September 1, 2020

Simplify Network Maintenance and Documentation with Automated Network Mapping

by Lisa Garvey

Network complexity has reached nearly unmanageable proportions for most organizations. With thousands of devices, millions of lines of code to configure networks, and constant updates, it has become nearly impossible to track network topology details, let alone network policies, behavior, and capabilities end-to-end. The result is a network infrastructure that is resistant to change and risk, which reduces the ability of the IT team to quickly address changing business needs and application requirements. Can Automated network mapping solutions stem the tide of complexity and tedious resource drain?

For many organizations, the state of the art for network maps and documentation is Visio diagrams or spreadsheets of device names and IP addresses. Even network management tools can not keep pace with the rapidly changing details of dynamic network environments. Organizations have to rely on senior network engineers to track network details, but such expertise is easily lost and learning curves are steep and expensive. 

Organizations need to automate the network mapping process, so that information is always up-to-date and accurate, while reducing overhead in documenting network details. Automated network mapping software can form a single-source-of-truth for network details, configurations, topology maps, and connections. The ideal automated network mapping solution can even turn the tens of millions of network details, security policies, connections and forwarding rules into a usable database where such information is readily accessible with simple queries to be used in troubleshooting, network analysis or compliance checks. 

The heart of an automated network mapping solution is the centralized process that can access each device and collect and organize the relevant data. With all of the right details, a current network topology diagram can be generated quickly to guide network management tasks and workflows. 

Automated network mapping is one of the key use cases and features of the Forward Enterprise platform. Forward Enterprise collects all network information, including forwarding tables and security rules, from each device in order to build an interactive map of the network topology. The information is organized into a database as well, with a simple query language to quickly identify configuration errors, outdated systems, or down links. 

Network collections, to update the automated network map, can be scheduled periodically or pulled on-demand, to make sure that IT managers always have access to current information. Information from the automated network map can then guide a wide range of network management workflows and processes. Automated network mapping can also ensure that all team members and IT silos have access to the information they need, no matter where they are on the learning curve of managing a complex enterprise network. 

The Forward Networks automated network mapping capability even includes cloud networks. Network maps can show flows throughout a multi-site on-premises data center over a WAN connection and to public cloud providers such as Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure. Being able to visualize a contiguous network map across multiple vendors, sites and service providers is a powerful debugging and analysis tool that can quickly improve IT operations. 

As networks become more complex and require more frequent updates, organizations need to automate more of the management tasks. Automated network mapping should be a primary focus to ensure that an accurate, always-up-to-date view of the network topology and key management details are available to accelerate IT processes.

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