Network mapping best practices guest blog

Networks are becoming more complicated all the time, with new technologies such as software-defined networking operating alongside legacy components and an increasing variety of IP-enabled devices – smartphones, tablets and data sensors, to name a few – requesting access to infrastructure. For IT professionals, network mapping is the best way to keep tabs on constantly changing activity levels, while ensuring that performance is consistent and outages are avoided.

Solutions with features such as visual representations of traffic flows and auto-discovery of all assets with IP addresses go a long way toward helping network managers stay on top of things. That said, what are some of the best practices for making the most of network mapping? Each organization obviously has its own particular goals for security and availability in mind, but these techniques can serve as a general guide to mapping and monitoring.

Perform network inventory management
Network mapping starts with knowing what equipment needs to be assessed. The full inventory should catalog ports, routers, servers, virtual machines, power supplies and other hardware. Components can be even grouped by vendor, while network maps can be tweaked to provide granular data on the behavior of individual assets.

For example, some solutions have built-in NetFlow traffic analyzers that reveal frequently visited websites as well as which local IP addresses connect to an unusually large number of hosts. Knowing more about individual devices by enabling flow technologies is a good foundation for effective mapping.

“Network mapping helps present a visual representation of your network inventory across your network topology,” stated a 2013 report from Solarwinds. “For maximum visibility of your network, you can customize how your maps are structured and nested. Network discovery and network topology mapping are essential processes to easily and intuitively maintain network asset inventory for advanced network performance and availability monitoring.”

Optimize the network and keep expansion in mind
Workloads such as video and VoIP are putting additional pressure on networks. Organizations such as state and local governments have considered WAN optimization and/or infrastructure expansion to meet changing requirements.

In this context, it makes sense to think about the future of your network mapping tools, too. As new devices are added to the network, they will need to be monitored. Tools that support a comprehensive range of protocols and probes put companies in good position to control evolving network architectures.

Enable SNMP for network devices
Speaking of protocols, SNMP is a common way to get the state of a device. Some Cisco routers and switches require SNMP configuration. After establishing a telnet connection to the endpoint, a read-only or write-only community string can be added in order to enable SNMP monitoring.

SNMP traps can be customized so that they send notifications for all types of unusual activity. Network managers can be informed of anomalies such as improper authentications and lost connections.

Customize alerts and escalation procedures
Given the volume and variety of network activity, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by alerts. The best network mapping tools can be configured to provide meaningful notifications that are cross-referenced against chosen thresholds.

On top of that, consider escalation procedures – who needs to know when something goes wrong? Alerts may also be integrated into support systems so that a ticket is automatically created whenever an issue arises.

Define clear policies for data collection and handling
Like network inventory, policies for data collection are useful for setting goals for, and assessing the progress of, network mapping projects. Organizations should make clear who has access to data, why it is being gathered and if and how it can used for compliance purposes.