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Three Generations of Network Diagram Software

There are about a dozen or so different types of network diagram software for network professionals, price ranging from free to over $100,000.  Based on the functionality, they fall into three categories:

  • Static Network Diagram Software (1st Generation)
    Such as Microsoft Visio.  Like any general-purpose diagramming software, it is a piece of electronic paper that network engineers write network symbols on. Low cost, but no network intelligence.
  • Static Network Diagram Software with Auto-Discovery (2nd Generation)
    Such as Opnet NetMapper and Solarwinds LAN Surveyor.  This type of tool has network discovery capability.  Trained engineers can build static Visio diagrams of predefined areas quickly, leveraging the discovery results. 
  • Dynamic Network Diagram Software (3rd Generation)
    Invented by NetBrain.  Dynamic diagramming software automatically builds network diagrams from an underlying data-model.  Beyond a tool for automating network diagrams, dynamic network diagram software is also a visual troubleshooting and network design platform.  Each network symbol in the diagram is actually a Smart Object, which enables the dynamic network diagram (Qmap) to update itself when live network changes are made.  It is capable of diagnosing performance issues within the network changes.
    Check out the full capabilities of dynamic network diagrams.
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Select the Right Tools for Your Needs

No one size fits all.  Define your network diagramming needs first and match the requirements to the capabilities of different type of tools after.  The following questionnaire can help you find the best fit.

  • Is your network well documented now and infrequently changed?

    If your network is well documented and rarely changes, a static network diagram tool such as Visio may serve your needs well.  However, if your network lacks accurate documentation to start with and frequently changes, considering a 3rd generation dynamic diagramming tool will allow you to stay up-to-date by creating network diagrams automatically by using data collected from live network.  If network diagramming tasks are only a small portion of the network such as certain LANs, a 2nd-generation tool is also fine.

  • What is the size of your network?

    The complexity of network diagramming goes up exponentially with the number of network devices.  The size and activity of your network are important factors in deciding the level of diagramming your company will need.

    If your network has fewer than 15 network devices (routers, switches or firewalls), a simple 1st generation software such as Visio might be enough to manage the network.

    For medium size networks with up to 100 network devices, the 2nd generation tools or entry-level 3rd generation tools may be a good investment to deal with the increased complexity of the network.

    For large networks with tens of thousands of network devices, investing an enterprise-grade 3rd generation tool should be considered.  If the diagramming tool’s sole purpose is to create a set of static network diagrams and there is no need to keep them updated (e.g. for one-time network assessment), then a 2nd generation tool could be used.

  • Is your business subject to security compliance requirements?

    Does your industry have to comply with security standards such as PCI, SOX and HIPPA?   If your organization is required to document every network change - having network diagrams alone will not be enough.  In these cases, a 3rd generation diagramming tool with advanced documentation features can save you countless hours by instantly creating the proper documents needed for security compliance.

  • What's required by your job?

    The level of work required is also a strong indicator of the type of diagramming software needed.  For a casual user of network diagrams, the 1st-generation tool might be enough.  For a full-time network drafter, investing in a 2nd-generation or 3rd-generation tool is necessary.  For troubleshooters or network consultants looking for diagram automation for complex networks, NetBrain’s 3rd-generation diagramming tool can be extremely useful.  The 3rd-generation diagram tool enables you to work on unfamiliar networks instantly because it not only creates diagrams on-the-fly but it also features a full network design and troubleshooting environment.

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Justify the Cost

A network diagram is required by virtually every network task.  As a result, diagramming automation is an investment in productivity gain across the board.  3rd generation tools integrate network troubleshooting, network design and network assessment with the network diagramming process - making the return on investment as short as 6 months.

In the real world, every engineer spends a significant amount of time with diagram-related tasks - building a new diagram, updating an old diagram or working off an existing diagram.  Assuming diagram automation saves 0.5 hour each day for those tasks, it adds up to $6,250 saving each year.

Time spent each day Time spent each year The cost of manual diagramming*
0.5 hour 15 days $6,250
1 hour 30 days $12,500
1.5 hour 45 days $25,000

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