Just Write It Down

I have a confession to make: I don’t like writing documentation. I enjoy writing these blogs, I enjoy writing courses, I enjoy writing lots of things. But I don’t really like listing cable numbers and where they go, what files are on what server, and so forth. These are essential for security tasks, of course, and I really need to do it (or find someone else to).

Last weekend my ISP was out for a day. Lighting hit a part of their network and took out all the equipment there. It took over a day to get it all back and running. Shortly after they got it back, I was able to read my email and then my office router’s power supply went out. Just like that.

I took a router from another part of the network and reconfigured it to replace the main router. My network is small, so it wasn’t a big task. Unfortunately, though, I didn’t have the configuration to connect to the ISP: I was missing my static IP address. Even though it was a Sunday, I was able to get my ISP’s tech to find it and read it out. I was back on shortly.

This would have been a much bigger issue in a larger network, of course. And while I don’t have all my cables tagged with proper cable numbers, that would be a disaster in a larger installation. I’ve tagged my share of cables (I used to pull cables as part of my job many years ago), but I really hated writing down which cable went from where to where. I also hated checking the MAC address of the devices connected to each end so we could troubleshoot later.

What is that I hear? A chorus of “Ugh, I hate that, too. We’re so far behind…” Believe me, I’ve heard it a lot when I have taught Learning Tree Course 468, System and Network Security. Well, it needs to be done. Documentation of the network is essential when trying to maintain availability, when trying to replace equipment and so forth. So how do you get it done?

My 82 year-old mom would say something like “just get out there and do it”.  It’s just not a good use of resources for network managers to do this, though. Fortunately, there is a very good solution today. I keep hearing about underused interns and work study students. This would be a very good task for them! They’d get to know how a real network is put together, you’d get a documented network (perhaps well documented if you found another intern to check their work), and you might even solve some lingering problems to boot. Plus, they’d get jobs and really be doing something useful that otherwise might not get done.

Documentation is good and necessary, even if it can be a painful process. Interns and work-study students are one way to get it done. What are some others you’ve used? Let us know in the comments below.

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