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How to Create Network Topology Diagrams Everyone Can Use

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Does anyone actually like creating network topology diagrams? The problem with creating intuitive diagrams of an ever-expanding network is that making them is so vastly different from creating other technical documentation. Unlike technical writing or creating how-to articles, you have to use different software and think about things in a visual way for proper network mapping. Here are some tips to help make your topology understandable to those who may not know as much about networking as you do.


#Consider Multiple Drawings:


This is really key to keeping things simple. I've seen diagrams that encompass various locations, several different datacenters, and even separate domains all on one gigantic plotter sheet that technicians keep rolled up and rubber banded, pulling it out as a tedious form of reference material. There are reasons for doing this, but why not consider multiple drawings? Sure, it’s helpful to have one big map to look at, but what is at stake is simplicity. Why not have one map that is the “big picture” of your network, and then break that down with diagrams based on specific datacenters, domains, etc. This way, your big picture can be posted on a wall or digital display for everyone to reference and generally be familiar with. Just make sure that you properly document on the big picture diagram where to find the detail maps, so you can be prepared in the case of a network outage or other unexpected problem.


#Make it Visual: Often there is information on a diagram that can be conveyed by visual representation rather that text. Too much text on a diagram makes it look too busy and that defeats the purpose of what you are doing, which is to make your network visual. Having colors represent different types of cable connections is one example. Another is a legend that determines which of your servers are strictly firewalled off for security reasons. Again, the point is to use elements to reduce redundancy in text. Sure, you’re going to need to have server names and other descriptive text elements, but if you find yourself using the same descriptive words again and again, consider going visual.


#Think about Your Tools: Some people just instinctively open up Visio to make their diagrams, but the problem with that application is that most people don’t use it on a daily basis, so it's not intuitive to use. There's nothing wrong with Visio, but it’s more of a generalized application for many different purposes rather than a tool specifically for network diagrams. That’s why there are other options available that are more geared toward network diagrams, as well as tools that can give you better guidance on best practices. You could download and try out LAN Surveyorwhich uses discovery to automatically find and diagram devices on your network. If you need something more robust mapping solution that includes network monitoring download a free trial of Orion Network Performance Monitor (NPM) and check out the ConnectNow network mapping technology. Web-based tools like Gliffy and SmartDraw are also good alternatives, and may be more cost effective than the license fee for Visio Professional, which is several hundred dollars. The overall purpose is to make your network maps mainstream. No sense in trying to confuse people with overly complex maps – especially when you’ll be relying on these diagrams when something goes wrong. The easier your diagrams are to look at, the better you've shared information with the entire organization, from the worker bees all the way up through the management ranks.

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