If you’re a network engineer trying to manage the network — without automated network diagramming software — let me tip my hat to you: you’re probably better qualified than I am to write the introduction to this blog. Network engineers everywhere know, all too well, the pain of troubleshooting, fixing network outages and issues when you just don’t have up-to-date information about the network via network diagrams and documentation.
Introduction: Network Diagrams with Visio & Spreadsheets
Here at netTerrain, we recently had a staff meeting. Who is really our biggest competitor for our network diagramming software? The hands down winner? Inaction and apathy. Yeah that’s right. Basically doing nothing is the big winner. You guys are too busy to keep up with documentation.
So…what to do? Well….maybe the best approach, instead of not doing anything, is to at least get something documented. And instead of going out to do research (who has time for that right?) at least use what you got already. Namely Visio and spreadsheets. Yeah that’s right. I am telling you, someone who sells network documentation software, to use Visio and spreadsheets. Hey then — maybe one day you will want something a little better…and I will be here.
So, let’s dive into our other competitors…Viso and spreadsheets.
Using Visio for Diagrams: Network Diagrams with Visio & Spreadsheets
If you can’t get buy-in to get your company a decent, and automated, network documentation solution (preferably one with built-in discovery) — you may already be or are considering diagramming the network with Visio diagrams or even spreadsheets.
If you have a small network, Visio may be a logical option for you (no pun intended). Afterall, you can create diagrams and kinda/sorta link a diagram to other data sources…it’s also visual. Sounds good, right?
Here are some basic tips to get started:
- You can use templates. Microsoft is a good resource for free network diagram templates: click here for a basic network diagram template.
- Numerous websites, including Microsoft, offer free stencils and shapes to help you out. Microsoft can give you a free download file of network equipment shapes; VisioCafe offers a plethora of free network and IT shapes.
- Online groups are a good place to crowdsource answers when you’ve got a question. Try LinkedIn’s Visio Enthusiasts group.
- Visio Guy is a blog full of articles that dive into the specifics of using the tool.
- To learn how to link your database to Visio, Youtube is actually an excellent resource with plenty of how-to videos to choose from.
Of course, diagramming a network when you’re planning it is a lot easier to accomplish using Visio than trying to diagram a living, breathing network that’s always in flux. File sizes can become a big problem fast — and ultimately, you’re going to be using a tool to diagram the network that simply wasn’t made for diagramming the network — or, in other words, trying to nail a square peg into a round hole.
Using Spreadsheets for Diagrams: Network Diagrams with Visio & Spreadsheets
It sounds easy enough at the outset: just change your view to ‘network diagram’. Have a lot of information and keeping it in a spreadsheet?
You can use Excel to diagram the network. Errr, let me rephrase that: you can try to diagram the network with Excel.
Sounds easy enough, right? It’s not.
First off, there is the problem of trying to keep all that information you’ve got in a spreadsheet up-to-date. If your network is small, this may be all well and good. If your network is not shoebox-sized, however, you may be in a world of hurt if you keep trying to track changes with rows and columns.
In an outage, clicking that ‘view network’ button won’t do you much good if you’re viewing an out-of-date network with inaccurate information.
Conclusion: Network Diagrams with Visio & Spreadsheets
Trying to document the network without automated network documentation software is a feat. Successfully pull it off and someone needs to give you a medal (or a raise). If you have a small network, maybe Visio and spreadsheets can fill the void and give you a repository for information about the network.
If your network is a bigger beast, however, it might be time to discuss the merits of investing in some enterprise software so that the next time there’s an outage, it doesn’t cost the company an arm and a leg.