Running a business is often a balancing act. The only way products get made and customers are served is if every internal operation is running smoothly. Depending on the size and scope of your business, this could include hundreds of small factors, all working together. While balance is the goal, it’s not always the reality. Employee error, software malfunctions, and other factors of everyday life can cause disruptions to your supply and fulfillment lines. That’s why it’s beneficial for all businesses to create network diagrams.

A network diagram is a graphic representation detailing the hardware or software nodes in a business. When you or your IT service provider conducts an initial network discovery as part of the IT client onboarding process, it should provide a clear overview of all connected devices, and potentially all the various software and tools they have installed or have access to. This allows you to monitor both the hardware and software within your network. By doing this, you can improve efficiency and monitoring.

Network diagrams can also help improve whole system performance by providing a clear architecture of all devices and systems that can be used for maintenance, troubleshooting, and preparing for updates or replacing old equipment. There are several different types of network diagrams, however, today we’ll be walking through making a basic network diagram that can help you improve your business operations today.

Benefits of network diagrams

There are several benefits to creating network diagrams. The magnitude of these benefits will vary, depending on the size of your business, as well as the intricacy of the network you’re mapping out. Large businesses and those with complex processes are likely to see the most drastic results. However, any size of business could benefit.

Optimization

A network diagram can help you optimize the layout of your devices. It can help you identify optimal points for physical switches and routers, as well as how your set-up should spider from there. Businesses that rely on several network connections may see immediate speed-ups after physical layout optimization.

Troubleshooting

It can also be a valuable tool for identifying and resolving system or device malfunctions. With a clear diagram of the network, IT departments, whether in-house or an MSP, can see all the devices and systems that require support, streamlining maintenance, troubleshooting, or updates. This can be helpful both in solving internal dilemmas, as well as client-facing issues.

Investigation

Additionally, a network diagram can help you more easily identify and investigate suspicious activity on the network. This could include the discovery of unauthorized devices on the network, as well as other suspicious activity, like spam or phishing attempts. Network diagrams give this ability to everyone with access to the diagram, which can allow security support to recognize and tighten the gaps that cybercriminals could otherwise exploit.

Planning

Network diagramming can also help you create more effective plans for the future, particularly when it comes to software and hardware updates. This is where small businesses might notice the largest benefit. Once you can visualize your optimal set-up, you can start making plans for new hardware upgrades, as well as more easily identify which devices can support larger or more complex software, that need to be closer to the routers, and devices that don’t need to run as much software, which can be farther away. This can save your business a lot of trial-and-error.

Types of network diagrams

There are two main types of network diagrams. These types are less descriptive of the kind of diagram you’re making, and more applies to what the diagram itself is describing. These two types of network diagrams include:

Logical: A logical network diagram describes the flow of data. Logical diagrams are focused on software — subnets, network objects, external programs, routing protocols, domains, and traffic flow are just some of the elements that might be included in a logical diagram.

Physical: A physical diagram describes connected hardware, rather than software. It would detail the physical connections to the network. For example, computers, ethernet cables, routers, and their ports, and the line connections to the wall would be elements included in a physical diagram. Physical diagrams may also be called LAN diagrams.

It’s important to note that even if you only have one physical diagram, you may have several logical diagrams. This is because one network system can, and often does, support several software systems.

Creating a network diagram

If you’ve never made a network diagram before, you may want to refer to some examples to visualize what you’re aiming to create. If you’ve made a network diagram before, then you can use previous diagrams as templates or start from scratch. The main components of any network diagram include:

  • Descriptions of each component;
  • Clear connections between components;
  • Clear order of operations between connections.

The more complex your setup needs to be, the more components and connections you can expect your diagram to have.

Adequate planning can mean the difference between success and failure for a business. A network diagram is another tool that business owners and leaders can use to improve their chances of success.

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