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Network topology mapping: How to automate network documentation

Network topology mapping to boost security can be time-consuming. Learn how to automate network documentation with network management tools.

How often should an enterprise update its network topology documentation; what security-related information should we include, and are there any tools that can help automate this process?

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You should update your network documentation as often as your network topology changes. Hopefully, the high-level details of your network don’t change often enough for this to be a major concern.  While you might be adding and removing devices from your network daily, don’t expect the documentation to go down to the individual device level.  Instead, you’ll probably end it at the network edge – the switches and wireless access points to which end-user devices connect.  The network beyond the switch (at least outside of the data center) is simply too dynamic to document.

Here’s what I’d suggest collecting as a basic set of network documentation:

  • Diagrams that include all of your routers, firewalls, switches and security devices.  Depending upon the size of your network, you may need to break this up into pieces.  The diagram should include basic information about the devices: including names, IP addresses, connections and port assignments.
  • Detailed network diagrams of your data center that include the individual servers connected to your network.
  • Configuration files from each of your network devices that would enable you to rebuild the device in the event of a failure.

To try to automate network documentation to some degree, consider the use of network management tools to help with the tactical details of documenting your network.  There are many network management tools on the market that are capable of gathering information directly from network devices and keeping up-to-date records of device configurations and monitoring changes to those configurations.  It’s a lot easier to automate this task than to perform it by hand!

This was first published in May 2012

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