Local Area Network
What’s on your network?
When you ask the question, "What's on your network", to of one of your clients, do you just get a blank stare? What about the question, "where is the network switch"? Is the answer, "duhhhhhhh"? How about, do your know the internal IP address for the router"? I bet you get the reply, "what's an IP address"?
Our experience has shown that even clients with ‘Monitored IT Services” rarely have a clue as to the components or whereabouts of all of their Local Network components. In fact, I can rarely find a client who even knows the ‘identity’ (Network Computer Name) of the computers they are using as their workstations. Heck I would even bet that there are some of us ProAdvisors who don't know the name of our own computers right off the top of our heads? Go ahead and admit I am right, then look it up!
[Note: In order to identify your computer, right click on the Computer Icon, and select the “Properties” option, in this example from Windows-7, you will find the information under the section “Computer name, domain and workgroup settings.”}
While there might be one 'tech savvy' person at your clients' office, it's only a 50/50 chance at best, and what happens when that 'tech savvy' person leaves and goes somewhere else? What are you to do then?
Collecting Network Information
In order to collect and maintain all the information you need about the computers on your network it’s necessary to document your hardware. While there are both economical and very expensive programs that many IT companies use for this purpose, we have chosen to simply build a spreadsheet to record this information. Below you will find a sample of the spreadsheet we developed for documenting the computer resources of our clients.
This survey form is a good starting point to provide the resources you may need in order to relate to your clients when you are away from their workplace. You can easily upload this data for each client using Windows 365 Excel, or simply take a snapshot and post it to the client’s file in Windows OneNote. If you are a Google lover, they you can post it to Google Docs or any other document sharing software you may use.
But of course you also need to gather the details on all the other network components, everything from their Internet Access point (ISDN, T-1, Cable, or Fiber Modem) to Router and Network Switch(es) and Hub(s). All Printers, either local or networked should be identified with their connectivity data. Attached storage or back-up drives should also be documented (like that 'cloud drive' in the closet next to the water heater that they use for their primary back-up.) Ethernet cables should be recorded by number (switch and port to location/computer name) or device connections, and also identified by category 5E or 6E, as well as approximate run length.
Another thing we like to maintain is the purchase date for each major piece of equipment. This gives us a guide as to not only how-old a particular piece of equipment is, but the potential for problems and need for potential ‘preventive’ replacement. (It is well known that Network equipment such as modems, routers, switches and hubs deteriorate over both use and life cycles.) Why risk your network going down for hours or days when a major piece of equipment fails? You are not likely to be able to go purchase a high-quality network switch or router from the local ‘box store’, more likely you are looking at an 18 to 36 hour replacement time unless you just happen to keep a replacement in-stock yourself.
Depicting Your Network
It is then fairly simple to turn the basic information of your survey into a diagram of the client's network similar to the one shown in the headline of this article. But when you couple the basics with details like the internal IP addresses of each device, and unique settings or configurations including hardware passwords, then you actually begin to provide yourself with a meaningful picture of your client's network that looks more like this:
There are all sorts of flowchart and diagram applications that you can use. We have chosen to use Microsoft Visio in our own practice, but again there are many options and most of the sophisticated IT Hardware Management software packages not only include a documentation database but graphical diagramming options as well.
So the next time you head out to a new client who has called with QuickBooks networking issues, take either your notepad, or survey forms, with you to begin the process of documenting their network. It's part of the value added services your firm can provide, not to mention a valuable resource for you the next time you have to go back to the client and the entire staff has changed and nobody can answer the question, "What all is on your network?"