What is a Network Diagram?
Table of Contents
Network diagrams explained
A network topology diagram is a visual representation of your computer activity network. It’s a chart with a series of symbols and icons representing different elements of your network. By using a data flow visualization tool, you can understand all the connections that make up your network and identify areas for improvement, such as solving debugging issues, optimizing network structures, and ensuring the network meets all the compliance requirements. Depending on its purpose, a network diagram can contain a lot of detail or simply provide a top-level overview. For example, the diagram will be pretty top-level if you’re outlining a new network. You’ll include the key information to create a basic network diagram, but that’s all you’ll need. The diagram will become more complex as you scale it as your business grows, allowing you to keep your technology up to speed with business development.
Why is a network diagram important?
Developers can use network diagrams to outline their network structure, while project managers can use them to map their project scope and track progress. Here are some of the ways network diagrams are helpful for both IT and project teams:
Visualize your entire network
A network diagram allows you to visualize your entire network architecture. As a result, IT managers and developers can effectively plan, organize, and control the system's structure.
Better understand your system or project by pinpointing dependencies. Identify potential roadblocks or hurdles, and put preventative measures in place.
Use a network diagram to identify areas for improvement in your software or upcoming project. For developers, the diagram makes sure that the system works properly. For project managers, it makes sure that the project runs smoothly. If you’ve missed anything, mapping a network diagram will bring it to light.
Align cross-functional teams
Get everyone on the same page by creating and sharing a network diagram. Anyone from any department can review the diagram and understand the software or project’s current state.
Share the diagram externally with key stakeholders to keep them in the loop. They don’t have to be technical experts to understand the diagram, so long as they understand the symbols and icons (more on this later).
Using a network diagram for project management
Network diagrams are traditionally used by IT teams and developers to outline system architecture — but did you know that project managers use network diagrams too? Project managers use these diagrams to outline project activities and identify relationships between project tasks. Everything is mapped out in a clear structure and chronological order — showing dependencies and allowing project managers to visualize the project timeline. Projects at the early stages of development are usually top-level. They focus on the key deliverables and milestones but not much else. As things progress, the diagram will be fleshed out with more details, such as dependencies, additional project tasks, and deadlines.
How do you read a network diagram?
When mapping a computer network, how a network diagram is read varies depending on the topology. There are different structures to consider, each of which has a different flow of information. Here are some common types of network topologies that apply to computer networking:
A point-to-point topology is the simplest structure. It connects two nodes with a common link (often a connecting cable). The bus topology, also known as a line topology, connects all devices to a central cable. It uses less cable, so it’s physically easy to install. A ring topology connects all devices in a circular path. Data and information commonly move in one direction, known as a unidirectional ring. A star topology individually connects all nodes to a central location, like a hub or switch. This structure requires a lot of cables, but the benefit is that if one cable fails, only a single node will be out of action. The tree topology (named as such because it resembles the branches of a tree) has one central node. Other nodes connect to the central node through a single cable. This structure is ideal for developers looking to expand their existing networks. A mesh topology allows all nodes to distribute data and information. All of these nodes connect in a non-hierarchical way so that they can provide extensive network coverage to a wider area. A hybrid topology is a combination of existing topology frameworks. It’s useful for larger and more detailed network diagrams, but it’s harder to set up and maintain.
How many types of network diagrams are there?
Regarding software architecture, there are two types of network diagrams: physical and logical. A physical diagram outlines the relationship between the actual devices. It shows how network devices are physically connected to wires and cables. A logical diagram focuses more on the logical aspects of a network, such as the flow of information. It shows how communication flows between different devices. Logical diagrams typically outline routers, subnets, firewalls, and other routing protocols. Whether you need a physical or logical diagram depends on what you’re trying to outline and your goals for doing so. For example, if you’re looking for a way to improve the physical structure of your network, a physical diagram is the better option. If you need to streamline the flow of communication and information within your network, a logical diagram is the right choice.
Network diagram symbols and icons
When it comes to mapping your system architecture, every diagram is made up of standardized network diagram icons. Whether you’re a seasoned developer or a complete technophobe, these symbols’ consistency makes it easier to understand the network and how it works. Some of the most common symbols include:
• Cloud • Firewall • Terminal • ADSL/DSL • Server • Router • Signal
These icons may look different depending on how they are represented by different providers. For example, Cisco, AWS, and Azure all use icons to represent the various components that make up their systems.
Example of a network diagram
To see an example of how a network diagram is structured, take a look at the Cisco Data Network Diagram Template:
Cisco is a digital communications company. It offers data center and access networking solutions, providing industry-leading automation, network equipment, and real-time visibility for businesses worldwide. Using an extensive library of icons, this network diagram exemplifies how a business can build, design, and showcase its Cisco network infrastructure. It helps network engineers and designers visualize their networks in a clear and concise format, allowing them to spot inefficiencies and areas for improvement.
How to create a network diagram
Are you wondering how to draw a network diagram of your own? Follow these steps to get started:
1. Choose the right tool
Choosing the right network diagram tool can be the difference between a successful diagram and a not-so-successful diagram. To find the best networking diagram tool for your business, consider the following tips:
Look for simplicity
Network diagrams can be complex, so you need a platform that’s intuitive, easy to use, and that allows you to create engaging diagrams.
Find collaborative features
To create an effective network diagram, you need a platform that allows you to collaborate with your team — especially if you’re part of a remote or distributed team. When choosing a diagramming tool, ensure it has enough collaborative features so that you and your team can work together from anywhere. For example, allow everyone to view, edit, and comment on the diagram.
Take a look at the templates
If this is your first network diagram, it’s helpful to start by using existing network diagram templates. Ideally, the template should be customizable; the ability to make edits and changes will help you create an accurate network diagram.
2. Use the right format
With the right tools in place, you can now decide whether to create a physical or logical network and which topology to use.
If you need to plan the physical structure of your network (including cables, devices, and routers), you need a physical network diagram. To show how data and information move through your network architecture, you should create a logical network diagram.
When it comes to choosing the right topology, that’s up to you. Review the common formats we outlined previously, and you should be able to determine which structure best suits your needs.
For example, if you have a simple computer network, the bus topology could be a good starting point. It’s fairly simple and doesn’t use too much cable. But if you need something more complex, the tree or mesh topology could be a better option.
3. Add network components
Now it’s time to start adding your network components to reflect your network structure. To do this, familiarize yourself with the standardized symbols, and start plotting the different elements of your network architecture.
4. Name the components
Although the symbols are standardized, it’s still helpful to clarify the exact pieces of equipment your symbols represent. This is where adding labels comes in handy. By adding text labels, you can specify what the different symbols represent in your network architecture. Whether it’s a certain type of router or a wireless access point, the labels indicate exactly what the diagrams include.
5. Structure your diagram
Before you wrap things up, you must ensure your diagram structure is in place. This involves drawing connection lines and arrows between your objects to outline your diagram topology and structure. The lines should clearly show how the network elements relate and how information flows between them. Avoid crossing the lines (unless you’re using the star topology) to ensure the diagram is as clear as possible. You can also use different colors for the lines to represent different types of relationships. For example, if information flows both ways, you could add a green line. If it only flows one way, you could use red.
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