Network drawing and admin tool

Gustav Brock
Gustav Brock used Ask the Experts™
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Can anyone recommend a good tool to create _and_ maintain a drawing of networks including IP addresses, host- and usernames, passwords, etc?

We are about reconfiguring our network and, though tiny compared to a enterprise network, I've found that with two geographic locations, virtual servers, internal/external/remote backup systems with configurations and schedules, admin remote desktop access, LogMeIn accounts, multiple spam filters and mail servers, database servers, ftp server, inside/outside IP addresses, etc., and remote web access for the users to much of this, it's becoming a mess.

Ideally I would like to have a drawing I can hand to a skilled techie and he/she would in 10 minutes be able to have a clear idea what to do to perform some task, where to look for log files, where to locate backup configurations for routers, etc.

For example, VMware sports an internal or virtual network on a physical machine which can have a quite specific configuration if the virtual servers are for outside access. Most tools I've seen through the years deal with network and physical machines and are not easy to use for virtual machines (which always runs on a physical machine you also need to control).

Another example: SOHO routers have these days a web interface but how do you document the setup of such routers? Sometimes you have a quite convoluted system of port redirections and firewall configuration. To make prints of these pages looks somewhat old-fashioned to me.

/gustav
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I think Visio will do what you want by linking data to the graphics but I haven't used it for that.
Commented:
hi

either by going to the visio soluhttp://www.experts-exchange.com/Networking/Network_Management/Network_Operations/Q_25097664.html?cid=1576tion,,
but you need to do this manually like you are painting ,,
or
use network notepad ..
http://www.networknotepad.com/

or
by getting some thing specialized,,like smart draw software,,it's wonderful

http://www.smartdraw.com/specials/network-drawing.htm 


>Sometimes you have a quite convoluted system of port redirections and firewall configuration. To make prints of these pages looks somewhat old-fashioned to me.

Honestly, that's the best way to replicate an existing configuration when you have to replace a switch with a GUI interface...and the new unit has slightly newer firmware.

I'm not the type who enjoys long text-based config files.  I don't consider myself any less of an admin because I use GUI.

I use Visio for basic drawings.  Add notes as required.  Haven't done a full documentation of a network with it...mostly LAN/WAN overview or rack diagrams.
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With Visio you can add click able links that go to secondary pages or link to real-time data.  
So for your example of getting a new tech up to speed:
Your first visio diagram would be the overall view  of the enterprise.  Click on a location and you jump to the network diagram for that location.  Click on the switch and you open the browser to the web interface or opens a telnet session.  Other details like the location of the configuration files, log data etc.   My preference is not to put all the config data in Visio because it is difficult to keep it current.  Linking to where the config is saved serves the perpose.
Scott HelmersVisio Consultant, Trainer, Author, and Developer
Most Valuable Expert 2011
Commented:
There are a number of Visio add-ins that can make your work much easier because they do autodiscovery and network mapping. I don't know, but suspect that some handle virtual servers as well as the physical servers. Browse through the list of partner products here and you'll find various network tools:
   http://visiotoolbox.com/downloads/Partner_Product_Trials/

This PPT presentation, also from the Visio Toolbox site, is more oriented toward maintaining rack diagrams but has some good ideas:
   http://visiotoolbox.com/trainings/How_to/Using_Visio_2007_to_install_a_network_16.aspx
This one includes a bit of overlap with the previous one but has some additional ideas about network planning:
   http://visiotoolbox.com/trainings/How_to/Network_Planning_with_Visio_Pro_273.aspx

Finally, try this overview of network diagramming with Visio:
   http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/visio/HP012110931033.aspx
Kamran ArshadIT Associate
Commented:
Hi,

I would recommend netformx and NetSuite;

www.netformx.com

Other options include;

LanFlow      www.pacestar.com
Visio      www.microsoft.com
Smartdraw      www.smartdraw.com
Networknotepad      www.networknotepad.com
Edraw Network      www.edrawsoft.com
ConceptDraw Pro      www.conceptdraw.com
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Commented:
Thanks for all these good suggestions and comments. I have had a very brief look at most of them.

Networknotepad seems to be close to what I had imagined to find, but I must say I feel tempted to go for a tool like Smartdraw even though I would prefer a free tool.

Several mention Visio. We do have this package as part of our MAPS subscription but every time I've tried to make it run for some project (not networking) I've found the learning curve to be too steep. On the other hand I have the impression that Visio somehow can connect to a database to retrieve text and data for display but I've never found out how to set this up.

> Honestly, [to make prints of the GUI pages] is the best way to replicate an existing configuration when you have to replace a switch with a GUI interface...and the new unit has slightly newer firmware.

I realize you are right. The other day I was replacing a six year old Zyxel router with a current model and did exactly this. Design and menus are reordered but it is quite easy to adjust.
Is this method common? Do you just print the pages to a multipage pdf file or is another format preferable?

/gustav
I take screen captures of the web-based GUI pages.  TechSmith's SnagIt is great for this, since it has a scrolling-window option (as well as dozens of other pre-built profiles).

I also use it for doing video capture of POST/bootup so I can read through all of the messages by going fwd/rev through the video file.  Requires a KVM over IP device so you can view the monitor output from a remote machine.
>Do you just print the pages to a multipage pdf file or is another format preferable"    We use HP switches which will output a text screen of all the settings.  It is a simple matter to copy or print this screen to get all the info.  There may be similar possibilities with your hardware.
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Commented:
Thanks! Nice tip about the "video" capture of the boot up sequence.

Well, if only every setup used HP things would be much easier.
Worst example yet, I've met, is the Linksys SRW2008P PoE switch which is only configurable with Internet Explorer of some newer version.

/gustav
Scott HelmersVisio Consultant, Trainer, Author, and Developer
Most Valuable Expert 2011

Commented:
>>  I have the impression that Visio somehow can connect to a database to retrieve text and data for display

You're correct that Visio can do this. One of the links I provided above gives a high level overview that should give you some ideas:
   http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/visio/HP012110931033.aspx

The general capability to link to a database from Visio is called "data linking" -- here's a description:
   http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/visio/HA100487831033.aspx?pid=CH100991461033

I can provide additional links to online tutorials and examples if you decide to pursue this option.

Scott
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Commented:
Thanks Scott, those links answer that question.

However, I've noticed one feature of Network Notepad - that you can right-click an object and from the popup menu you can directly call an external program like:

 telnet <ip address>

or, say, open a remote desktop session.

Is this doable from any of the other suggestions?

/gustav
Scott HelmersVisio Consultant, Trainer, Author, and Developer
Most Valuable Expert 2011

Commented:
You can add one or more right-click or double-click actions to any Visio shape. Though I don't believe you can call an external program directly from a click action (I might be wrong about this), you can certainly call a macro, which can, in turn, run anything you'd like.

If you want the same or similar run commands on multiple shapes, you can add the commands once to the masters in the stencil and each shape you drag onto the page will include the command(s).
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Commented:
Thanks everyone. After some evaluation I've found that:

 - Network Notepad does what I asked for.
 - Visio has some smart features regarding database storage.
 - The other packages in general provide better looking graphics (but all at a budget)

After I located this site:

  http://www.visguy.com

and the sub area:

  http://www.visguy.com/category/visio-content/shapes/network/

and indeed this page with:

  "Oblique Connectors For Your 3D Diagrams"
  http://www.visguy.com/2007/10/29/oblique-connectors-for-your-3d-diagrams/

and read this mandatory article:

  "Show IP addresses and other information on your Visio network diagrams"
  http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/visio/HA101515431033.aspx?pid=CH100986851033

I decided to go with Visio.

Thanks again for the valuable input!

/gustav
Scott HelmersVisio Consultant, Trainer, Author, and Developer
Most Valuable Expert 2011

Commented:
Gustav,

Thanks for providing detailed results of your evaluation. It will definitely be helpful for others who read this question in the future.

Scott

PS I'll be seeing Chris Roth -- the guy behind visguy.com -- next week. I'll let him know that, once again, his site has helped solve real problems.
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Commented:
Great! Please do that. It's a very nice and informative site - one of those you bookmark.

/gustav

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