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
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.
- Cisco Stencils
- Network Equipment Shapes for Microsoft Visio
- Visio Café
- NetZoom Visio Stencils
- Visio Guy Visio Links
- Router Freak Visio Stencil Files
- Lync Server 2010 Visio Stencil
- Exchange 2010 Visio Stencil
- HP Visio Stencils
Building the Visio diagram
Open Visio 2010, and from the default Backstage view, select the Network template category, and then the Rack Diagram 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!
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.
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.
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.