Create document models of your networks

It's Wednesday afternoon, and you've just had a meeting with your company's upper managers. They want you to document your entire network and present your findings at a meeting Friday morning. You calculate the time you'll spend recording the specifications of each system and peripheral attached to the network—you could spend 6 months completing the project. You wonder how you'll complete this project and continue to support your network users.

In earlier-generation drawing programs, you could spend as much time drawing a diagram on the computer as you would creating one with a pencil and symbol stencils. Now, with Visio Enterprise 5.0, you can quickly create document models of your networks, databases, and software projects.

In addition to the extensive online Help on the program CD-ROM, Visio Enterprise includes three sizable manuals that cover using, modeling, and developing solutions. A tutorial guide is also available to lead you through a variety of simulations that let you understand the concepts and processes you encounter when you work with the software.

I installed Visio Enterprise on a 333MHz Pentium II system with 1GB of RAM and a 4.3GB hard disk running Windows NT Server 4.0 and Service Pack 3 (SP3). I inserted the Visio Enterprise CD-ROM, clicked Install Visio Enterprise, and followed the wizard, which led me through a series of easy-to-follow instructions. I installed the program's sample drawings and vendor-specific replica shapes, which impressed me with their level of detail. A subscription option is available that lets you download shapes from Visio as the company creates or updates them. Installation was quick and easy, and I restarted my system when prompted.

Network Discovery
From the Start menu, I opened Visio Enterprise, which prompted me to select a template from more than 40 choices in the Choose a Drawing Template dialog box. I selected the Network Diagram folder, AutoDiscovery and Layout, and then OK. Next, I clicked the magnifying glass icon on the toolbar, which starts the Basic Discovery wizard. The wizard stepped me through a series of screens that let me select the type of network (Routed or Switched/Bridged) I wanted the software to document. The Routed choice finds multiple routers and IP subnets on your network. The Switched/Bridged choice uses pings to find a network composed of switches, bridges, or hubs on one subnet. I selected Switched/Bridged, selected the default gateway check box, then selected the SNMP communities I wanted to use in the discovery process. I clicked Discover to start the search, and the program pinged all IP addresses on my network from 206.247.73.1 through 206.247.73.254. In about 8 minutes, I received the message AutoDiscovery is Finished, which signaled that the software had created the device database and was ready to add it to a network drawing.

Before you create a network diagram, you need to consider the type of diagram you want and how you plan to use it. Visio Enterprise lets you create one-page hyperlinked diagrams that you can publish on the Web; the drawings can be simple or complex. I selected File, New, and then AutoDiscovery and Layout from the Network Diagram menu. Visio Enterprise includes a variety of prebuilt diagram sizes, including Standard, Metric, ANSI Engineering, and ANS Architectural. You can also customize your page size. I clicked Page Setup from the File menu and selected ANSI Engineering and the default size of 8.5" * 11". Next, I clicked Add A Network from the AutoDiscovery and Layout toolbar, and I selected the network database that the software had created. An icon that represented the network backbone appeared with the IP address 206.247.73.0, which was the beginning of my network diagram. I right-clicked the network backbone icon (listing the IP address of the main router) and selected Connect Devices from the menu. I selected the switch that the software had located, and it connected to the main network icon. You can easily add devices using the List item from the AutoDiscovery menu individually, or you can let Visio Enterprise drop all the devices on the drawing pane, then move them into their respective locations. The interface was fairly intuitive, and I quickly learned the process. I spent 15 minutes creating a simple diagram of my test network, as Figure 1, page 172, shows.

Manage Your Database
Visio Enterprise isn't only for designing networks; the software also includes a robust set of tools for creating and managing logical models for relational and object-relational databases. Well-designed logical database models visually format the relationships between various tables of information and help you verify that created information systems are accurate, complete, and streamlined. I found Visio Enterprise to be flexible—I could create database models, generate database schemas for a variety of databases (e.g., Microsoft SQL Server), and reverse-engineer legacy databases to view their overall structure.

Visio Enterprise lets you create database models from scratch or reverse-engineer an existing database and display its overall structure. Creating a database model was easy: I selected File, New and selected Database Model from the Database menu. Next, I set the default database driver to SQL Server by choosing Drivers from the Database menu. From the menu, I clicked Microsoft SQL Server, Set As Default, and OK. I wanted to display the data types of the items inside each table, so I clicked Document Options from the Database menu and clicked Show Physical under Data Types on the Table tab.

I created a table by dragging an Entity shape from the stencil on the left onto the drawing page. I then double-clicked the table shape, entered Customer as the physical name, and closed the dialog box. Next, I right-clicked the table shape and selected Edit Columns from the menu. I clicked Add and entered custID as the physical name in the Column Properties dialog box. Then, I clicked the Data Type tab and ensured that I had selected the Show Portable Data Type. I selected Numeric from the Category drop-down menu, and left the default settings in the Type and Size menus. I followed the same steps to create additional attributes and tables. I could use this schema for planning and designing before I actually opened my database application. You should note that Visio doesn't render the entire schema and show the relationship between tables like specialized tools (e.g., Microsoft's Visual Database Tools) do.

Visio Enterprise lets you generate database schemas from a working model in just a few steps. Additionally, you can reverse-engineer any ODBC-compliant database and print the tables and relationships for easier viewing.

Software Structure and Error Correcting
The third component of Visio Enterprise is software modeling, which lets you reverse-engineer Visual C++ (VC++) or Visual Basic (VB) code into Unified Modeling Language (UML) models, automatically check the model for syntax and semantic errors to ensure it meets UML 1.2 standards, and import and export Microsoft Repository class definitions to view them graphically. In addition, you can use one of 20 solutions (e.g., Booch, Rumbaugh, Yourdon, and Shlaer-Mellor object-oriented methodologies) to design and document software projects. Finally, you can mock up Windows 9x user interface (UI) components (e.g., dialog boxes, menus, other screens) for usability testing and reviewing before you include them in a product.

I found the semantic error checker interesting. The utility runs in the background to identify and diagnose errors such as missing data and improper notation. I opened a model that I created and resized the Errors window to view the messages. I double-clicked the first message, a generalization error that refers to a circular reference in the model. The software highlighted the extra generalization connector that I defined between two of the classes in my diagram.

Next, I double-clicked the Association error, which refers to associations that connect to only one class rather than the required two classes. I clicked and dragged the missing Receipt class from the UML Navigator to the diagram. To finish correcting the error, I pressed the Ctrl key and dragged the unconnected ends of the two associations over the Receipt class.

The SaleLineItem\[Class\] error was a result of having the same name assigned to two different classes. I right-clicked the first SaleLineItem in the UML Navigator window, chose Rename from the menu, and typed the name ItemSpecification to correct the error.

Finally, you can extend Visio drawings into custom-built applications by using the drawings as objects. For example, you can extend your visual network implementation by presenting your network diagram in a window in which double-clicking each network object sends a ping request to the target system. Although you must write the appropriate source code, the software lets you couple its drawings to that code.

Three Arms Are Better Than One
Visio Enterprise is a diagramming Swiss Army knife that is cost-effective for almost any organization. The multiple facets of the program let you automatically find hardware on all sizes of networks. Network diagrams are easy to create from scratch, but I would prefer the toolbars and windows to slide out when you point the mouse at them. Visio Enterprise supports all the major databases, including Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, and Access 97. The software lets you reverse-engineer class definitions into UML static structures and create UIs to assist in usability testing before spending time coding. The need for documenting networks and programs has always existed—Visio Enterprise finally fills that need.

Visio Enterprise 5.0
Contact: Visio * 800-248-4746
Web: http://www.visio.com
Price: $995
System Requirements: Pentium processor or better, Windows NT 4.0 or Windows 9x, 16MB of RAM (for Win9x); 24MB of RAM (for NT), 130MB of hard disk space, CD-ROM drive, VGA or better display