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Ask Slashdot: Documenting a Tangle of Network Devices?

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the just-work-on-your-mnemonics dept.

Databases 165

LoudMusic writes "One of the many tasks of a network administrator is documenting the network so that other members of the administration and support teams can find devices on the network. Currently my organization uses Excel spreadsheets to handle this, and it's invariably error ridden. We also save a new file with the date in the name each time an update is made. I'd like to move this to a more intelligent database system, but the driving force for keeping it in spreadsheets is the ability to take the document offline, edit it, then upload this new revision to the file server when we have a connection again. Our clients often don't have reliable internet connections, especially when we're tearing their network apart and rebuilding it. The information we're currently documenting about an individual device are: device name, device model, description, IP address, MAC address, physical location, uplink switch & port, and VLAN. What tools exist that would allow us to have multiple users make updates both online and offline simultaneously, and synchronize changes into both the online and offline copies?"

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SharePoint (1)

Bob535 (639390) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582461)

If your company has it, if not, and you have a spare Win2K8R2 machine laying around you can just install the free version.

Re:SharePoint (1)

Bob535 (639390) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582477)

More specifically a custom list in SharePoint, using SharePoint Workspace (part of enterprise Office 2010) in order to access offline.

and what about the offline part? (2)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582485)

and what about the offline part?

Re:and what about the offline part? (1)

bLanark (123342) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582545)

and what about the offline part?

What about the "offline access [] " available?

Re:and what about the offline part? (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582701)

3rd part software and not free

Re:SharePoint (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40582563)

If your not trolling, please kill yourself.

Re:SharePoint (1)

Bob535 (639390) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582595)

you're.. and I'm not trolling I'm a linux user at home, but my job every day is in front of MS SharePoint and Windows X, use what you have.

Re:SharePoint (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40583205)

Sounds like he has Excel. So to reconcile "Use what you have." and "Install a new SharePoint Server" one would seem to need some form of cognitive dissonance.

Re:SharePoint (2)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582755)

Only if you want it to fail completely at the worst possible moments, buy expensive clients, and run headlong into the built-in limitations with no possibility to extend or work around them without hiring 3 people to support Sharepoint. I just dealt with a company that had gone this route, and it was very difficult to extract any information to usable configuration or scanning information, especially for security surveys.

What you need depends on the scale. Large environments might benefit from commercial tools like OpsManager, which is quite expensive, and for which 90% of the features are unwanted and not useful. But the 10% that are useful include very effective configurable auto-mapping and Visio plugins for shops that like Visio.

Re:SharePoint (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40583245)

Grab RackTables. Free and expandable.

I don't know (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40582463)

but if it doesn't involve QR codes, I don't think it's sufficiently hip.

Re:I don't know (3, Interesting)

Skapare (16644) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582543)

Those could be handy with the right smartphone app. Shoot the QR and the app finds it in the database (not spreadsheet) and shows you the network diagram around it (as last known to be wired or scanned).

A tiny QR printer could be nice.

Re:I don't know (1)

way2trivial (601132) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582797)

Re:I don't know (1)

Skapare (16644) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582963)

Does it make the QR code labels?

Re:I don't know (2)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#40583633)

No, but it's webscale, agile, and all the cool kids are using it.

Not offline, but.. (3)

grasshoppa (657393) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582473)

I use wiki software for network documentation. Tied it in to nagios, actually, so on the device listing page I can jump right to the documentation page.

Not offline, I know, so it doesn't directly match the job requirements. But I think "offline" is a bad requirement anyway.

Re:Not offline, but.. (1)

Skapare (16644) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582513)

Offline is not a worry unless you can't reach the nearest cell tower from your smartphone.

Re:Not offline, but.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40583027)

We only have one tower accessible from our "city" of 6000. This single tower hosts multiple companies' equipment but does have issues quite often that take them all down. Not reaching the nearest cell tower could be a big possibility for some.

Re:Not offline, but.. (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582559)

I use wiki software for network documentation. Tied it in to nagios, actually,

Another fun trick with nagios is connecting it to something like RANCID... A simple perl script (err, well, sorta simple anyway) eats the cisco configs gathered by RANCID and emits nagios config files...

Re:Not offline, but.. (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582673)

At one point where I wanted something similar, I did it with a dot notation file and GraphViz. It had the following advantages:

- As it's text, version control and multiple users can be handled quite easily.
- It's open source.
- The only tool you need to make updates is a text editor.
- It can be displayed as a Node diagram (or other) using a variety of free tools.

Each documented node can specify name, MAC, address, type, model, etc, and you can define the links between nodes. You can also use this to handle very large networks etc, by maintaining separate parts in separate files. The software will create a single large diagram for you from them if you like. Auto-generate the diagram file from the committed files as serve on a web server.

If you are a customer site working on their ... (2, Insightful)

Skapare (16644) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582493)

... currently broken network trying to fix it, you should be using a smartphone app to access the database (not spreadsheet) of network configuration info.

ANd if you are a moron, you (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40582725)

can't differentiate between Subject and Comment fields.

I call BS (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40582749)

Bullcrap. I'm a moron and yet I can differentiate between the two. QED

Some idiot modded that up? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40582751)

Where is even the least bit of insight in that idiotic post? How does that help the submitter in the slightest?

git (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40582499)

based on the requirement "multiple users make updates both online and offline simultaneously", i'd consider using git

Re:git (1)

xombo (628858) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582811)

I doubt you'll be able to properly merge the spreadsheet via git.

Re:git (1)

next_ghost (1868792) | more than 2 years ago | (#40583069)


Enterprise DBMS (5, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582503)

Currently my organization uses Excel spreadsheets to handle this, and it's invariably error ridden.

In the real world, away from press releases, sadly, Excel is the real world enterprise DBMS for almost all corporations.

I also worked for a place that used a word processor for DBMS.

No codd normal forms, and joins/selects are done completely by intern / human power.

Basically all the "paperless office" did was make it slightly easier to do existing paper processes. No core technological/process changes.

Re:Enterprise DBMS (2)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#40583781)

Sadly, I've seen things quite similar, but this is what happens if you let end users design a system.

"We need a menu |screen |report |transaction |table |program| app[1] that has the customer phone no and name in it. And another one that has the name and city. And another that has the fiscal ID and the phone number ... "

Essentially replicating a card index (or rather, several).

The joke was, a sophisticated multifunction search that did all that and loads more was already there, right out of the box.

[1] to them, these (and many others) were synonyms...

Version control (4, Informative)

dna_(c)(tm)(r) (618003) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582509)

Instead of file name encoded versioning system, use a distributed version control system: Git, Mercurial, Bazaar. It solves your offline problem too and you can keep committing changes when the network is down... And you keep track of who did what.

Re:Version control (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40582657)

I was thinking this as well, but seeing diffs of excel sheets doesn't seem really doable.

Re:Version control (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40582775)

I would not think that is realistic:
1. All those systems are far too complicated for non-technical users unless you dumb them down until they provide nothing.
2. Please, do try to merge an excel file with another. In any system.
3. It still doesn't solve the dependency of excel.

However, it is not at all impossible to construct a system whos state can be stored on the client. Yes, there will be trouble if everyone constantly edits everything, but that is usually not that a big problem since that's not how most workflows are.
One way is to always consider changes as additions. Another is to restrict what is stored locally.
Anyway. Start small, quick and ugly, then when you know what is actually needed and what the users use, scrap and rewrite beautifully. This takes much discipline, though.

Re:Version control (1)

680x0 (467210) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582987)

You can solve the last 2 problems by working with csv (comma-separated-values) files. Just about any spreadsheet app (Excel, OpenOffice, Gnumeric) can edit them, and you can even edit them in a text editor if need be. As text, they'll diff easily, so you can merge, etc. in your VC of choice.

Re:Version control (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40583575)

This reminds me of the classic Excel-as-a-DB error: sorting one column without sorting the other columns.

I've seen millions of $CURRENCY going through the drain that way, several times. Nowadays, spreadsheets finally give a warning if you try to make that mistake.

One time I could prevent it having ill consequences: they gave me the old spreadsheet with the names (of authors) in correct order and the new spreadsheet after (mis)sorting which had the complete data (book title, price, etc...). So I exported both to CSV, wrote a little script to match like with like and put that into a new CSV file which was imported into Excel.

The solution presented by the parent would work, but the submitter should rather use a database server than a spreadsheet for his need.

Re:Version control (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#40583875)

Right. 95% of users won't understand what CSV means. Even if you explicitly show them, with pictures and videos and everything, that figure will stay above 80.

Of the rest, even the bright ones will forget at least half of the time and save it as a fucking mp3 or something.

There's like a thousand tools (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40582517)

From map loggers to whatever else.

Hm, use the cloud? (1)

g0tai (625459) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582529)

What a good advert for a chromebook! :)

At least that should work in the event of disaster recovery and you have 'no network' to get any documents from.

Visio (2)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582537)

Visio []

Re:Visio (1)

Skapare (16644) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582561)

Does it still have that plugin where you give it the tabular network scan and it builds the network diagram itself?

Re:Visio (1)

Comen (321331) | more than 2 years ago | (#40583147)

Ok well to truly document your network I would say Visio some kind of visual application is going to be the best tool. I don’t use it to document client ports but all the big inter connections between routers and switches to give you a good understanding of what is going on. Using a spreadsheet only is not going to be a good way to document anything, I visual representation is always going to be better to get a good understanding on what is going on. Sometimes I do put notes on what kind of client ports connection are hanging off a certain devices. The spreadsheet work I do is IP address allocations and descriptions of what is using that space where. I have had to deal with nightmare scenarios many times were wiring was a big clustered mess of spaghetti, but instead of documenting anything before hand, I just unplugged one port at a time, and watched to see what port went down on the other side, and ran a new cable to replace that connection and make sure the switch/router port descriptions were well documented after that.

dhcpd.conf (2)

Richard_J_N (631241) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582539)

I recommend the self-documenting approach. You already have to map name and MAC in dhcpd.conf (assuming you use DHCP reservations), so just put some extra comments in there (what the device actually is). That way you can be fairly sure that the docs will remain in sync with reality. However, that approach only works for relatively small networks.

In general, avoid the "split brain" approach where you have independenytly generated documentation AND config files. Make one generate the other.

Google Docs! (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40582551)

Have you tried Google Docs?

-Easy to use and familiar look to "office" users
-Only requires a web browser or a smartphone
-Automatically saves revisions of the same file so you don't have to manually version
    (Come on! It's 2012 out there and IT people are still manually versioning files? Have you been trapped in a time loop?)
-Collaborative so allows simultaneous edits of the same document (yes, simultaneous. No weird concept of lock-and-release queue.)
-Now has an offline mode that automatically reconciles edits when online again

I suppose that fits the bill for your description. Have fun.

Re:Google Docs! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40583347)

I worked for a place that had a half-dozen people or so updating software on 13,000+ computers (via dialup).

They used the spreadsheet in Google Docs to keep track of everything, and it worked brilliantly. It allowed them to keep track of things from anywhere (some of the work had to be done in the middle of the night, so working from home was common), which meant that everyone kept the master spreadsheet up to date, rather than tracking the changes manually and then (maybe) updating a corporate version the next day.

I have trouble believing that any other solution would have worked anywhere near as well, regardless of the price.

For dealing with a tangle ... (4, Funny)

Skapare (16644) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582567)

... you need to have in your toolkit a nice set of very durable wire cutters.

Depends on the Size (3, Insightful)

GeneralTurgidson (2464452) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582571)

For most small businesses an excel file is fine. Medium business, use a wiki or something. Large enterprise networks need some kind of CMDB. I use Racktables, but other ones like iTop exist too. There are also paid offerings like Cisco Prime, or Orion. One really interesting offering is this software called Blueprints by pathway systems. It's more about dependency mapping, but it does network documentation too.

As offline as you can get with MySQL replication (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40582609)


It's not geared exclusively to network gear, however does include a number of features that make it nice for self documenting network config.

Rancid and/or Racktables (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40582611)

Racktables []
Rancid []

been there done that (5, Insightful)

v1 (525388) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582613)

this is an internet classic that should be a Right of Passage for any budding network admin. []

And not once, not twice, but thrice I've had to deal with said tangles. My solution was the same in all cases. Set aside some time and COMPLETELY document it. I use excel and conditional formulas to create cross lists for separate panels, to catch errors while trying to document.

Then once I'm certain I have it right, develop a new organization, then pull everything and start over.

My first experience with this removed multiple token rings, at least FOUR loops, and consolidated twelve hubs (not switches) and installed a master switch. Boot times on the floor went from 30 minutes to 45 seconds, and daily network problems vanished never to return. The morning after the rebuild we experienced an entire day of jaw-dropping throughout the building.

Do it. It's so worth it.

Also another hint. If you have to deal with a lot of unmarked jacks throughout the building, enlist a helper or two and use wireless headsets. One person at the rack with a keen eye for a light going out, and another one or two elsewhere briefly unplugging ethernet cables from live machines. Makes identification of jacks actually quick and easy.

Re:been there done that (3, Interesting)

Scutter (18425) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582685)


Also another hint. If you have to deal with a lot of unmarked jacks throughout the building, enlist a helper or two and use wireless headsets. One person at the rack with a keen eye for a light going out, and another one or two elsewhere briefly unplugging ethernet cables from live machines. Makes identification of jacks actually quick and easy.

FYI: Most decent cable tracers will have a "blink" function. You plug in a module under the desk and it'll blink the switch status light with a pattern that's easy to pick out of a rack by glance. If the port's not cross-connected, then it's time to break out the tone and pickup wand.

Re:been there done that (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40583087)

Tone the jacks out and mark them with a codifed scheme of some kind. If you are concerned with users knowing where they are plugged in mark the jacks on the inside of the faceplate. A-1, J-14, FA-42, etc, where the letter is a panel designation and the number is a port. Then use the coding in your documentation and floor plans. Or just document them properly as they are put in.

Re:been there done that (1)

v1 (525388) | more than 2 years ago | (#40583239)

Then use the coding in your documentation and floor plans. Or just document them properly as they are put in.

In all of my cases I wasn't the one that put it in. In most of them the cable dogs had installed jacks without marking them, and end up with a big wad of cable coming out the ceiling and just put ends on them and plug directly into ports on hubs/switches, or randomly punch them down on the panel and then randomly run jumpers from the panel to the switches. Definitely the lazy approach, but that's what you have to pick up after a lot of the time.

Toners and jack identifying remotes are more useful if you're a one-man-band, saves time running back and forth between jacks and the closet. But that's why I suggest headsets and an assistant. So much faster than by yourself.

Anything that involves a human updating a document (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40582621)

Will be out of date the moment they hit save file. If you can't do it programmatically with Mac-address-tables / arp / snmp or other real-time querying tools. You're just humped. Work toward this end even if you can't reach it right away. Any work not to this end is just masturbatory and only serves to do lip-service toward solving the problem. Your network *must* self-document or you just need to get used to the idea of the documentation always being in some state of "wrong."

Re:Anything that involves a human updating a docum (2)

Cylix (55374) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582791)

Indeed, router configurations should be stored in git or similar rcs.

What hasn't really been mentioned is the use of cdp. If your switches and routers (both Cisco and some non-cisco) support this information it can be very useful to inventory connections. Checkin scripts can update an endpoint with the port information. Then simply tracking the physical location of resources by either asset id and mac address ties the network topology to a physical locality.

Labeling wall jacks to punch down block ports is handy for tracking cabling issues, but not mandatory for identifying port to port connectivity.

However, depending on the skill level involved it might not be trivial and the deployment itself could be time consuming. However, the whole package can be put together in a few days. I worked at one place where someone had the right idea and the implementation was mostly there. (albeit broken) It was fairly easy to fix it up and push out the changes via their deployment process. Physically performing inventory on the network did take some time, but we sent teams to each location for asset identification. If there had not been a desire to actually store rack unit ids we would have never had to perform physical scanning. (Completely worthless for our needs, but mother corporate wanted it down to the RU.)

Re:Anything that involves a human updating a docum (1)

swalve (1980968) | more than 2 years ago | (#40584007)

Anything that involves a human updating a document ... Will be out of date the moment they hit save file.

Only if you are a terrible manager.

IPPlan (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40582629)

IPPlan is what i use to solve exactly this problem, but PDF output of it isnt the prettiest.
it works, and given that the scale of problems I would have if i couldnt access the IPPlan box would be such that a copypasta from PDF kept in a dropbox folder accessible by smartphone/tablet/laptop by myself or others is minimal in contrast...

Infoblox (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40582637)

Infoblox used to sell a box calledPortIQ. I think that has been wrapped into a new product that they sell but it will do everything that you want. You should also look at their iPam solution, which integrates. I think you will find them very beneficial in this situation.

git (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40582639)

Dump any modified excel file into a text file of comma seperated values and dump it into git.

convert the CSV files back into excell on a weekly or monthly basis and distribute is as the official file.

could also use a sed script to process it into entries that sqlite could build a database on.

Process looks just the same for people in the feild techs (edit an excell file) but does versioning (via git) and even perhaps give you a proper database that you could write tools on top of to help techs and customers.

OCS Inventory-NG (5, Informative)

Nimey (114278) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582645)

OCS Inventory [] is a database and reporting interface that will keep an up-to-date database of the devices on your network(s). It's got a server component that runs on Linux or Windows (Linux is recommended) and client agents that run on Windows, *nix, and MacOS X. The client agents also use nmap to scan for other types of nodes, such as routers and printers. It's very slick; I've used it for six years for my job, and we currently track over 500 computers plus a few other devices through nmap.

The whole thing is GPL, and you can opt for a support contract.

It can also integrate with another package called GLPI [] , which among other things handles trouble tickets and is also Free.

My Brain Just Exploded (4, Insightful)

Gorobei (127755) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582647)

Um, you're a technologist in charge of a network of computers, and you want to use a manual system to document your own network so that "other members of the administration and support teams can find devices on the network"?

This is like some dystopian sic-fi satire.

That "network" thing you have, with all its "devices," can actually tell you what it's doing! Better yet, some of those devices can "execute code," which is technology talk for stuff like generating lists of devices and their attributes, putting the results in a spreadsheet, etc.

Google "ping" and "traceroute." Then work your way into the 1990s, then the 2000s, then take a look at some of the tools we have today.

Re:My Brain Just Exploded (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40583931)

While I concur with your sentiment, I would speculate that most devices on the network are not GPS enabled. So while it's good (actually the only sane way to do it) to have the network report back which devices exist, to get a handle on network wiring and physical locations you need to walk the floor. However, parent is 100% correct to start with auto-discovery and then fill in the blanks. If you start with a manual process you will never finish. If you start with automation, you'll get 90% of the way their after the first 5 minutes of the tool going live.

To further support my statement and the OP, my captcha is "rosiness."

Re:My Brain Just Exploded roxy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40583961)

Why document it? What objectives are you trying to achieve? That is what you should be looking at. Without exception, everywhere that I have worked, when there are problems, there is no time to try to look at a document printed or online. You just look at what is actually plugged in. Why do I care what switch a PC or printer is plugged into? How can that help anything. It is just busy work. No one trusts the docs because they are never accurate, then people start pointing fingers.

Do as this poster suggested, let the network document itself. There are tons of ways to do this with ping, arp, etc. and plenty of programs that will make nice graphs, etc. But who cares about the graphs except the PHBs?

Re:My Brain Just Exploded (1)

swalve (1980968) | more than 2 years ago | (#40584023)

He probably assigns static IP addresses and only lets specific MAC addresses through the switch. That way, nothing can happen without him knowing about it.

Operations Support System (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40582669)

If you can afford it, you could use an OSS like Cramer ( It's a database tailored to storing just the kinds of things you're talking about.

Use LibreOffice Calc (1)

madmod (988136) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582671)

Use LibreOffice Calc, open a cell at the top left height: half the page tall and width: about 6 inches. Then use the drawing features of Calc and just put boxes, connectors, labels, etc. in your drawing. I usually then put written information below the drawing cell that describes special details network details, issues, and special notes about wiring. By having the entire page saved as an .ods document, you'll be able to open it easily. (I have over 150 such pages for clients in my business.)

GAH (4, Informative)

Shoten (260439) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582689)

I'm reading all the recommendations, and it's giving me a case of Tourette's. Haven't any of these people actually had to DO what they're talking about? There's a whole realm of software meant just for this purpose: it's called IPAM, or "IP Address Management." The proper solutions also contain exactly the information you're looking to capture in addition as well, and integrate with DNS (or, in some cases, include robust DNS capability) so that they are accurate and you don't need to update the database when you set a new DNS entry. Infoblox makes one of the better implementations that I've seen, but since I don't know your exact needs in detail, I would simply look at IPAM solutions in general.

Re:GAH (1)

nine-times (778537) | more than 2 years ago | (#40583169)

It depends on the size of your organization and what you're really trying to do. If the main purpose is to keep an inventory of a small amount of equipment, along with physical location, and you just want to keep the IP information along with it, then setting up software specific to that purpose can be overkill. Sure, you can tie stuff into DNS and DHCP to keep track of IP changes, but it may be that you're also keeping track of printers and peripherals, which won't show up on an IP scan. Maybe you have to install agents on clients to collect the information you want, and then suddenly there's a bug with that agent that interferes with some other piece of software. Even if it makes some things easier, you might also have to enter a bunch of information manually, train people to use it, develop the reports that you want, keep the software up-to-date, troubleshoot problems, bla bla bla.

Your suggestion is good, but it's also important to know what you're getting into. Sometimes low-tech, manual, inefficient, stupid ways of doing things are actually smarter and more efficient.

Re:GAH (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40583391)

Exactly. Right on. Theres an open source tool called IPPlan, you can add custom fields to the database to accomodate any information that it may not have by default, and its web based. For unreliable network connections, I thinks it's the best.. I'm not saying go with opensource, you got plenty of commercial good solutions, like BTs Diamond.

Re:GAH (0)

vlueboy (1799360) | more than 2 years ago | (#40583923)

Haven't any of these people actually had to DO what they're talking about? There's a whole realm of software meant just for this purpose

Thanks to TIMTOWTDI and the lack of regulation, there's a tradeoff in working in the nascent field of PC tech. Qualified degree-holders are the minority, and certs, colleges and pro training courses focus on vendor tools like CISCO, COMPTIA rather than general solutions --you learn those from textbooks and Real-Life networking interaction. It's part of our sad lock-in world. Compare to how each PC tech applies their personal choice of tools for, say, spyware-cleaning. It's not like there's a law to follow that you learn in tech school, let alone CS programs that cover no IT at all.

The dedicated guy you pay to lay cables or install stuff lacks the training / interest of a network admin and thus would not know these tools. If you have some newbie/intern/secretary who takes your handwritten observations and patch panel numbers / mac addresses and knows only excel then cvs/git/wiki version control and CSV conversion becomes a large obstacle. Perhaps companies should advertise management solutions some more, but these tend to be hidden gems that are only seen by people in the trenches because they cost so much anyway. That would help us to stop asking the same answered questions (or finding they have unsolved answers)

Compare that to the non-existing world of OSS Data Recovery tools and how we end up finding that lost clusters on the VP's machine won't be coming back because nobody is trained or willing to pay for the non-advertised, shady tools you find in a panicked google search.

we use epic where i work (2)

rrossman2 (844318) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582699)

Its a cms setup for this task.

We input machine name, make, model, serial number, host name, IP, physical location, wall port #, where the funding comes.from, role of the machine, and it to attach devices together (say you have a monitor in epic and a scanner, and a PC... and the monitor is attached to the PC as is the scanner.. epic to add those devices to.the base unit).

Every piece of equipment at the 6 libraries on the main campus as well as all the branch campuses of Penn state are in the database. We also have it linked to big fix so it will list any machines big fix finds that isn't in our epic database as well as the other way around.

You can then search and filter via criteria and download any "reports" via a csv file.

We log I listed (like Mac address etc) but that gives you an idea

Re:we use epic where i work (1)

rrossman2 (844318) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582721)

I should add there's well over 5000 devices in our epic setup

Re:we use epic where i work (1)

rrossman2 (844318) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582783)

Here's a link if you'd like to test it out []

Re:we use epic where i work (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40582965)

Holy shit, my eyes. Not sure I want to use software designed by people who have that as their website. What is this? The 90s?

Re:we use epic where i work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40583425)

The home page [] is great too.

(The 90s just called. They want their blink tag back)

Idea (1)

Murdoch5 (1563847) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582707)

Last time I had to map a network I used a tool from [] . It worked really well, I decided later to write my own tool using nmap and C. Now I can't give out the actual program because the company who I worked for owns it, but if you have a weekend it's a great quick way to write a tool that can discover networks.

Re:Idea (1)

stronghawk (1595625) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582789)

I second the original approach: check out Solarwinds ( They have a lot of network and asset management tools, many of them free. They have an IP address-based discovery/spreadsheet free tool that does most of what the original poster is looking for.

If it's a real enterprise system... try NetMRI (5, Informative)

ksharif (1334085) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582711)

Re:If it's a real enterprise system... try NetMRI (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40582845)

How much? Also, you guys really need better SEO. I've been looking for this sort of product for months now and this is the first I've seen it.

Re:If it's a real enterprise system... try NetMRI (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40583335)

+1 to Infoblox.

I don't work on this product... I use it every day and absolutely love it. My company is transitioning to an Infoblox-managed environment. This software makes it ludicrously easy to organize and visual complex networks (resulting from acquisitions, rapid expansion, etc.).

Easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40582731)

automate it: Cacti with MacTrack plugin, rancid and nagios or openNms

Spiceworks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40582761)

Spiceworks does a good job of automatically documenting the network. Combined with proper logins it can also document software installs and keys, bandwidth usage, personnel, and more. Also allows for metadata on each machine. Then it can draw you a pretty network map for people that can only deal with pictures (ie, the boss). Finally it can communicate and sync up with other Spiceworks installs on different network segments to give broader reporting. So you could install it locally at the client site and should the connection go down, it will continue to harvest local information that it will sync up when the connection returns. The master will even tell you when that host goes offline.

And of course... it's free! (1)

DragonTHC (208439) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582803) It's an online diagramming tool. You can create diagrams and flow charts alike.

It's far more useful than using a spreadsheet. []

excel? really? are you sure you have all of your NT 3.51 servers listed in there?

Create a wiki for it (3, Interesting)

FridayBob (619244) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582833)

MediaWiki is your friend. I set up one for a company a few years ago any later started using it to document my responsibilities there, which cover almost the entire ICT system.

My part of the wiki starts on an ICT page, which is divided into sections for Hardware, Software and Telecom. Each contains a number of links to articles with table overviews that contain links to further, more specific articles. The Hardware section has links to eight articles: Servers, Workstations, Monitors, Ethernet networks, Printers Scanners, Wi-Fi and Ethernet switches. The Software section has links to seven articles: Software packages, Scripts, Domain names, IP subnets, Websites, Cronjobs and AFS volumes. The Telecom section has links to six articles: Phone numbers, telecom subscriptions, Modems, Faxes, Telephones and PBXs. For each of the articles mentioned I also created index pages and every single article has various external and internal links for easy navigation. I even created a series of terminology articles to explain various concepts and how they are important to the site.

With several years of Wikipedia experience, the idea of using a wiki for this purpose seemed obvious to me. However, what was not easy was coming up with the structure outlined above. I had first tried out a deeper hierarchy based on the various geographical locations involved, but backed out of that idea when it was clear that it would be too much work.

Producing this kind of documentation in as much detail as I have represents a lot of work, but it has its advantages. For example, it not only means that critical knowledge about the system is now much harder to lose and easier to share, I've also learned many new things about the system (such as all the hardware specs) and it has also forced me to research areas that I wasn't completely sure about.

Re:Create a wiki for it (2)

glassware (195317) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582907)

Seconding the wiki.

Why is wiki better than all the other structured systems out there? Because you can easily add all the notes that just don't have places to go. There are always "weird things" you want to add to the comments; there are always hyperlinks you want to make; and there is always the need to update something in a flexible way that structured systems don't allow.

We had a wiki system that documented all our IP allocations for servers; and we linked all the servers to the pages for how to rebuild them if they burned to the ground; and we linked all the network devices to the support contact information and contract numbers for all the vendors we needed to call if they went down; and the system was phenomenal. Anytime something had a problem, you looked it up and there was a direct link to how to solve the problem, or a note from the previous time the same thing happened, and a cross-link to the other system that depended on it.

Even better, there was no stupid restriction preventing you from annotating something. Whenever I wanted to add a description to something, or a comment on an exception, or if I wanted to flag an IP address as "I think this is correct but it might be getting its address from DHCP and I'm not sure it's permanent", there was no enforcement. I could add it, and people could read it, and when it got confirmed the annotation went away.

If you need offline access to your wiki, buy an iPad and a 3G connection. It's far cheaper than spending $10k per year on a structured documentation system license.

Re:Create a wiki for it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40583739)

I'm thinking about setting up a wiki for a different purpose, but I'm wondering... how difficult is it to set up a MediaWiki wiki?

I have some familiarity with setting up web servers, but probably not sufficient. If I have a slightly underaverage IT staff, would this take days, weeks, or months to set up?

Re:Create a wiki for it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40583995)

Data on a wiki cannot be (easily) automatically generated and kept up to date. Doing this shit manually once is bad enough. Keeping it consistent is impossible. QA? Out the door.

Use SNMP, NMAP, facter, fping, ping, whatever to get IPs and macaddresses, port numbers and hostnames. Throw it in a database. Or a flatfile. The datastore is NOT important, because you should be able to reproduce the data automatically by having software gather the info from the network.

Wiki yes: But with an auto detecting CMDB. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40584021)

I agree with the wiki for the documentation side of things, but you must, must, must tie it into an automated discovery system. Wiki's are great, especially for knowledge capture, when there is buy in, and if it's for yourself and successors, well there's your buy-in. However, they do not do network scanning automatically. Now writing a program to tie in your autodiscovery tool's database to the wiki should be relative chump change, and it will be invaluable. A wiki won't tell you when a network goes dark. A wiki will tell you the network was there, but when stuff disappears, you'll only catch it if you go looking for it or automate scanning your network.

Google Docs? (1)

nine-times (778537) | more than 2 years ago | (#40582895)

If you want an excel file that can be edited simultaneously by multiple users, then maybe consider Google Docs? I'm not sure how well the offline syncing ends up working, but there is some support.

I Think This Is What You Are Looking For (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40582931)

I know a few companies that use this. It is free and comprehensive.

ikiwiki and git (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40583129) and git as the backend

clone the repo to your workers machines. Make changes offline, and sync with a git push when there is network.

Or use the web interface to the ikiwiki directly if you have network.

It's really powerful to be able to do a `git pull` and have a full copy of your docs, knowing you are going to be offline, and be able to do a git push when you can to sync any changes that you've made.

SNMP Discover (2)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 2 years ago | (#40583257)

Uhmm, there are automated tools for that... Zabbix, OpenSNMP and many more.

use git? (1)

Sadsfae (242195) | more than 2 years ago | (#40583259)

For the least amouint of effort, you could simply use git and keep the same name. That'll let you have revision control of the single document. []

While this isn't a permanent solution it's better than what you have and pretty damn easy to setup.

fossil (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40583393)

Save the data as a CSV text file and keep it in a fossil repository ( As long as the changes are linear, then there's no problem, if multiple people make changes then it will store the changes as branches which can be merged. You can view the data in spreadsheet format, but by saving it as csv, fossil will make merging changes easier, and since fossil will let you make multiple changes/revisions offline and sync with an online repository when you have internet access.

intranet webpage (1)

Fosterocalypse (2650263) | more than 2 years ago | (#40583399)

create a table formatted like you have in your xls file and create a simple webpage to view the data in real time. You could upload the xls file to start exactly where you guys are at now and even create and export to spreadsheet feature if you need it for reporting etc. Should only take 2-3 hours to set everything up the way you want it. My first thought was Sharepoint but that's also provided you have a Windows box to put it on and not just *.nix based servers.

Build a page that lets them upload a csv (1)

whois (27479) | more than 2 years ago | (#40583539)

I used to have the same type of setup. We required the field techs to submit an as built of what they put out there. Then we would run a script that checked to see that it was all online and configured properly, then stick it into a database.

It wasn't perfect. It didn't save a copy of the original upload so once it was in the db it was just more records.. reverting changes was a manual thing for me if something went wrong. But you can make it as complex as you like, your primary problem is going to be enforcing the change in work habits, which has got to come from management or you'll have people holding out no matter how much better the new system is.

LLDP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40583673)

It's unlikely that you can acheive this, but if you have a network architecture with swithes that support LLDP (802.1AB), you can completely eliminate excel spreadsheets as you can poll the switches using SNMP to see what devices are connected to each switch port. (I may not fully understand your situation though.)

There's a Linux daemon that allows Linux HW to announce their presence to an LLDP capable switch so it is known what device is on what port. ( There's probably also the same avaialable for Windows HW too.

Drupal (1)

sprior (249994) | more than 2 years ago | (#40583707)

I've been thinking about the next time I do something like this and I'd take a serious look at doing it in Drupal. The Drupal website content management system you ask? Well once you get past a learning curve you realize that Drupal is a web based front end to a database which includes developer defined content types with custom fields and a CRUD front end with powerful permissions management, change tracking, query system, and presentation layer. For the offline issue there are export modules to Excel.


Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40583955)

You'll get a help desk system, some automated acquisition, and an IT inventory system for $0 + setup time (which is a morning or so if you're fairly adept)

If you got money - there is HP UCMDB DDMA (1)

kubusja (581677) | more than 2 years ago | (#40583971)

Question is how rich is your organization? There are corporate tools like HP uCMDB DDMA that keep the configuration database updated, detect changes, scan your networks etc... If you do not have money - look for Configuration Management tools - this is what you are looking for. If you totally lack money - use something like SVN/git etc.
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