3-D adds new dimension to visualizing networks

A complete diagram can make installing and maintaining a network much easier. The key is to find a diagramming software product that is easy to use, visually interesting and logically organized. In a crowded field, netViz stands out in all those areas. And the new 3D feature literally adds a new dimension to its usefulness.

A complete diagram can make installing and maintaining a network much easier.

The key is to find a diagramming software product that is easy to use, visually

interesting and logically organized. In a crowded field, netViz stands out

in all those areas. And the new 3-D feature literally adds a new dimension

to its usefulness.

Bear in mind, however, that netViz's new 3-D capabilities demand a lot

of your computer's resources. By the book, netViz 3-D needs at least a 300

MHz Intel Corp. Pentium computer with 128M of RAM. Knowing that any 3-D

processing involves massive computations, I selected a Dell OptiPlex GX110

with a 667 MHz processor and 256M of RAM.

Just to see if it would work, I first tried using netViz without a 3-D

accelerator card. Everything worked OK, but the seconds I had to wait while

rotating a 3-D image seemed like hours. There was no problem, of course,

with 2-D components.

I found an older Diamond Edge 3-D 3400XL accelerator card with 4M of

video RAM, and it worked perfectly.

Installation from the CD-ROM took only a few minutes, and documentation

is generally strong.

Like all data visualization products in its class, netViz is crammed

with useful functions. Give yourself at least a week to learn how to use

netViz and even longer to master it. In a short time, I was able to create

a new network-diagramming pro-ject, populating it with the auto discovery

feature. I especially like the netViz feature that allows you to orient

diagrams by placing them on maps and photographs. NetViz comes with a gallery

of maps, but I found an adequate aerial photo of my own campus on the World

Wide Web.

Everything is controlled from the main screen, which has a Microsoft Corp.

Internet Explorer-like interface. A pane on the left of the screen shows

a tree structure of the current project, providing easy navigation. Net-Viz

conveniently keeps all data on a project in a single file, so the tree structure

is actually showing the organization of that file. Graphics and data are

integrated together in the structure of the file.

The large pane on the right displays the diagrams. An optional small

Inspector window gives you information on links as you click on them, and

another small Previewer window gives a reduced-size picture of objects as

your cursor hovers over their icons. Double clicking an object drills down

to the next level, just as you would expect it to.

As noted above, the biggest enhancement in this new version of netViz

is 3-D views. In 3-D views, there is a small window on the left with a miniature

image of the main display. The small image is encased in what looks like

a geodesic dome, showing how the display will appear as you select different

viewpoints. This saves a lot of processor work as you adjust the small image

to your liking before moving the large image.

One of the unique features of netViz is the ability to link graphics

to external databases using a drag-and-drop interface. You can even link

projects to databases and perform automatic refreshes. But be sure to back

up any historical data you need, as older project data is erased by new

information.

The netViz 3-D Web publishing software is a separate purchase. Like

its competitor, Microsoft's Visio 2000, netViz can export files for use

as Web pages, but netViz adds the ability to publish the diagrams along

with embedded data. That means anyone browsing the Web site can drill down

to underlying object information and also perform data searches.

Though netViz has been used mainly for network documentation, it can

actually be used for a variety of tasks including workflow mapping and database

visualization. I'd like to see animation and more data monitoring features

added, such as an alarm when a change in a source database shows that a

network connection is down or has been changed.

Additional statistical and reporting features would be useful, but netViz

already has some very nice data search capabilities.

The price of netViz 5.0 has increased significantly from the previous

version — from $789 to $1,995 — but the program is still within the price

range of its class of graphic presentation software. Overall, netViz is

a good value that won't disappoint.

—Greer is a senior network analyst at a large Texas state agency. His e-mail

address is Earl.Greer@dhs.state.tx.us.

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