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What is Network Mapping Software?

network mapping software connecting to devices around the world

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There are two ways to document your network: manually and automatically. Network mapping software makes that documentation easy and painless. Then it collects performance data from devices and displays it, giving you a unique graphical view of your network.  

What is a network map?

At its core, a network map is simply a document that helps IT better manage the network. Maps can function as aa visual topology of all your network devices, a geographic map of where devices are located, or a dashboard of network performance. Depending on how they’re created, maps can also tell you information like the IP address of specific devices, how devices are connected, or their availability statistics. They can be as basic or complex as you want them to be.

What is network mapping software?

Many IT teams began creating static network maps by hand or with a tool like Microsoft Excel or Visio to help inventory their equipment. The problem with these static maps is twofold:

  1. You must update them every time there’s a change on the network.
  2. They don’t give you any performance data.  

Network mapping software auto-discovers devices & maps them on a live diagram, displaying the status of each device in real time. Every time something changes, the map updates—so you’re operating off a live snapshot of network performance instead of stale information. What’s more, you can personalize the layout and organization of your maps so they make sense to you.  

Do I really need software for this?

It could make your life a lot easier. If devices are down, you’ll know immediately. Seeing exactly where problems are developing in your network helps you troubleshoot network problems faster and easier.

Most IT administrators are already monitoring their network in some capacity. The advantage of mapping software is that it combines network monitoring and mapping in a visual, at-a-glance dashboard that not only IT, but others in the company can quickly understand.  

How does network mapping software work?

Network mapping software captures performance information and then displays the status of those devices in the map interface, constantly updating in real time. It usually provides features like autodiscovery of IP addresses, IP range scanning, Layer 2 and 3 mapping, and map customization, plus network monitoring and alerting.

There are several types of network mapping software solutions: free, open source, or enterprise.

  • Free network mapping software typically provides a limited feature set and allows you to map a small number of devices or sensors. Organizations who only want to monitor a portion of their IT infrastructure often use it, as do small organizations.  
  • Open source network mapping software is free to use and typically requires some extra set-up and development work. These solutions are usually best for organizations with in-house developers and the time to dedicate to making open source software fit their needs.
  • Enterprise network mapping software is built to meet the needs of modern organizations. Users pay for licenses and technical support.

What are the benefits of network mapping software?

Here are six main benefits:

  1. Helps you maintain end-to-end device performance. One of the top challenges IT professionals face is keeping their networks performing smoothly, according to a study by Enterprise Strategy Group. Network maps make it easier to maintain availability and prevent business-critical issues.
  2. Live data. Data is updating in real time so you know how devices are performing right now, instead of an hour ago.
  3. Faster troubleshooting. When a device is down or bandwidth is slow, with the information in your map, you can quickly form a plan to mitigate.  
  4. Easy customization. With network maps, you’re the artist, and the map is the canvas. The software does the hard work pulling in all your devices, then you can change the colors, icons, layouts, and connection options so they’re most helpful to you.
  5. Easy for anybody to use. Network maps make it easy for your Level 1 tech and your non-IT employees to see exactly what’s going on in the network.
  6. Automatic documentation. You’ll save time when you don’t have to create and constantly update the maps yourself.
  7. Helpful onboarding resource. New IT staff can use your maps to understand how the network topology is laid out, where devices are, and how they’re connected.

Network maps are invaluable tools for time-strapped IT professionals. Using network mapping software, they’re easy to create and give you much more valuable information than a static map ever could.

Learn more about network mapping:

Finding Your Way: Mapping Your Network to Improve Manageability

Network Mapping Best Practices: Four Steps to Success

Why Maps are a Network Pro’s Secret Weapon

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