In this blog post I will provide you with the basics of using Visio 2010 to create a server room rack diagram.
Latest posts by Timothy Warner (see all)

As a Windows systems administrator, you may be required to document the contents of your server racks. The reasons for this documentation are myriad and manifold:

  • Compliance with industry/governmental regulations
  • Compliance with organizational IT policy
  • Theft protection/insurance reimbursement
  • Accountability to stakeholders
  • General industry best practice

Microsoft Visio 2010 is a part of the Microsoft Office System suite that is optimized for the visualization of all business processes. Visio is especially well-suited to our work in IT.

Background information

First of all, it should be said that unlike many core members of the Office System suite, Visio 2010 is a Windows-only application.

NOTE: Mac OS X users tend to get a lot of mileage from Omnigraffle for their business process visualization needs.

Second, only two of the three Visio 2010 stock keeping units (SKUs) include the rack diagram template. Thus, if you are a systems administrator you will want to avoid Visio Standard 2010 and instead purchase a license for Visio Professional 2010 or Visio Premium 2010.

Third, you need to know that Microsoft Visio 2010 includes vendor-neutral shapes in its built-in stencil set. Thus, if you need or want to model real-world gear, you will need to obtain original equipment manufacturer (OEM)-provided Visio stencils.

The good news is that these are amazingly easy to come by. Most IT hardware vendors are overjoyed to provide you with detailed Visio shapes that model their equipment. Most of these shapes have associated shape data such that you can track details regarding each element in your infrastructure.

Building the Visio diagram

Open Visio 2010, and from the default Backstage view, select the Network template category, and then the Rack Diagram template.

Visio 2010 server rack - The rack diagram Visio 2010 template

The rack diagram Visio 2010 template

Once you have the template loaded, you can bring out the Rack shape from the Quick Shapes or Rack-mounted Equipment stencils. The default size of the rack is 42 rack units (Us); however, you can resize the rack to adjust for your preferred dimension.

Next, you can load up your custom third-party stencils by clicking More Shapes > Open Stencil from the Shapes window. Browse to your downloaded .vss file, and away you go!

Visio 2010 server rack - Loading an external stencil

Loading an external stencil

Next, select a shape from a stencil and drag it into the rack. Look at the next screenshot: do you see the little red squares? This denotes a glue to connection point operation. In Visio shape connection points are denoted by blue Xs; when you glue a shape to a connection point, this effectively links the shapes together.

Visio 2010 server rack - Gluing shapes in Visio 2010

Gluing shapes in Visio 2010

Finally, navigate to the Data ribbon tab and select Shape Data Window. You can now attach metadata to each network shape in the diagram. Visio 2010 gives us tremendous flexibility in storing and reporting on shape metadata.

For that matter, the subject of pipelining in external data into a Visio 2010 diagram warrants one or more blog posts on its own. Let me know in the comments portion of this post if you’d like a tutorial on this subject.

Visio server rack - The finished product

The finished product


Admittedly, we only scratched the surface in terms of what Visio 2010 is capable of doing with respect to visualizing your IT infrastructure. As I mentioned earlier, I am more than happy to walk you through more advanced operations; let me know what you think.

  1. Avatar
    Christian Wimmer 12 years ago

    Oh cool, Visio has Rack Diagram templates. I’ve always wondered how you visualize Racks.

  2. Avatar
    Sam smells 12 years ago

    That template is very bad however at working out the RU markers. By default it is difficult unless you like counting little pips to work out where on the rack something is.

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    Ron 12 years ago

    Microsoft Visio 2010 is a part of the Microsoft Office System suite

    That sounds like pure MS marketing Drivel. VISIO was created by an outside company who fairly recently sold out to MS. There is NO Office bundle that includes Visio! MS has just cursed it with that Ribbon “gooey”.

  4. Avatar
    Tim Warner 12 years ago

    Hi Ron,

    Thank you for taking the time to comment. Although you are correct that there is not an MS Office SKU that includes Visio, the Visio product is still very much considered by Microsoft to be “officially” a member of the Office suite. One nice evidence of this is Visio Services in MS SharePoint Server 2010, which is another “extended” Office family member. -Tim

  5. Avatar
    Tim Warner 12 years ago

    Oh, one more thing: Microsoft has owned the Visio name and source code since 2000, over 10 years ago. Source:

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    Nickolas 12 years ago

    This isn’t new, we were using Visio since the 2000 version to document our server racks.

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    Aaron 12 years ago

    I’ve always wondered how to connect a Visio diagram to external data so I’d be interested in seeing that.

  8. Avatar
    Tim Warner 12 years ago

    Hey Aaron–your wish is my command! I can definitely show you how to link Visio shapes to external data. What data source(s) are you interested in? Text? Excel? SQL Server?

  9. Avatar
    Bruce 12 years ago

    Please give us the external data connection tutorial!
    csv, excel, SQL or any combination of the former 🙂

  10. Avatar
    Neil Lohit 12 years ago

    We used to use Visio for rack diagrams and such, but we have switched to device42, much easier data entry and simpler updating with more bang for your buck.

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