Best infrastructure Mapping Tools for Network Topology.
Mapping network infrastructure is crucial to any service provider or IT professional’s role. After all, how can you effectively manage a network if you don’t know what’s on it?
Most professionals, though, don’t need to draw a picture of a network. They need an infrastructure network mapping tool to plot the endpoints and connectivity of a network automatically.
This article will cover some of the best network and infrastructure mapping tools available on the market, so you can decide which one is suitable for you. Our best advice is to try as many of the best network mapping tools as possible to choose which one fits your purposes. Bonus points if you can do a free trial of the network mapping tool to test things out for yourselves.
Components in this article:
- What is network topology mapping
- Best infrastructure mapping tool shortlist
- Ways to make a network topology map
- Benefits of an infrastructure mapping tool
- 8 best infrastructure mapping tools
- What your network infrastructure mapping tool should accomplish
- Common assets types in network mapping tools
- Standard symbols in network mapping tools
- Layer 2 and 3 components
- What to look for when evaluating network mapping tools
- How an infrastructure mapping tool can help with PCI compliance
- How an infrastructure mapping tool can help with CIS controls
- The Big Network Infrastructure Mapping Picture
What is network topology mapping?
Before we dive into the best mapping tools, let’s first look at what network mapping is. Firstly, a network topology map is like a mini picture of what is on your network. It shows everything on the network and how it is connected.
If you’re a service provider or IT professional, a network topology map is the starting point for getting to work on a network. Suppose you’ve designed the web yourself; easy peasy. However, in many cases, you’ll be taking over a network you haven’t made yourself, which is where a network topology map helps you. Instantly, you know what’s on a network and how it is connected.
Network topology diagrams provide a graphical way of understanding complex networks. You can also take actionable steps based on the information network topology maps to offer. Additionally, network topology maps help detect faults, help you see suspicious connections, and highlight unusual activities.
8 of the Best Infrastructure Mapping Tools
Check out our shortlist to find the best infrastructure mapping tool for you.
Ways to map network infrastructure and topology?
There are many different ways to make a network topology diagram. Learn more about how to make a network topology diagram.
- By hand: You can use a pen and paper and draw out everything on a network. A pen and paper are suitable for sketching a network before you design it, but in the long run, you’re going to that a proper infrastructure mapping tool will automatically plot things out for you.
- Use a diagramming tool: Use a tool like Visio to draw a picture online.
- Use an automated network mapping tool: The easiest way to make a network topology diagram is to use a computerized network topology mapping tool. For example, Domotz network monitoring software includes automated network topology mapping features which plot out everything for you. One of the key benefits is that your topology map is automatically updated when things get moved around for whatever reason.
Benefits of an infrastructure mapping tool
Here are some of the main benefits of using an infrastructure network mapping tool:
- Control: If you manage a network, it’s essential to know what is on it. Infrastructure network topology maps provide a complete view of everything on a network. Additionally, network mapping tools show you all the individual devices and nodes and how they are connected.
- Troubleshooting: When troubleshooting a problem on a network you designed or designed by someone else, you need to know how things are connected to solve the problem.
- Maintaining a Network: Infrastructure mapping tools help keep a network because you know the exact design. You know what needs replacing, upgrading, maintenance, and firmware upgrades.
- Compliance: Many Center for Internet Controls require a network map for compliance. PCI compliance also requires a network topology map.
The 8 Best Infrastructure Mapping Tools
Many network mapping tools exist, but a few products stand out for their feature sets and capabilities.
Domotz is a comprehensive network monitoring system with features for managing network devices. One of the critical features of Domotz is automated network infrastructure mapping for plotting the endpoints on a network. Other features of Domotz include network monitoring, alerts, dashboards, SNMP monitoring, app & cloud monitoring, remote access, remote power management, network security scans, and so much more.
Domotz provides automated, fast, and real-time updated network topology maps that can be exported for further editing in Visio.
Key benefits of Domotz:
- Only $23 a month per network for monitoring and managing all devices
- No fee per user or device
- No contracts, minimum commitments
- Self-service free trial
- Automated & easy to use SaaS solution
- Cost-effective and affordable
- Exporting topology maps for further editing in Visio
- 1000s of integrations
- Packed with additional features for network management
- Custom drivers and APIs for building virtually any integration
- No on-premise option is available
- No free tier is available other than the free trial
DataDog includes network mapping features for your network. The Datadog network map provides a topology view of a network for visualizing network partitions, dependencies, and bottlenecks. Furthermore, it consolidates network data into a directional map to cut through the noise and isolate problematic areas.
DataDog also includes many more network monitoring and management features, such as SNMP. Read more about the best SNMP monitoring tools for network management.
Intermapper is a network mapping and monitoring tool that updates in real-time. You can use it to monitor physical and virtual networks, providing standard features like network discovery, topology map generation, and network health monitoring. Users can configure automated alerts and programmatic map updates triggered by infrastructure changes.
Intermapper offers a free tier, but with a five-device limit, this is really only helpful for test drives. One cool feature is that you can see your results superimposed on Google Earth maps, but this may be of limited utility if you’re not dealing with widely distributed infrastructures.
SolarWinds Network Topology Mapper (NTM) is a network mapping and visualization tool that helps you understand, plan, and troubleshoot your infrastructure using a range of standard protocols. Its feature set includes network discovery, automated change detection and map generation, and real-time network monitoring.
NTM primarily targets network mapping – almost to the exclusion of other functionalities. While this does make it less versatile, the simplicity may help reduce workflow complexity.
NetBrain is well-rounded network management and automation platform. It provides a real-time view of your network and allows you to manage and troubleshoot infrastructures from a single console.
NetBrain offers features such as network discovery, mapping, and performance monitoring. This option targets advanced users, providing a wealth of information that makes other maps look feeble by comparison. While it supports a vast range of hardware makers and integrations, its high level of detail means it tends to require a bit more maintenance than some alternatives.
ManageEngine OpManager is network management and monitoring tool that focuses on delivering real-time views of your network. It also covers the essentials, like network discovery, mapping, and performance monitoring.
OpManager is a Zoho offering that works with multiple geographic mapping systems and backend databases. Like most, its free trial (limited to three devices) is positively underwhelming, but it does support a wide range of plugins.
Visio is a general diagramming and vector graphics application. Although you can use it to create vibrant, descriptive network diagrams thanks to the variety of shapes and templates it provides, you shouldn’t confuse things: This is not an infrastructure-oriented tool, just one that many admins seem to favor for manual mapping.
Lucidchart is another vector graphics application that seems to have earned itself a spot in admins’ hearts regarding network diagramming. Like Visio, it provides a variety of shapes and templates for multiple types of network diagrams, and it also allows you to create custom shapes and charts. What makes it different is that it’s more user-friendly for newcomers.
The Goal: What Your Network Infrastructure Mapping Tool Ought to Accomplish
There are many benefits to network mapping, but one of the most important is that it can help you spot potential problems with your network before they get out of hand. For example, if you see a lot of traffic going to a particular server while testing an app deployment, you may want to investigate why that is before taking the app live.
Another benefit is that mapping can help you understand infrastructure usage trends – like when trying to gain more precise insights into how different software services use limited resources. This can be valuable information when planning upgrades or changes to your network. Knowing more about usage trends makes it easier to guarantee continuity during transitions.
So how can you find tools that help you capitalize on these benefits? Here are some pointers:
- Support your current admin workflows: Your mapping systems should integrate with your existing toolkit with minimal overhead, making it effortless to transition from command-line workflows to a GUI or vice versa. Ease of use is critical!
- Cater to your audience: If you’re creating maps to justify new equipment purchases or infrastructure investments, it helps to have tools that express the data in terms your stakeholders can understand. Whether this means providing integrations with your preferred boardroom presentation app or customizable icons, you’ll go a lot farther by making your findings accessible.
- Automate updates: The best network mapping tools don’t ask much of you – or force you to rely on outdated information. From taking regular snapshots to automating alerts, your mapping system should be as proactive and intelligent as possible.
- Minimize overhead: Your mapping tool shouldn’t slow your network down or require many setups. Stick to options that use standard protocols, such as SNMP or ICMP.
What to look for when evaluating the best network mapping tools:
- Maps that work: Make sure the infrastructure mapping tool you choose works well, is efficient, and saves you time.
- Well-designed maps: When trialing network infrastructure mapping tools, make sure the design you are given works well to visualize the information you need.
- Ease of use: You want fast and accurate maps in an instant when using an infrastructure mapping tool.
- Exports and Integrations: Does the technology integrate with the rest of your software stack? Can you export maps for use in Visio? All these features are essential when evaluating automatic network mapping software.
- Overall features of the software: Network topology maps and infrastructure mapping are critical features of many network monitoring systems. You may benefit from other features, including:
Common asset types used in an Infrastructure Mapping Tool:
Here are the most common asset types on a network infrastructure map.
- Network equipment: switches, routers, firewalls -> the central nodes on your network
- Network endpoints: computers, printers, etc.)
- Layer 2 information for each node (MAC Addresses, Layer 2 protocols (STPs)
- Layer 3 information for each node (IP addresses, Routing protocols)
- Network connections: links between the nodes
Common symbols used in an Infrastructure Mapping Tool:
Our infrastructure network mapping tool includes the following asset types:
- Internet node: the global IP address and additional WAN information
- Rhombus shapes: network devices, typically a switch
- Round shapes: other IP devices on the network.
- Squared shapes: These represent a device without an IP address. It could be an unmanaged switch or hub manually linked to a switch interface or a dummy device connected to a Power Distribution Unit outlet.
- Direct links: automatically discovered links
- Manual links are when you manually map a device on a managed switch port. It’s typically for when your reach multiple devices through a port.
- Wi-Fi Links: These show Wi-Fi-connected devices to Access Points with unique integration with Domotz.
- Outdated Links: A device has been removed or moved to another location.
Components from Layer 3, Layer 2, and Layer 1 in an Infrastructure Mapping Tool
When mapping network infrastructure using a tool, there are elements from different layers to consider. Some like removing each layer separately, while others like combining this information into one chart. Our automated network diagramming tool includes components from Layer 3, Layer 2, and Layer 1 to build your network topology diagram.
Elements from layer 3 in network diagrams include subnets, routing, and IP addresses.
Elements from layer 2 included in network diagrams: Layer 2 is the data link layer of the network and allows you to see more enriched details about your network. We base our network topology mapping on Layer 2, which enables you to see the following.
- Firstly, our infrastructure mapping tool shows how devices connect.
- Secondly, our infrastructure mapping tool shows MAC addresses.
- Thirdly, our network mapping tools show switch-to-switch connections.
Elements from layer 1 included in infrastructure mapping tools: This layer shows the physical links between devices—for example, the layout of cables.
How can infrastructure mapping tools help with PCI compliance?
Firstly, when it comes to PCI compliance, an infrastructure mapping tool is a must. As part of the latest versions of PCI compliance, you need to create network infrastructure and data-flow diagrams related to the Cardholder Data Environment if you are responsible for accepting any form of online payment.
Infrastructure mapping tools can help with PCI compliance in a couple of ways:
- First of all, infrastructure mapping tools provide real-time updates. They enable complete visibility of a network and stay updated in real time. A hand-drawn network topology diagram or map quickly becomes outdated if a new device joins a network and something changes. You need to update your infrastructure map, which is time-consuming to do regularly.
- Secondly, it provides a single source of truth. Hand-drawn network diagrams quickly become outdated. Additionally, if hand-drawn diagrams circulate via email, staff may not have the latest version. Using an automated infrastructure mapping tool ensures that you have an always up-to-date single source of truth, and no legacy versions get passed around or manipulated.
- Finally, it removes the hassle. Network infrastructure mapping is not your favorite task (or anyone’s, for that matter). To make your life easier, you should use a program (like Domotz) to help remove the hassle of documenting your network’s topology.
How can an infrastructure mapping tool help with CIS Controls?
Domotz and an infrastructure mapping tool, in general, help with meeting many Center for Internet Security (CIS) controls.
For example, in Control 1 – Inventory and Control of Enterprise Assets: CIS controls specify that every device on the network should be managed. Network infrastructure mapping tools discover every device on the network and show how that network is connected, helping to satisfy this safeguard.
Learn more about how a network infrastructure mapping tool can help with CIS controls.
The Big Network Infrastructure Mapping Picture
Network mapping is a valuable tool for any administrator. It can help you spot potential problems, understand how your network is used, and plan for future changes.
Picking the proper mapping application can make your job as an admin way easier. When you want to share information with your colleagues and organization and promote standardized infrastructure oversight practices, there’s nothing like keeping everyone on the same page.