Enterprise networks are constantly expanding, and especially in the age of cloud computing, edge computing, and 5G, the capabilities and types of network components are quickly diversifying. It’s difficult to navigate a large network, whether you’re looking to troubleshoot a performance issue, find the site of a security breach, or audit the general makeup of your users and devices. With a network diagram, especially one that automatically updates through network diagram software, users of varying backgrounds can easily visualize the most important features and connections on the network. Read on to learn more about some of the top network diagram software and tools that can help you develop a better understanding of your enterprise network.
Best Network Diagramming Solutions on the Market
- What Is a Network Diagram?
- Important Network Diagram Tool Features
- Top Network Diagram Software
- Enterprise Benefits of Using Network Diagram Solutions
A network diagram is a visual representation of all of the connections on a network. With a comprehensive network visualization, viewers can see how devices, connections, pathways, and data flows are currently set up on their network.
Some of the main approaches to network diagramming include:
Manual network diagram
This type of network diagram may be useful for larger networks because you can manually draw network components and connections at a granular level. However, your diagram will need to be audited and updated frequently as your network changes over time.
Semi-automated network diagram
The semi-automatic approach to network diagramming automates the process of auto-discovery, or automatically identifies new devices as they join the network. However, users are still tasked with manually making the diagram connections.
Automated network diagram
This approach automates the device discovery phase and auto-generates a network diagram to match the changing network in real time. This type of diagram solution typically offers templates, stencils, and other features, though it lacks some of the customizability in manual and semi-automated diagram tools.
Logical network diagram
Logical network diagrams are focused less on the physical hardware and applications on a network and more on how and why everything connects the way it does. A logical network diagram typically includes information about subnets, routing protocols, and hardware like firewalls and routers that show how data flows from place to place.
Physical network diagram
A physical network diagram is more like a blueprint. It focuses on showing the physical layout of hardware and how every cable, router, and device physically connects.
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- Data and diagram sharing: There are several reasons why a network diagram tool user might want to share their diagram with outside users or applications. Look for tools that offer native or third-party integrations for collaboration tools, as well as the ability to share diagrams with office suites and other diagram applications.
- Customizability: Every network layout and diagramming need is different. Look for solutions that allow you to make manual adjustments to the layout, the design library, and other features as needed. Open source models in particular offer high levels of customization to users.
- Design and visualization templates: Most network diagramming tools include extensive design libraries for shapes, icons, stencils, and templates. Check with the sales team to see if their visualization features match your needs and/or if you can add to the design library on your own.
- Import and export flexibility: It’s common for enterprise networks to switch from one diagramming tool to another as their needs change. That’s why it’s important to invest in tools that easily import and export diagram data, either directly to the other tool or via user-friendly file formats.
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SolarWinds Network Topology Mapper is an automated network mapping and diagramming solution that allows you to schedule automated network scans for diagram updates at your preferred times. NTM is a great solution for users who want the ease of use that an automated solution provides, but still want a tool that is friendly to larger network setups. With its focus on developing multiple maps, multi-layer discovery, and regulatory compliance, this SolarWinds solution makes it possible for network administrators to update and troubleshoot their network with just a few clicks to automate the process.
- Automation for device discovery and mapping
- Single-scan approach to building multiple maps
- Auto-detect for network topology changes
- Features for regulatory PCI compliance
- Diagram exports compatible with Microsoft Visio
Top Pro: Network Topology Mapper offers a wide variety of real-time alerts to users, especially when used in partnership with Network Configuration Manager and Netflow Traffic Analyzer.
Top Con: Some users say that the user interface is not very intuitive, especially when working with the SolarWinds API.
Pricing: $1,570, with a 14-day free trial available.
Microsoft Visio is one of the oldest, most popular network and business diagramming tools on the market. The user interface is particularly friendly to the large number of enterprise users who are familiar with Microsoft Office tools and collaboration features. As a bonus, most other network diagramming tools on the market make compatibility a point with Visio imports and exports. So whether you’re considering a move toward or away from Microsoft Visio, you can expect to have an easier time moving existing network visual data as needed.
- Flowchart tool with shapes, stencils, and templates available
- Data visualization for org charts and team reporting hierarchies
- Floor plan design templates for workspace and retail store layouts
- Real-time collaboration available for multiple users
- Security features such as Information Rights Management (IRM)
Top Pro: Visio offers several accessibility features to its customers, including Narrator, Accessibility Checker, and high-contrast support.
Top Con: Shapes and icons included in Visio are difficult to arrange and offer limited options to users.
Pricing: Visio Plan 1: $5.00 per user per month; Visio Plan 2: $15.00 per user per month. Recently, Microsoft has rolled out a lightweight web app version of Visio to all Microsoft 365 commercial subscribers.
HelpSystems Intermapper offers a semi-automated approach to network diagramming, with automated topology mapping and discovery, but also the ability to draw network connections manually. Although the user interface looks more dated than some of its competitors, Intermapper offers a deep visuals library with live color-coding and animation features. This tool also provides some of the strongest virtualization and network monitoring capabilities in the networking diagramming market.
- Auto-discovery available for all physical and virtual equipment with an IP address in a network
- Customizations available for layout, icons, and background images
- Live animation offered to enhance troubleshooting visualizations
- Exports available to Microsoft Visio and .SVG format
- Geographical and sub-mapping available to troubleshoot at the device, office floor plan, campus map, blueprint, and Google Earth levels
Top Pro: Intermapper offers live color-coding and animation that is especially helpful for real-time data visualization and troubleshooting.
Top Con: Some users think the graphics are difficult to view, especially on mobile or when printed out.
Pricing: Quote available from HelpSystems team upon request. A 30-day free trial is available.
SmartDraw is a lesser-known tool in the diagramming market that provides strong user accessibility, especially for smaller companies getting started with network diagrams. Their focus on user-friendliness limits some of their customizable features, but the graphics are clean and easy to navigate, and the automations are designed to work for less technical users. Another draw for the smaller team that wants to cooperatively manage a network is SmartDraw’s emphasis on collaborative integrations with Microsoft, Google, Jira, and AWS.
- Extensive library of network diagramming templates for 70 different diagram types
- Integrations are available with Microsoft Office, Google apps, Jira, AWS, etc.
- CAD drawing features and standard engineering scales; AutoCAD-like annotation feature included
- Data import and export available for Visio and Lucidchart
- Custom extensions available through VisualScript SDK
Top Pro: SmartDraw’s intelligent formatting engine helps users to build, edit, move, and otherwise adjust diagrams to their preferences.
Top Con: Some users have commented that the autosave feature is not always reliable.
Pricing: Team: $5.95 per user per month; Site: $2,995, billed annually. A free version is also available.
Lucidchart is a network diagramming tool that users often choose for their visually appealing and extensive template and shape library. This product can also be an especially useful diagramming tool for network security audits, due to its security view option. This diagramming solution offers a lot of flexibility to users who want to visualize network components through diverse layouts and strong collaboration features. However, it’s important to note that Lucidchart is very limited on automated features, like auto-discovery and live device management.
- Team collaboration tools integrations, including Google Workspace, Microsoft, Atlassian, and Slack
- Ability to embed cloud architecture diagrams and apply conditional formatting rules
- Granular collaboration through Co-authoring, in-editor chat, shape-specific comments, and collaborative cursors
- Data linking and auto-visualization for various charts
- centralized account management and document retention
Top Pro: Lucidchart offers some of the most intuitive interfaces and user-friendly icons on the market.
Top Con: Shape, object, and general template management are tricky for some users.
Pricing: Team: Starting at $9 per user; Enterprise: Quote available from Lucidchart team upon request.
Creately is a network diagramming solution that users can access through their downloadable software or their cloud version. This tool is a strong charting tool for larger networks that want to visualize either wide area network (WAN) features or local area network (LAN) features at a detailed level. Much like Lucidchart, Creately is strictly a charting tool and does not offer automated device discovery and management features to its users.
- Integrations available with collaboration software like Google Suite and Slack
- Customizable AWS shapes, IT Network shapes, and Datacenter Rack diagram shapes
- Smart shape and template library for 70 diagram types
- Quick toolbar and custom drawing available for shape creation
- Real-time collaboration and threaded commenting features
Top Pro: Creately includes several real-time collaboration tools, both natively and through integrations.
Top Con: Trial workspaces are public, limiting the amount of security and flexibility for critical info in this space. Icons are also a bit outdated.
Pricing: Free version available. Team: Usually $6 per month per user, but currently running a discounted price; Enterprise: Custom pricing available.
ConceptDraw Diagram, perhaps better known by its previous name, ConceptDraw PRO, is a top business diagramming software solution with thousands of features in its visual library. In this tool, visually appealing icons combine with a user-friendly user interface that resembles familiar Microsoft Office layouts. ConceptDraw Diagram is frequently used as a part of the larger ConceptDraw Office suite, which offers additional strategic planning, team management, and project management solutions to teams. Like other charting tools on this list, ConceptDraw Diagram offers only limited automated features.
- Import and export compatibility with Microsoft Visio
- Side panels for arranging, formatting, and otherwise organizing diagram components
- A variety of templates and stencils, including vector stencils for architectural projects
- Live object technology with custom KPI dashboards, charts, and indicators
- Auto-routing diagram capabilities via Smart Connectors
Top Pro: ConceptDraw Diagram is considered user-friendly, with extensive examples, documentation, and strong technical support.
Top Con: Rescaling, layers, and layouts are not always intuitive, especially when adjusted after the start of a project.
Pricing: Licenses come in packages of 1, 5, or 10. 1 License: $199; 5 Licenses: $920.50; 10 Licenses: $1,692.
Dia is a free, open-source diagramming tool that is based on GTK+ and is modeled to look like a more “casual” Microsoft Visio layout. Like other open-source software projects, Dia offers strong documentation and a user community that can help new Dia users configure and manage their diagramming plans. This tool offers several customizable features because of its open-source format, and unlike many other open-source projects, Dia was designed to have a low learning curve and a simple interface that non-developers can use with a bit of guidance.
- Multiple-page printing
- Export formats include EPS, SVG, CGM, and PNG
- Custom shape creation available through XML descriptions
- Gridlines for easier object alignment available in the Dia Canvas
- Several custom controls and special objects available in the Dial Toolbox
Top Pro: Extensive documentation and customizability are available due to the open-source format.
Top Con: The user interface is dated and the object library is not always updated to reflect current use cases.
Pricing: Free and open-source tool for network diagramming, available for download online.
Network diagrams, especially when regularly updated through diagramming solutions, offer several benefits to the enterprise network:
Preparation for a new network design
Whether a new company is building a network or an existing company is looking to revamp its network design, network diagramming solutions can help architects to visualize their new network infrastructure before committing to the design. Network diagrams, whether logical or physical, can help network architects to visualize network issues and to optimize their plans proactively.
Network auditing support
Especially as networks grow to meet enterprise needs, it becomes increasingly difficult to manually review and update outdated network components. With a network diagram, your team now has a frequently updated visual representation of how the network is currently set up and where different outdated components live. Network auditing projects frequently rely on network diagramming software because of the detailed, accessible visual data they provide.
Network data democratization
Unless you’re a network expert or a data scientist, most network data documentation and explanations are too complex to fully understand. Network diagrams make network data visual, thus making it possible for less technical administrators and executives to understand the network’s core components.
Accessibility for larger networks
Most network diagramming software allows you to customize your diagram and dashboard to the exact network features you want to view. You may also have the option to create more than one map if you have several different layers or types of network connections that you want to visualize. Larger networks can be especially difficult to visualize, but with the single dashboard and customizable features in a network diagram, users can see the most relevant parts of a larger network at once.
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