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What is Automated Network Mapping and How Can I Use It?

As a network engineer, the ability to quickly and accurately understand the layout and elements of a network is crucial, whether for troubleshooting problems or planning network changes. This is where automated network mapping software comes into play, a capability that significantly streamlines the process of network management. Automated network mapping uses specialized algorithms to discover all devices connected to your network and the interconnecting infrastructure, chart their relationships, and create a dynamic, interactive visual representation. This technology is a crucial part of a network engineer’s arsenal. Think of it like a GPS for your network: it tells you where everything is and how it’s interconnected.

The Power of Automated Network Mapping

Here are some key features that make automated network mapping a powerful tool for streamlining network management:

  • Automated network discovery and mapping: Discover every device on your network and map their connections automatically. This eliminates the time-consuming hassle of manual network diagramming and topology tracing.
  • Multi-level network discovery: Gain comprehensive visibility with network discovery that goes beyond switches and routers, revealing WiFi access points, servers, clients, and IoT devices.
  • Detect changes in network topology: Re-discovery can keep your network visualization regularly updated, catching new devices, configuration changes, and potential issues as needed.
  • Export network diagrams to various formats: Easily transform your network data into shareable formats like Visio, PDFs, or others for network documentation, troubleshooting, and collaboration.
  • Compliance reporting for PCI, SOX, HIPAA: Staying compliant is a huge stress point. Most regulatory compliance frameworks require frequent updates to network inventories. Automated network mapping tools streamline network documentation, generating reports tailored to industry regulations, simplifying compliance efforts.

Step-by-Step Guide to Automated Network Mapping

Follow the steps below to get started with automated network mapping:

  1. Choose your tool: Select the right tool. Consider the size and complexity of your network when making this decision. The EtherScope® nXG is your all-in-one solution for mapping both wired and wireless infrastructures. For more focused needs, consider:
  2. Deployment & discovery: Connect the tool to your network. Provide basic network information (like IP ranges) and any necessary credentials. The tool uses protocols like SNMP, LLDP, and CDP, plus WiFi scanning and other techniques, to discover all devices and their connections.
  3. Mapping & visualization: NetAlly’s Link-Live™ software transforms the collected data into a precise, interactive network diagram. Explore your map using zoom, search, and filtering features.
  4. Regular updates: Conducting the discovery process on a regular cadence keeps your map updated by detecting network and device changes, alerting you to potential issues.

Real-world Examples of Automated Network Mapping

Network mapping is a critical task for any organization, and automated tools streamline this often complex and labor-intensive process. Here’s how automated network mapping can be used in various real-world scenarios.

Example 1: Maintaining Complex Server Room Networks

With the pace of change in server rooms, network documentation can quickly become outdated. An automated network mapping tool can quickly generate up-to-date maps of the wired network. This helps pinpoint configuration issues, identify bottlenecks, and troubleshoot problems rapidly. Example tool: NetAlly LinkRunner 10G.

Example 2: Mapping Mixed Wired and Wireless Networks

Setting up a new office or maintaining large enterprise networks requires mapping both wired and wireless connections. Automated network mapping tools can create detailed maps showing wireless access point placement, wired network infrastructure, and potential connectivity issues. This allows network engineers to optimize coverage and plan for expansion. Example tool: NetAlly EtherScope nXG.

Example 3: Optimizing WiFi Coverage

WiFi coverage can be uneven, especially in large venues or complex environments. An automated WiFi mapping and surveying tool can visualize WifFi signals. This lets you identify dead zones, adjust access point placement, and ensure WiFi performance in office environments, for large events, or across sprawling areas like campuses. Example tool: NetAlly AirCheck G3 PRO.

Example 4: Network Security and Vulnerability Assessment

Securing a network requires visibility into all connected devices. Security-focused automated network mapping tools scan the network for unauthorized devices and potential vulnerabilities. This is vital for security audits, proactive risk mitigation, and uncovering potential attack surfaces. Example tools: NetAlly CyberScope / CyberScope Air.

Benefits of Automated Network Mapping

Here’s how automated network mapping software and enhanced network visualization transform your work:

  • Time and money savings: Eliminate the labor-intensive process of manual network mapping and tracing cables, saving time and resources.
  • Troubleshooting efficiency: Pinpoint network issues quickly, following visual clues on the network diagram.
  • Improved network visibility: Understand the structure of your hybrid network for security, capacity planning, and change management.
  • Better documentation: Forget outdated network diagrams. Automated network mapping ensures your network documentation is always accurate and up-to-date.
  • Enhanced collaboration: Share network visualizations with colleagues, vendors, or auditors, ensuring everyone works from the same accurate data.

Say Goodbye to Network Chaos

If you’re still manually mapping your network, you’re wasting precious time and resources. Embrace automated network mapping software with its streamlined network discovery, dynamic network topology mapping, and compliance reporting for a new world of clarity, efficiency, and control over your network environment.

Resources

Author Bio –
Product Manager – Wireless

Julio Petrovitch is a product manager at NetAlly, plus a certified CWNA/CWAP/CWDP/CWSP. He’s worked with network design, testing and validation for more than 15 years. Throughout he’s career he has had the opportunity to work with multiple networking technologies, including POTS, DSL, Copper/Fiber Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and BLE.