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Writing a commercial proposal, I want to create a nice graphic showing the clients the architecture I thought of for their IT network, with servers, network connections, firewall, load-balancing, etc.

For years I have been using dia, but I am tired of it because: the results are not satisfying, very few network elements are available, and each element's graphic representation is really ugly.

Question: How to create nice network diagrams?

If a better set of elements was available for dia, that would be a solution.

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12 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Inkscape is all you need. For additional clip art graphics ('elements'), use openclipart.org. OpenClipart is actually built into Inkscape these days. There's really no need to resort to non-free apps.

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I switched from Cacoo to Inkscape+OpenClipart. –  Nicolas Raoul Jun 20 '13 at 7:18
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I decided to move my diagrams to the cloud after I saw Cacoo. It's a very intuitive tool, having a lot of diagram and icons choices and mostly it has options for online collaboration. The only downside is that is a proprietary software :/

Here is my sampleDiagram

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I don't really like using proprietary apps, but I have to admit this one is the nicest tool I have found so far. I was lucky enough to find the elements I need, with very nice graphics! –  Nicolas Raoul Dec 7 '10 at 2:08
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Unfortunately, having proprietary/sensitive data in the cloud can be a problem for some who would use this. –  belacqua Dec 6 '12 at 4:57
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By looking in the Dia official FAQ, I discovered there is a way to extend Dia and its elements set.

Extending Dia

Q: How do I add new shapes/sheets? A: An explanation is given in doc/custom-shapes in the source distribution on how the shape format works. However, Dia now also has the capability of exporting a diagram as a shape. Each collection of shapes (called a sheet) should be kept together in a subdirectory of ~/.dia/shapes, e.g, ~/.dia/shapes/Engines. To make a shape, first design it in Dia. Then export it into your subdirectory. Two files will be generated, a .shape file and a .png file (the icon).

From version 0.90 and up, Dia features a Sheets and Objects editor which will allow you to load the shape into a sheet. It will also update Dia's loaded objects on the fly.

If you still want to do things by hand, update the corresponding sheet file in ~/.dia/sheets, in this case called Engines.sheet. Example contents of a sheet file is:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="iso-8859-1"?> <!-- -*- xml -*- -->

<sheet xmlns="http://www.lysator.liu.se/~alla/dia/dia-sheet-ns">
  <name>Engines</name>
  <description>Mechanical Engines</description>
  <contents>
    <object name="Engines - Gas">
      <description>A gas engine</description>
    </object>
  </contents>
</sheet>

Each new object should be added to the sheet by adding an object section. Next time you restart Dia, the new objects should show up in the list of sheets.

So I suggest you to add your own shapes to Dia and live happily:)

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+1 Thanks a lot :-) –  Nicolas Raoul Dec 7 '10 at 1:07
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I still find dia to be a great option, and I'm curious to know why you find that the network diagrams don't look adequate.

In my experience, there are a large number of traditional network diagram shapes such as the conceptual drawings for routers, switches, etc., as they are used on documentation (like what comes from Cisco)... and it looks just the same. Please let us know what you find is missing in Dia, so that someone can go ahead and create the shapes we may all find really useful :)

There are, admittedly, a number of issues with connecting things and other aspects of using dia that are different if you come from a Microsoft Visio background, but to me, it still seems to work great. When I researched it, it was still the best diagram editor around for this type of work.

As far as I know, all the elements I described there are available in the stock dia. You will want to look for the shape sheets with names starting with "Cisco".

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+1 The Cisco elements are indeed more numerous and a bit nicer, but still b&w pixel-by-pixel drawings, and there is no rack-shaped server. btw: I never tried Visio. –  Nicolas Raoul Dec 7 '10 at 2:03
    
Right. I do have them in color though, maybe you just need to use a newer version of dia? FWIW, lucid has the color drawings. That said, few applications ship with rack-shaped servers if you're trying to do visual plans of what goes where from the front of a rack -- images for this are either shipped by the hardware vendors, or you get to have to take a picture of your hardware :) –  Mathieu Trudel-Lapierre Dec 9 '10 at 17:15
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I recently found a Dis package called GnomeDIAicons and although not a large set of icons they do look good.

Here's an example I just put together:

enter image description here

To install, download the archive and in the terminal:

cd /usr/share/dia/
sudo tar xf ~/Downloads/rib-network-v0.1.tar.gz

Then open Dia and choose the RIB-Network sheet.

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+1 Very nice! I would love to see this set extended. It seems to be Open Source, so I wonder why it is not included by default in Ubuntu's Dia. –  Nicolas Raoul Jan 8 '13 at 1:18
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yED Graph Editor is a desktop application that can be used to quickly and effectively generate high-quality diagrams. It can also be used to generate network diagrams. Here is a sample diagram that was created using this software.

Network Diagram

Source for the above image: yED image gallery

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+1 Very nice! Controls (like moving/creating objects) are a bit different than usual, but I feel that it could be more efficient than Cacoo with a bit of doc reading. Even though not open source, unlimited files is a great plus over Cacoo. Website says both yED and yEd so not sure about the capitalization. –  Nicolas Raoul Feb 18 '13 at 10:45
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An alternative to Cacoo might also be Gliffy, although I'm not certain what their shape/stencil support is like though. Worth a look nonetheless.

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Though may seem like an odd choice, I find inkscape to be a great tool for diagramming, particularly network diagramming. Its output is svg, making it very portable and attractively rendered. And underneath, there is xml -- which you can manipulate programmatically (e.g., parse, search, edit, or even tie into other data sources for descriptions or other variable attributes). And it is Open Source.

By the way, here are the Cisco stencils, for those who might be interested. Formats include svg, jpg, bmp, tif, eps, wmf.

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kivio Install kivio is a diagramming application within koffice (the office suite of KDE) called kivio, which comes with a set of stencils for different types of diagrams.Additional stencil can be purchased, but the program itself has the basic set. NB: Kivio is now called 'Flow', and is part of the Calligra office suite 3.

Jgraph is java based and it is a commercial product.But has a free version for basic use.

See the screenshots of kivio here

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Kivio has been dropped from Ubuntu :-( But actually, Kivio's network diagrams are about as ugly as those produced by Dia: ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1573191 thekompany.com/projects/kivio/pics/document_full_dock.png –  Nicolas Raoul Dec 6 '10 at 10:09
    
Jgraph is even poorer on elements :'-( Only "printer", screen-keyboard, and a shape that labeled "server" that does not look like any server... –  Nicolas Raoul Dec 6 '10 at 10:15
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Another tool to create nice network diagrams in real 3D is MaSSHandra.

It has all Cisco symbols as a external download and includes autodiscovery and access features inside the diagrams. It's free and you can see how it works before install it from here.

screenshoot

MaSSHandra web site

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I use the graphviz utility, but it is not for the faint of heart. It has a steep learning curve, but I am satisfied with the results I get.

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Recently I began using a Chrome Application called CREATELY . It includes a lot generic network icons and also has nicer and more modern Cisco shapes than Dia.

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