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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.