For your business’s network to thrive, you have to really know its details and intricacies. One of the best ways to understand your network is to make a network diagram, which is a visual representation of your network’s devices and how they connect to one another.
You can manually create your own network diagram, which can help visualize complex networks. However, it can be difficult and time-consuming to build a coherent, accurate network diagram on your own. The best way to create a clear and detailed network diagram is to invest in network diagramming software. Some network diagram tools are designed to create automated network diagrams, which update as your network’s architecture changes.
One of these automated network diagram systems is SolarWinds® Network Topology Mapper (NTM), an all-encompassing network diagram creator. NTM is designed to create multiple network diagrams from a single scan, keep them updated in real-time, and edit these diagrams to fit your network’s specifications. NTM can also enable you to export these network diagrams to multiple external formats. Click this link to access a 14-day free trial of NTM.
- What Is a Network Diagram?
- Types of Network Diagramming
- Best Tools for Network Diagrams
- Summing Up Network Diagrams + Network Diagramming
What Is a Network Diagram?
A network diagram provides a visual rendering of your network, outlining devices, connections, pathways, and data flows in your network. Network diagramming is also known as network mapping and network topology mapping.
Network diagramming is crucial for learning about your network, checking up on your network’s health, and keeping track of your network’s devices (which are called “nodes” on a network diagram). By discovering the specifics of your network’s nodes and their connections, you can better understand how your network works and what it needs to succeed.
A network diagram can help you observe the logical aspects of your network as well as its physical elements.
Logical Network Diagrams
Logical network diagrams display the inner behaviors of your network, such as routing protocols and subnets, and reveal how information flows through a network. This kind of network mapping is common and offers several use cases.
Physical Network Diagrams
Physical network diagrams show the concrete aspects of your network, such as cables and switches, and how they’re arranged. You can think of a physical network diagram as your network’s “floor plan,” and these kinds of network maps are most useful for network engineers.
To form a complete picture of your network, you’ll want to create both a logical network diagram and a physical network diagram. There are also hyper-specialized kinds of network diagrams, which can help you focus on specific aspects of your network. These can include network security diagrams, which focus on security-related devices, computer network diagrams focused on computers, and a network switch diagram showing the pieces of hardware that connect devices together over the network.
You can combine different types of network diagrams together, designing network diagrams to best fit your needs. Some examples could be building a physical network switch diagram or creating a network diagram focusing on the security of your network’s computers.
The ability to customize your network diagram is part of why network diagramming is so important—and also why using a network diagram creator, like SolarWinds NTM, is helpful when it comes to building clear yet accurate network diagrams.
Types of Network Diagramming
As I’ve discussed above, there are several kinds of network diagrams. Your network diagram can focus on the security of your network, specific devices, or the physical or logical aspects of your network. Now that you know what network diagrams are, you can learn about the different ways to create your own network diagrams—manually, automatically, or semi-automatically.
Manual Network Diagramming Software
When you manually draw a network diagram, you’re in charge of understanding and visualizing the connections between your nodes. Manual network diagrams offer you total customization in your map’s design, which can be useful for unique, intricate networks. However, you’ll also have to manually change your network diagram as your network grows and updates, which makes maintaining a manual network diagram difficult.
Semi-Automatic Network Diagramming Software
Semi-automatic network diagrams are, as the name implies, a mix of both manual and automated network maps. Your network’s devices will be automatically discovered while using a semi-automatic network diagram tool, but you’ll have to position and connect your network’s nodes manually. While this offers customization options, building a network diagram without templates or drag-and-drop features can be hard to execute.
Automated Network Diagramming Software
These network diagramming creators are designed to discover your network’s nodes and their connections and automatically generate a network diagram. An automated network diagram will update along with your network as it changes, making network mapping maintenance easy. Many automated network diagramming tools will give you templates to choose from, so you can still customize your network diagram to match your network’s environment.
Regardless of which network diagram creator you choose, make sure your network diagram software allows for movement within your network. Static network diagrams—maps that don’t change with a network’s changes—become outdated almost immediately. The best network diagram tools will adjust with your network, constantly accounting for changes and keeping your network diagram up to date.
Best Tools for Network Diagrams
With so many options to choose from, it can be daunting to pick a network diagram tool. Different network diagramming creators offer different benefits and possibilities, as well as unique challenges. Below, I’ve shared with you my personal favorite network diagram software, starting with my top recommendation.
1. SolarWinds NTM (Free Trial)
SolarWinds Network Topology Mapper (NTM) is an all-in-one automated network diagram creator designed to build multiple kinds of detailed network diagrams from a single network scan. NTM can enable you to schedule period re-scans of your network, automatically updating your network diagram, so you always stay up to date. You can edit existing nodes on your network diagram using NTM’s drag-and-drop feature or by manually maneuvering your nodes.
NTM is built to give you lots of ways to share network topology diagrams through Cisco, Microsoft Visio, and other formats like PDF and PNG. NTM is a wonderful choice for creating user-friendly automated network diagrams, and you can try it free for 14 days.
Intermapper is an excellent network diagram generator, enabling you to create physical and logical network diagrams that operate in real-time. This network diagramming software is designed to support customization, so you can draw your network diagram exactly as you see it in your head. Intermapper offers a pay-by-device plan, increasing as you add devices, but there’s also a free trial available.
Creately is a detailed network diagrammer with in-system collaboration and chat functions, making it easy to illustrate and share your network diagrams. Features like smart connectors help your network diagram stay legible, while styling options and a full library of node shapes allow you to personalize your network diagrams. Creately integrates well with other platforms such as Microsoft Office, Slack, and Google Workspace; however, it doesn’t offer real-time features for your network diagrams. You can register here for their free version.
Lucidchart network diagram software is a great program for creating flowcharts, process maps, and other kinds of network diagrams. Like SolarWinds NTM, Lucidchart integrates well with other programs and backs up data automatically. However, Lucidchart has no auto-discovery features, so it can’t automatically protect and maintain your network’s devices. There are three professional options as well as a free, single-user option available for download.
SmartDraw is a web-based network diagram tool designed to run anywhere with a stable internet connection. Their goal is to be as easy to use as possible, which results in limited customization options but very neat, professional-looking network diagrams. The tool’s limited customizability, as well as its pay-by-user plan, makes it best for smaller networks. You can sign up for a free online version.
LanFlow offers simple network diagramming tools but powerful design capabilities, including libraries of 2D and 3D icons. Some other helpful features include an optional snap grid, full zoom-in capability, and figure labels that automatically move as you edit. You can also choose from predefined templates or completely create your own and add hyperlinks and websites to your network diagram. LanFlow is a diagramming tool only—there are no autodiscovery features or alarm programming options. Many Cisco professionals use LanFlow for network topology diagrams, and you can download a 30-day free trial.
Microsoft Visio is a reliable network diagram creator designed to easily communicate with other software and applications while helping keep your data secure. Microsoft Visio offers semi-customizable templates and themes but cannot enable automated network diagramming. There’s a Standard version available, plus a more expansive and expensive Pro version, and you can try it free for 30 days.
Summing Up Network Diagrams + Network Diagramming
Network diagrams act as a map of your network, helping you visualize how information is passed between your network’s devices. Creating and using a network diagram is crucial to maintaining your network and helps ensure data is safely getting from where it is to where it needs to go.
Using the help of network diagramming software, you can build your own network diagrams in the best way for you and your team members. Automated network diagram creators, like SolarWinds Network Topology Mapper, are designed to save you time, energy, and resources by automatically discovering and mapping your network’s nodes and connections. NTM automatically generates network diagrams using information gathered, giving you an accurate and clear yet visually striking network topology diagram.
*As of March 2021