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Network Topology Mapper: What Is It and Why Does IT Need One?

Learn more about network topology mapping
Posted:
February 23, 2017
free network mapping software and how it compares to paid

 

When a device fails on the network, how quickly can you find the source? Do you know which devices are connected, and where in the building they're located? How accessible is your network performance data—buried in logs somewhere, or in a tool you can actually analyze somewhat quickly?

In the face of network failure, IT has to act fast. Whether you're a one-man IT team or a network administrator working with a team, your job is to restore availability as fast as possible. Every minute that passes costs you in productivity, revenue, and user (or customer) satisfaction. The longer it takes you to troubleshoot and resolve issues, the greater the chance it will escalate into a far worse problem. 

Just like a geographic map, a network topology map shows you where a device is located and how to find it. But because it is dynamic, the map can provide real-time data on network performance that's critical in order to illuminate the cause of an issue. 

What is a network topology mapper?

A network topology mapper, also known as network mapping software, can display a live diagram of your physical network elements—routers, switches, firewalls, etc.—and how they're connected. In contrast to a static Visio diagram or Excel worksheet, the dynamic nature of the map makes problem areas blatantly obvious with interactive elements like color changes, blinking icons, or variations in the thickness of traffic flow lines. The visual nature of the map allows you to instantly see whether performance is normal or not. 

Rather than diagramming all your devices yourself, network topology mappers automatically scan your equipment and display them on a map (or multiple maps). You have the option to change the layout, colors, and icons to suit your preferences. Within minutes, you see your network infrastructure on a screen—constantly updating in real time as the devices send information back about their current availability. 

Why does IT need network topology mappers? 

To cut down on inefficient manual troubleshooting 

Think about the last time a user called to tell you the network was slow. What did you check first? The switch that's nearing capacity and caused the problem last time, or the router you know needs to be replaced? For a small network, this kind of shot-in-the-dark troubleshooting might work most of the time, but such manual efforts are not scalable for a large, growing network. Whether your network is large or small, a visual display that specifically shows you what's down can save you significant time and frustration.

To show how your map actually exists in real life

A list of IP addresses isn't helpful when you're trying to identify the scope of a network emergency and what devices might have been impacted. You need to see where devices are and what's connected to what. Network topology mappers give you flexibility to organize devices in the way that makes most sense to you. 

Topology is just a fancy word for showing how elements are positioned in relation to one another. When you can see the position of your workstations, switches, and servers, you can better manage and monitor their performance. 

To learn the network layout 

A significant learning curve for new network technicians is simply learning the lay of the network land, a.k.a. how your network is configured and what equipment lives where. Having maps you can refer new teammates to can bring them up to speed faster. Research suggests that visuals actually help enhance learning, so give them the diagrams their brains crave. 

To keep your network inventory up-to-date

Having that central documentation of all the devices in your network is a must-have, but manual documentation is laborious and easily forgettable. Having network topology mapping software that can scan for new devices and add them to your maps regularly keeps your inventory accurate at all times. 

Get the Network Mapping Guide

Cover more network mapping basics in our Geek Guide Finding Your Way: Mapping Your Network To Improve Manageability.

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