11 critical tasks for your network maintenance checklist
If you’ve ever owned a car, you know that maintenance is an ongoing requirement to protect your investment. From changing the oil to replacing belts and hoses, a maintenance checklist and schedule keep the engine running efficiently and prevent damage that can cause bigger (and more expensive) problems in the future.
With computer networks, the concept is the same—but a bit more complicated in execution. As with cars, hardware can wear out or need repairs, but software also often needs reconfiguration or updating. And most organizations use their networks a lot more often, so there is significantly more “wear and tear” to consider.
Just as not keeping a car’s tires properly inflated can lower gas mileage, ignoring even one aspect of routine network maintenance can result in less efficient systems, gaps in your security, and increase risk of downtime due to security failures or other incidents. You and your team work hard to optimize a network—slipping on maintenance tasks can undo all that effort.
Why network maintenance is important
Because it’s so critical to supporting network performance, you should integrate maintenance into your services instead of offering it as an add-on. Offering network maintenance services not only ensures that systems, equipment, and applications always run at peak efficiency and security, but it also can save clients time and money by:
- Supporting continuous operations and productivity
- Preventing unexpected and expensive repairs or downtime
- Ensuring cybersecurity measures are working as intended to stop and mitigate breaches and leaks
Complete coverage of all network support and maintenance tasks requires a range of expertise and skills. While there may be some overlap in responsibilities, typical key IT roles that handle maintenance include:
- Network technician. These professionals are typically responsible for installing, configuring, and troubleshooting network devices and hardware, as well as for checking physical connections and cables.
- Network engineer. Engineers tend to focus on maintaining network architecture as a whole, addressing specific aspects or devices as needed to ensure smooth operations.
- Network administrator. People in this role manage the complete infrastructure of a network, including maintenance. They may create or oversee maintenance checklists and schedules.
Original equipment manufacturers or third-party providers may perform some specialized network maintenance services covered under contracts or warranties.
Network maintenance tasks for your checklist
Networks can be complex structures with many different parts, so having a network maintenance checklist and schedule is important to keep track of all components and when to complete tasks. For example, you may need to check hardware only once or twice a year, but software configurations are required every few months. A schedule helps you stay organized and incorporate maintenance tasks into overall operations for each client.
Some tasks are interrupt-driven, which means that they are addressed as they occur—like when the check engine light comes on in a car and you have to take it to a mechanic. Others are structured, which refers to maintenance tasks performed on a set schedule to prevent issues. To continue with our automotive metaphor, you can think of them as regular oil changes.
It’s good practice to create a checklist for structured tasks, which can reduce the frequency and severity of interrupt-driven tasks.
You can also automate many repetitive maintenance tasks with software. Download our ConnectWise RMM feature sheet to learn how remote monitoring and management software can help reduce the burden of routine network maintenance tasks on your team, giving them back valuable time.
Regardless of the degree to which you adopt automation, here are 11 essential activities to include on your network maintenance checklist.
1. Troubleshooting problems
Occasionally, the cause of a network problem isn’t obvious, so you may have to troubleshoot. This involves gathering information about the problem and using your expertise to identify the root cause through an escalation framework. There are a few key examples that you can focus on when it comes to items to troubleshoot. For example, your team needs to be able to quickly determine if a network issue stems from an internal issue or an external one, like from your ISP. Another area of concern here is being proactive. Rather than waiting for clients to complain about slow or downed networks, be ready to monitor and notify them if a connection is down. Network monitoring tools can also assist with identifying and diagnosing the source of a problem, as well as proactive monitoring. Troubleshooting tends to be an interrupt-driven task.
2. Performing data and configuration backups
Scheduling regular data backups is a core network maintenance task that will help you recover critical information quickly should something go wrong with the network. Backing up network configurations is also recommended to help restore network settings and minimize potential downtime when faced with a disaster recovery scenario or faulty network configuration.
Your maintenance checklist should also ensure that:
- Backups are done regularly or on a continuous basis, depending on client needs
- You know where the backups are located (such as off-site or in the cloud)
- The backups are verified and readable
3. Device inventory
Keeping an up-to-date inventory of phones, servers, laptops, routers, and other devices helps you track where and what they are, which is especially important in an organization that is growing quickly or where there is a lot of employee turnover. An accurate inventory also enables you to:
- Detect when new devices are added to the network
- Monitor when devices are due for upgrades or patches
- Document what repairs or updates have already been done
- Replace them as they near their end of life rather than wait for them to fail
Your device inventory should include the name, location, IP address, serial number, operating system, date of purchase or leasing, and vendor information if needed for contract or warranty purposes.
4. Malware/ransomware protection
A comprehensive network maintenance plan includes ensuring that it is protected against all types of malware and ransomware. Since these threats are constantly evolving, this task is critical to protect data and keep systems running. Some types of malware may slow down performance as they burrow into the network, so detecting when this happens can help you identify when and where it has infected software or other infrastructure.
Performing this task can include:
- Monitoring and applying security patches when they are released
- Staying informed on emerging types of malware and ransomware
- Running network monitoring scans for any unusual or suspicious activity
- Updating operating systems and other software regularly
- Configuring software and devices to align with security settings
5. Power checks
Networks need power, and interruptions can cause slowdowns or failures. Uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems should function normally even during fluctuations in the external supply, but their ability to do so can degrade over time. Testing these systems can help you evaluate their health and capacity.
You should also increase UPS capacity as a network grows—another aspect of network and internet maintenance to keep an eye on.
6. Network documentation
Network documentation refers to a technical record of all the components in a network—hardware, servers, software and applications, users, types of data, and so on. For each element, documentation should include:
- The time and date of every fix or update
- The person who completed the fix
- The reason for the fix
- Any other relevant details
Documenting this information in a centralized location helps you and other IT professionals easily access critical information about the network and its maintenance and repair history. Network documentation can also help with troubleshooting or identifying recurring problems, saving your team the time of having to dig through files to find out when and why maintenance was performed. It also provides valuable insights into problems and issues even after the employees who worked on them have left.
Diagramming or visualization software can help make network documentation more comprehensible to non-technical professionals and serve to illustrate changes to the network over time.
7. Hardware checks
It can be easy to forget that networks include equipment made of wire and metal that you need to check for damage and wear. Clear dust from filters on devices and fans, which can clog them and cause internal temperatures to rise, reducing efficiency. Inspect connections to make sure they aren’t loose or that wiring isn’t exposed. Check that cables are in good shape, organized neatly, and tucked away and secured to avoid a tripping hazard.
8. Compliance checks
Making sure your network operations align with all applicable laws, regulations, and policies related to compliance should also be on your checklist. This can include:
- Ensuring data is stored and/or deleted according to privacy requirements and other considerations
- Setting up policies to enforce strong passwords and regular password updates
- DNS filtering to block malicious, suspicious, or unapproved websites
- Checking that systems abide by mandated security standards for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), or other industry or legal regulations
- Making certain that all software and devices are configured correctly
9. Preemptive repairs
Just as car owners take their cars in for mileage-based checkups, preemptive repairs involve regular network maintenance on a set schedule based on time or usage. There may not be an existing problem with a particular network component, but you might repair or replace it to avoid an issue later. Proactive network maintenance means fewer interruptions to business operations later and improved network efficiency.
10. Configurations and upgrades
Software and devices frequently need to be upgraded or reconfigured due to:
- Security updates
- Moves, additions, or changes within an organization (such as a new employee or a promotion that includes a higher level of security access)
- Changes to a network
You may need to address some as they happen, but you can schedule many as part of a regular network maintenance routine.
11. Future network growth planning
Network maintenance should incorporate planning for future growth, such as increasing bandwidth capacity or adding more devices and hardware. Documentation of past and recurring issues can help guide this planning and help avoid potential pitfalls, such as an overloaded server.
Common network maintenance mistakes
Being aware of the typical mistakes that MSPs make with network maintenance can help you avoid them and keep your clients’ networks running as efficiently as possible.
- Poor or no planning. Failing to create and follow a network maintenance checklist and schedule can lead to confusion about what has been done, what remains to be done, and when assets are due for routine checks, causing you to skip critical tasks or complete others unnecessarily often.
- Neglecting routine tasks. Even something seemingly minor, such as dusting filters and cleaning keyboards, can support better performance and extend the life of your clients’ equipment.
- Failing to document maintenance efforts. Without a record of why and how network assets were cleaned, replaced, updated, or repaired, you run the risk of having to track down that information every time you need it or unknowingly duplicating maintenance tasks.
- Overlooking software updates and patches. Keeping on top of these helps address security vulnerabilities and supports improved features and performance.
Solutions for network maintenance support
Software solutions can automate many network maintenance tasks, such as managing upgrades and patches, scanning for unusual activity that could indicate unauthorized access, and backing up data. With the burden of these routine activities off your plate, you can focus on maintenance tasks that require more attention, such as planning for network growth.
Strategic outsourcing and software also enable you to take advantage of specialized network maintenance expertise, proven best practices, and automated workflows, saving you the time and effort of creating processes and schedules from scratch. Leveraging features and services from a third-party solutions provider can make network support and maintenance more cost-effective for you and your clients, versus doing everything in-house.
ConnectWise RMM software features a powerful combination of automation, customization, and NOC services designed to help you proactively monitor and manage network maintenance tasks and increase the efficiency of your MSP operations. Watch an on-demand demo of ConnectWise RMM today to take the next step in growing your business.