
If no SOPs exist and you’ve never created one before, you can start by creating an SOP about how to create an SOP. Then, make notes about each common task you run into, and use those notes to create an SOP. And don’t worry—you can improve your SOPs over time, it doesn’t have to be perfect on the first try.
Over to you now. What are some tasks you tackled in the first months with a new network that really paid off? Let us know in the comments.