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netViz Case Study :-
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NetViz Adds a New Dimension To Data-Driven Presentations

By Steve Rigney

Programs like Microsoft's PowerPoint and Visio are ideal if you want to draw pictures of your enterprise data network, but those illustrations don't provide much information about the devices and the connections between them. Sure, you can make notes in a PowerPoint presentation and put words on a Visio drawing, but you are limited by space on the page. If you need to create professional-looking network diagrams that also contain data, check out netViz Corp.'s updated netViz 3D.

Earlier versions of the netViz program let you drill down through multiple layers of a diagram, such as through a city, a building and a floor. However, the latest netViz adds a 3-D feature that lets you view multiple layers at the same time. The information power of the attached database makes the product a little confusing at times, but with netViz I created some useful diagrams of an enterprise network.

A Picture's Worth?

At £790, netViz is not inexpensive, but once you see a complete diagram of your enterprise WAN, you won't mind having spent the bucks. The package includes the application, an ODBC-compliant database, and approximately 500 3-D models of computer equipment and office equipment. It requires at least a 300-MHz Pentium system with 128 MB of RAM and a 3-D graphics card. The accompanying manual does not list disk-space requirements, but my installation created about 600 files and 30 folders that took up 117 MB of disk space on my desktop system.

Any novice can install the netViz application and graphics, but the program takes a little time to master. Fortunately, the package includes several samples, so I was able to practice by manipulating a diagram without creating it from scratch. Like most other graphics programs, netViz asks you to drag only the icons you need onto the palette to create a diagram. You'll have no problem filling in basic information, such as the speed of a link or the monthly cost. The bigger challenge comes with creating custom fields for your object. Custom fields can include the date of installation and any notes about the device. All this information can be exported to any ODBC-compliant database.

The Value of Export

Besides letting you manipulate your netViz data in your favorite database, the export feature offers another benefit: It lets you create data-driven graphics. Any netViz object can be set to replace data values graphically, such as with color, fill or thickness. When you link a netViz project to an external database, the netViz diagrams alert you graphically and automatically to any changes. This isn't a replacement for an SNMP management console by any means, but it does ensure that your diagrams are up to date.

In addition to linking and exporting to a database, you can save your diagrams in just about any graphics format, including bitmap, GIF or JPEG. And you can export a project to a PowerPoint presentation. NetViz also offers a Web-server package that lets you save your projects as Web pages, complete with associated data.

My favorite feature of netViz is the capability to alter an image by changing its related data. For example, if I turned a 256-Kbps frame relay into an OC-3 ATM, the associated image changed automatically. A frame relay link is represented by a thin yellow line, while an OC-3 is shown as a thick red line. You can perform the same tasks for multiple components at once. This is a good time-saving tool if you want to update multiple sites or links across a large enterprise's wide area network.

Unraveling the Network

NetViz's decision to make this version of the product 3-D was smart. The company's goal is to let enterprises create hierarchical diagrams of their networks to show the relationships of the different components. To do this, the program has to rely on different levels, or views. A WAN, for example, may have dozens of locations, buildings and wiring closets, and thousands of nodes. Trying to depict that in a single image is next to impossible. Likewise, the information about the links, the speed and the type of devices would never fit on a diagram without making it cluttered and hard to read. NetViz uses levels of diagrams and data fields to explain each component. The 3-D feature lets you view multiple levels on a single diagram without having to click on each object to drill down for more information.

The 3-D feature also provides more control over the view of the diagrams. I was able to rotate, tilt and zoom in on images. And I could change the lighting on a particular scene and even the location of the light source. This is a feature not found in PowerPoint; Visio provides a handful of 3-D images, but you don't get the same control features as you do with the netViz software.

Finally, netViz 3D also is a useful tool for creating work flows. Because the product can keep information on the relationship of objects, you can use it to outline a particular process, such as the steps to be followed after a new employee is hired.

Steve Rigney is a network consultant specializing in storage management, VoIP and remote access. Send your comments on this article to him at

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