Is that a bird’s nest or is it spaghetti? Have you ever asked that question when looking into a IT wiring closet?

At some point in your tenure as a network manager, you’ve likely been asked to inventory a network and create a network topology diagram.

Traditionally, you’d pull out a piece of paper and a pencil, and start drawing boxes based on what you remember.Or maybe you’ve fired up Visio and started creating a block-level diagram of various network devices based on a site survey. Either way, you’re spending hours or days manually inventorying the network, poking into the CLI, drawing pictures, and adding labels.

Let’s face it—nobody likes documentation. It’s a pain to build and a pain to maintain. But we need it. Network topology visualization is crucial to effectively managing a network.

Here are four times when a real-time map of the network can save you a ton of time and money while building good will.

  1. Onboarding new IT staff
  2. You’re growing again. That’s great! It’s a sign your company is doing the right things.

    But bringing a new staff member up to speed is no small feat. Not only do new hires have to learn a new company and new culture, they also need contextual and technical data about the networks they’ll be touching.

    Your most tenured folks know the networks you manage well. They may have even set them up! But how do you transfer that wealth of data from one brain to another?

    A real-time network topology map gives immediate context to any new team member. They’ll be able to see at a glance exactly what gear the network is using, how the network is wired and configured, and how devices performing.

  3. Diagnosing basic connectivity problems
  4. You get a call at the help desk: Your largest office is also growing. The management team has been moving desks around to accommodate the growth. Naturally, while moving desks around, they unplugged all the Ethernet cables and moved all the VoIP phones—and didn’t track any of it.

    At one of the new desks, they’ve plugged a user’s computer and phone back into an Ethernet jack. Now there’s a problem: The computer works but the phone doesn’t.

    Of course, the cable drops aren’t labelled. And you don’t have someone on site who can interpret the patch panels anyway. Time to fire up the real-time topology map!

    Quickly, you find the computer by IP address, and see that it’s connected into port 14 on switch 2. Hovering over the wire, you see that port 14 is configured for the data VLAN, but not the voice VLAN.

    Jumping now into the management interface of switch 2, you enable the voice VLAN and the new employee is off to the races. What could have been an on-site visit became a five-minute task with a map.

  5. Investigating network slowness
  6. The network is slow! It’s being reported by five different users, all calling in at different times. Even for an experienced tech, this might take a few hours to investigate—hopefully without an on-site visit, at least.

    Time to dig into your real-time network diagram again.

    On the map, you immediately see that all five users are plugged into the same switch, which happens to be at the very end of a daisy-chain of switches. And one of those switches has its uplink speed fixed at 100 Mbit/s instead of the expected auto-negotiate at 1 Gbit/s.

    A quick change and the problem is solved. You just resolved the infamous “my network is slow” problem in less time than it takes to get a coffee.

  7. Your MSP is onboarding a new client
  8. A new client—congrats! You’ve already done some initial investigation, issued a quote, and won the deal, but now you need to eliminate any surprises.

    Rolling out a network topology mapping tool will discover the client’s network and all their assets in under an hour. No tracing cables, no reading MAC forwarding tables, and no pencil and paper. Remember when you had to budget five or more billable hours to build that topology diagram? Not anymore. Repurpose those hours and increase your margins.

    The topology gives you quick visibility into how the network is laid out and any potential misconfigurations you need to clean up.

    It may also uncover additional devices that came online since your initial proposal. Did the client forget to mention the three switches at the back of the building? That can hurt margins.

    As you find misconfigurations, make fixes. As you find devices, update the agreement. The diagram automatically updates in real-time to show you the progress.

Network topology visualization can provide instant context to service techs, speed up training time, expedite troubleshooting, avoid costly downtime, and improve user and client satisfaction. Once you’ve used a real-time map, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it.