Being able to draw a network diagram is an essential first step for a small office network setup. It helps you identify the appropriate hardware needed for the task, and logic that goes into installing it. Good network diagrams are not difficult to construct, and you do not need to spend a fortune on fancy software to draw a network diagram—especially for a small office.
Here are five tools that can do the job for free, or almost free.
CADE is a primarily a CAD tool, but it also has fairly robust network diagramming functionality. It might not have some of the extras that a paid program like Microsoft Visio features, but it is more than up to the task of diagramming a small office network. It runs only in Windows and can be used for collaborative work with customers and colleagues. Free sample diagrams are available to help you get started.
Pricing: CADE is available for free download.
yED is a Java-based resource that run in Windows and Linux. It seems to be the favorite free resource on the Spiceworks professional IT board. A friendly user interface facilitates a variety of functions like diagram creation and auto-layout features, and it accommodates imports from several file formats (GraphML, Excel XLS, GEDCOM, GML, XML). The yWorks website features extensive instructions and documentation for using the tool—this is very helpful for beginners.
Pricing: yED is free to download and use in a business capacity.
Available for Windows, Linux, OSX and coming soon for Web, MaSSHandra uses a real 3D environment to create network diagrams—especially handy if your network extends vertically on more than one floor of a building. It also has features for auto discovery of network assets using SNMP, automating the process of creating the diagram with XML files, and monitoring the status of your networked devices using ping, SNMP, and TCP.
Pricing: MaSSHandra is free for everyone to download and use, and donations are welcome.
While technically not free, Powerpoint can be used to rough out a simple network diagram. There is free clip art dedicated to helping with this task. Download the selected clip art to a device, and in PowerPoint, navigate to the Insert tab and click the Object button to drop icons onto the presentation. Starting with a grid pattern on a blank presentation helps keep a network diagram looking tidy—to do this, simply navigate to the View tab, and check the box for Gridlines.
Gliffy is a browser-based application that features an intuitive drag-and-drop interface for constructing floor plans and network diagrams. It can be used to organize, plan, and troubleshoot home or professional networks, and populated with images of typical office items. There are a number of pre-diagramed networks available in case you needed ideas for designing your own.
Pricing: Gliffy is free to try for 30 days. After that you have to pay—single user accounts start at $4.95 per month, and a Gliffy Pro account costs $9.95 monthly, and provides unlimited storage and an unlimited number of collaborators.
Related: 5 Tools for Drawing a Wi-Fi Heatmap
It cannot be stated enough—having a plan to connect your devices is a critical first step of a small office network setup. With one or more of these tools, you will be able to draw a network diagram and get started building your home or small office infrastructure.