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is organized into a database as well, with a simple query language to quickly identify configuration errors, outdated systems, or down links.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.

Yesterday, Brandon Heller and I recorded a podcast with Ethan Banks and Greg Ferro of Packet Pushers fame. If you are not a fan of Packet Pusher Podcasts, you should be. They have a large following of highly technical network nerds and their podcasts are always engaging and educational. When they finish production on the podcast, I'll post a link here.

During the discussion, we talked about how Forward Networks can be a "single source of truth" for all things networking. Network admins are always looking for a single source of truth for the topology and implementation of the network in a digestible documentation source rather than trying to cobble it together when needed from individual devices. For many years Microsoft Visio has been the most frequently used tool to document network topology and connectivity, including IP addresses, etc. But the problem has always been that complex diagrams are hard to maintain and keep current, and there's no guarantee they reflect reality.

Ethan had a great line, that Visio is the "single source of the way the network looked at some point in time". Which was humorous and insightful enough that he tweeted it out. Then all sorts of hilarity ensued.

So, Visio may represent a somewhat archaic view of the network, maybe? Or maybe Visio as a topology mapping tool is somewhat of a relic? Finally, someone asks:

A Better Way

Well, as fans of Forward Networks know, that answer is a resounding "Yes!". In fact, if your primary interest is automatically maintaining an always-up-to-date topology diagram, with a centralized repository of configuration files and network state, then you only need our Free solution, Forward Essentials. It can collect all of your network data in minutes, builds a diagram, and you are ready to dive in and drill down on all your current network details, protocols, ports and plumbing.

Essentials can collect a new snapshot every day, or more frequently if desired, so you are automatically up to date. And Essentials doesn't merely generate a diagram. It's a very interactive, intuitive user interface that allows you to search, explore and drill down into the network to help research and document devices from every angle. A perfect training tool or a repository for compliance and audit data.

If you're interested in seeing a quick demo video, learning more, or a trial the free product, it all happens here.

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