In a perfect world, understanding how to manage a network would be a breeze. On your first day of managing a network, you’d find tons of documentation on the IT infrastructure waiting for 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 client and aren’t sure what’s been done before.
Managing a network involves setting up the network, administering it, and maintaining it by constantly troubleshooting the network and ensuring it runs smoothly and efficiently. Learning how to manage a network involves using various tools and technologies, and as networks grow it becomes increasingly important to find network management tools that streamline processes and lessen the burden on the administrator.
So where do you start when you step into a totally unfamiliar network and are looking to make a stellar first impression? Following these ten steps on how to manage a network to start off on the right foot.
1. Inventory your critical systems
One of the first steps to take when trying to figure out how to manage a network is getting an inventory of the most important systems that make up the network. Depending on your preference or what tools are already at your disposal, you can either manually check your network or install and use software that scans your network for you.
If you opt for the manual approach, start with your core switch and document servers, routers, distribution switches, firewalls, and devices that are connected and used by the network or its users.
2. Map the network
What is network management when you don’t have a visual of 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 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 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.
3. 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 regaining 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.
4. Watch the network perimeter
While much of the focus of managing a network is on what happens within the network, another important part of any network is the perimeter. Remember to watch traffic flows in and out of your network, and do not depend entirely on firewalls and internet filters to keep intrusions out.
Instead, if the network you now manage does not have it already, consider implementing an intrusion detection system (IDS) so that you can keep an eye on the, and avoid any undesirable entries.
5. Patch, patch, patch
Hopefully, your predecessor knew how to manage a network and made every effort to apply software updates regularly to the apps, devices, and management tools. 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 early on.
6. Audit licenses, certificates, and compliance standards
Out-of-date licenses or non-compliant systems are configuration issues 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. 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 licenses. Since outdated licenses both make your job harder and put companies at compliance risk, don’t put licensing audits on the back burner.
While we’re on the subject of compliance risk, when managing a network, you’ll want to check on whether the network needs to comply with any compliance standards. Addressing this immediately will help prevent a world of misfortune. There are usually legal ramifications if regulatory standards are not complied with, and you want to ensure data is protected and that you are monitoring the necessary items for the correct length of time.
7. Remove or replace obsolete equipment and note dependencies
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.
Not only do they become a pain to manage, but they also act as attack vectors that bad actors might use.
While maintaining and replacing old devices should be a priority no matter how long you’ve been managing a network, there’s no better time to eliminate outdated or redundant devices and services than when you first take on a new site.
As you evaluate what devices and equipment may be unnecessary, also take note of what systems are dependent on others. Your network monitoring software may help you visualize these dependencies to help identify them quicker.
8. Review the company’s BYOD policy (or create a new one)
Once you’ve completed steps one through seven, which will help you make an immediate impact and take care of any 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 in these tasks early on.
Using the network map, you can identify any personal devices that are connected 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.
9. Optimize your toolbox
If 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 more flexible cloud-based network monitoring. 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 and demonstrate that you know how to manage a network 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.
10. Review and improve SOPs if they exist
Again, if your first weeks managing a network are as an 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 them, or remove old tools suggested for completing 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.
Whether you’re just learning how to manage a network, or you recently started managing a network that is new to you, these essential steps will let you hit the ground running and allow you to be successful in your role.
Make managing a network easier with Auvik’s network management software. Automate time-consuming tasks, streamline operations, and mitigate business risk. Sign up for a free trial and find out how Auvik’s software provides the network monitoring and management capabilities your network needs.
To test Auvik’s remote management features for yourself, sign up for a free 14-day trial and get full access to your network from the comfort of your desk.