Last time I wrote about drawing L3-diagrams. Since then, I have been planning to write generally about drawing techniques. This blog post will cover some useful layouts as well as MS Visio tips for network engineers.
I think MS Visio is not quite optimal for network diagrams and is lacking some key features from network diagramming point of view (i.e. multiple labels following connector ends). However, I’m still using it as it is generally available in my customer base. I have been drawing network diagrams with MS Visio for some years now and it definitively has some learning curve. I hope I can help you to get over it.
Scalable Network Diagram Layouts
By thinking for a while what kind of layout is desirable for the diagram you are going to draw will help you to make the diagram highly scalable. The layouts below are most popular in my job.
Tree – layout is really useful in many diagrams. I use it in L2 and L3-diagrams a lot. Connectors are right-angled and are represented partially on each other at the core-device end. This makes tree representation very clear. Interface names are located next to the curve where connectors are going to be on each other so that there is no chance for misunderstanding. See examples below:
In this diagram subnets and firewall are in tree layout where firewall is root of the tree.
Dual tree is second version of basic tree layout. In practice this is the flavor of tree layouts more common in modern redundant networks. Sometimes I use connector colors to make even more clear whether they are connected to primary or secondary core device. I have included this way 110 devices in one single page! There is still room for 60 more devices. They are represented clear way with exact information about links between devices and interface names etc. See example below:
If you print this diagram in A3 size it is fully readable.
This layout is not so common but has special use cases. In this layout there might be multiple redundant pairs of devices to be connected all together. By using straight connectors diagrams gets very quickly messy. The thing here is to use again right-angled connectors. See example below:
In this special diagram firewalls are connected to subnet witch is connected to four routers. Here I have used colors to identify links going to each router more clearly. This is a hybrid diagram of L3 and upper lever overview. Lobby part is detailed L3-diagram while rest of the diagram is overview with only references to more detailed L3-diagrams.
MS Visio tips for network diagramming
Next question you ask once you have read previous chapter is how can I get connectors and everything go like that with MS Visio. Here I’m going to share my tips for you.
First set up your Visio-document page settings. Page settings can be found by right-clicking page name and selecting “Page Setup…”.
If you desire draw your background page. In Visio there is a difference between background and foreground type of page. Draw your background page and set it type as “background” so you can use it as a background for all of your foreground pages. Apply following page settings to background page as well. Draw both Landscape and Portrait background pages so that once you need whichever of them you are able to use them right away.
I recommend following settings for pages:
- Landscape/Portrait – Select same setting in “Print Setup” and “Page Size” tabs. Select background accordingly in “Page Properties” tab.
- Drawing scale – By default select predefined drawing scale of 1:2 in “Drawing Scale” tab. This gives you way more space to pages. In special cases you can use even 1:2,5 or 1:5 as a drawing scale.
- Page Size/Print Size – Select size of A3 in both “Page Size” and “Print Size” tabs.
- Auto Size – Turn off “Auto Size” option in “Design” ribbon. It basically causes you just troubles.
- (Grid and Guides) – This is more like your choice not so strong recommendation but I like to keep Grid and Guides invisible most of the time. You can do this in “View” ribbon.
By the way, at this point you can save your document as a Visio Template file ( .vst). When you have done that and you double-click file in the desktop it creates a new Visio-document based on this templates with all settings and backgrounds in it.
When you start to work with Visio you will quickly find out connectors are the most complicated thing in it. By following instructions below you can beat them!
- Select by type – To apply some common settings for all of the connectors in page you can select them all this way.
- Home | Editing | Select | Select by Type…
- Select “Shape Role” and uncheck all others than “Connectors”
- Select OK and now all of your connectors on the page are selected
- Never reroute – To avoid connectors to jump somewhere unexpectedly add “Never Reroute” button to your “Home” ribbon this way:
- Right-click home ribbon and select: “Customize the Ribbon”
- Select “All Commands” from “Choose Commands from” – drop down menu.
- Find “Never Reroute” from the list and add it to your Home tab. You can add new group in it by using “New Group” button.
- Once you have done all this you can select you connectors and just press “Never Reroute” button on your ribbon and connectors will never jump again. (If you do some connector style chance Right-angle, curved, straight you might need to press never reroute again.)
- Rounded Corners – When you draw tree layouts and place connectors on each other corners needs to be rounded to see what direction it is going to.
- Select all connectors
- Select Line | Line Options…
- Select 0,005 m rounding for corners (the second one)
- Line Jumps – Now as you have rounded corners they are easily mixed up with default line jumps. Change line jumps style to gap.
- Enable developer mode this way
- File | Options | Advanced | General
- Check “Run in developer mode” (you might need to restart Visio after this)
- Select all connectors
- Select Developer | Shape Design | Behavior | Connector | Line Jumps
- Select Style: Gap
- Enable developer mode this way
- Copy & Paste – Now as you have all good settings in the connectors you have it is good practice to copy and paste connectors when you need a new one. This way all settings remain.
- Ctrl the magic button – To get connectors go the way you want just use Press CTRL-button and Drag from connector blue handles. This way you will get more handles for right-angled connectors as well. Once connector is in good shape press “Never Reroute” once again just in case. And now you can do just copy and paste to get more similar connectors.
Labels can be tricky part of Visio as I already mentioned. Visio has ability to have multiple labels per shape but you are not able to get them to follow connector ends. For this reason I’m still using all the time floating independent text labels. Drawback is they have no relationship to the connectors. You have to be careful when moving connectors to remember move labels as well.
In some cases you need only one label for connector so you are able to use Visio standard feature to add this label in the middle of connector. When drawing L3-diagram and there is a host connected to a subnet I prefer to use separate connector instead of “Ethernet” shapes own connectors as I can get label (IP-address of the host) on it.
Edit: Here you can find Visio – file used in examples above: visio-blog2.vsd