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Seven Best Practices for Network Documentation
MSP Wisdom

Seven Best Practices for Network Documentation

By SolarWinds MSP

We’ve often discussed the importance of IT documentation for managed services providers (MSPs), but it’s also important to break down the various types of technical documentation. As an MSP, both the reliability of your network and the maintenance of customer networks are an incredibly important part of the service you offer. Thus, it’s only natural network documentation is critical to ensuring the long-term success of your business.

What is network documentation?

Network documentation refers to the practice of capturing and maintaining records related to your network and the devices connected to it. This documentation can encompass a range of specialized and technical information that’s included according to its relevance. The documentation that’s maintained should give administrators insight into the network and how it performs. Comprehensive network documentation is of crucial importance, because it supports your MSP’s troubleshooting activities and can help you more quickly identify the root cause of any network issues.

Different networks and organizations take varied approaches to network documentation, because the documents that are relevant to one enterprise may not be relevant to another. For instance, a small network with one or two switches and a firewall is unlikely to require much documentation. In fact, in this instance, achieving comprehensive network documentation may just involve keeping a single diagram. For larger networks, however, proper documentation can be extensive.

Especially for MSPs, network documentation has several benefits—namely, the ability to handle and resolve issues efficiently whenever they arise. It can also help service providers proactively determine problem areas of a customer network and apply upgrades where necessary. Finally, in the case of audits or if a customer files a network-related complaint, your documentation will serve as your best defense.

How do you share documents in a network?

Much of your network documentation will be confidential, and if accessed by someone with malicious intentions, could put your organization and network security at risk. While there are ways of encrypting documents to prevent them from falling easily into the wrong unauthorized hands, keeping track of permissions can be difficult without the appropriate network documentation management tools.

An IT documentation management tool can centralize your documentation and optimize the security measures that protect it. It can help you manage access rights so you’re able to respond promptly in the event of technician turnover or a breach. In short, the best way to keep your documentation safe is to utilize a network documentation manager, which will ensure you can share documentation with peace of mind.

How do you document a network?

The following seven network documentation best practices will help you develop a strong strategy to keep your documentation safe, up-to-date, and accessible to the appropriate people.  

1. Create official network documentation policies

As you might guess, creating policies and guidelines around documentation is always a good place to start. This is a crucial step in creating a robust network documentation strategy, as policies guide how you approach network documentation and help outline how you will disseminate these details throughout your organization. Policies help create consistency across the business, which is a key part of upholding data security and preventing critical information from slipping through the cracks.

At a minimum, network documentation policies should include an outline of which network components must be recorded. For clarity and accountability, they should also detail who within your organization is responsible for which parts of the documentation process.  

2. Create a network topology map

A network topology map provides a visual representation of how all of your network parts are related and connected. The map should include each network segment, the routers that connect them, and the gateways, servers, and hardware associated with each. Server details should include the server name, the role performed by the server, and the IP address. Once captured in a visual map, these up-to-date details will provide an intuitive way for viewers to troubleshoot issues with minimal downtime.

3. Document application details, networking hardware, Active Directory, and more

On top of documenting the backup process, there are a handful of other key items and assets you should ensure technicians properly document. Application details are important to document, especially in the event of software audits. These details will also give you insight into the current application status. Relevant application details worth documenting include the version number and a copy of the software license it uses.

Networking hardware refers to the physical devices that establish communications between network components. For example, routers, gateways, and switches. Appropriate hardware documentation will include details of how each device is connected to the network, its configuration, whether the device requires a password, whether a backup exists, and the firmware revision being run by the device. For security purposes, never include the actual password in the document.

Finally, Active Directory is a directory service that lets administrators establish and maintain users, objects, and domains in your network. Active Directory documentation should not be about documenting the service itself, rather the way your organization has decided to utilize the AD service. You should include details of the Active Directory site structure, all domain names and naming conventions, the main functions of your Group Policy Objects, the server hierarchy, any external trusts, group policy settings, and so on. 

4. Create server log books

Apart from the automated system logs monitoring, creating a log book for each individual server where you can track and document any alterations is key. Alterations can include the installation of a new application, configuration changes to your settings, a patch, or any other kind of change made to your server. Keeping track of significant changes allows you to trace any failures back to a time when the system was functioning properly, so that you can identify the change responsible if a problem occurs. The log book should show what changes were made at what time. An accurate and regularly updated log book can be invaluable in the event of a failure.

5. Document your backups

As you already know, it’s extremely important that you maintain regular backups. Appropriate backup documentation helps you and your team understand your backup procedures, so they can be kept consistent and robust. Document the backup software you’re using, as well as any relevant details associated with it—for example, its current version. You should also provide a description of each of your backup operations, as well as details of the location of the backups.

6. Keep things clear and simple

It may seem obvious, but clear labels and directions are a fundamental part of maintaining organized and comprehensible network documentation. Without the appropriate labels, distinguishing between your routers, cables, and servers can be difficult. The information you compile should be clear and concise so that future users can easily understand how to carry out relevant procedures on their own.  

7. Ensure ongoing management of documentation

Once you put your initial information together, you’ll need to perform final checks on your documentation. At this stage, you should ensure the documentation is complete, accurate, organized appropriately, and comprehensible. Keep in mind that someone who is new to the organization and has no previous experience with this network should be able to understand the network from your documentation. If in any doubt, make the appropriate revisions.    

Choosing your network documentation management tools

There are plenty of documentation management tools available on the market, but few of them can meet the requirements specific to services providers. SolarWinds® Passportal + Documentation Manager was designed specifically for use by MSPs. This tool is scalable, user-friendly, and offers a range of advanced features that allow you to deliver a robust and effective network documentation management strategy.

Passportal + Documentation Manager centralizes IT documentation management so when a client encounters a network issue, you can take rapid and informed action. With Passportal, you have access to operating procedures, passwords, a knowledge base of articles, installation and license files, all in one consolidated place.

This tool assists your MSP with standardizing network documentation practices, allowing you to maintain consistent service even in the event of technician turnover. The standard built-in templates make documenting client intelligence easy for technicians.

On top of the documentation abilities it provides, Passportal delivers client password management services to implement secure and compliant password practices. If you’re looking for a network documentation tool that goes the extra mile, Passportal was made for you. To get started today, schedule a demo of Passportal here.

Additional Reading

SolarWinds® adds Passportal suite to its MSP product portfolio. MSP security, simplified. SolarWinds® Passportal + Documentation Manager is a SOC 2 certified, RAPID 7 tested, award winning platform.

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Grow your business faster with the world's first unified platform for true password management and secure IT documentation. More than 2,000 best-in-class MSPs around the world are leveraging our security, automation, and rapid access client knowledge to out preform the competition.Passportal-SolarWinds_1200x190


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