Infrastructure as Code


Drawing Network Diagrams like Hany Michael

15 Jul 2011

It's been said that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and it's time Hany Michael got his. :D His diagrams are beautiful, easy to understand, packed with info, and wildly popular in the VMware community. VMware thinks so too. (of course, they employ him...) Of course I am constantly trying to evolve my diagrams to have all the makings of a real, publishable document, but they always turn out to be "Engineery" looking. I continually develop my skills to be both pleasant for Marketing to slap on their material, but also educational/informative for the Technical audience. (now defuct) is also a fun place to get some style ideas as well. (and sometimes a good laugh) So here is a list of generalizations I have extracted from Hany's diagrams, along with some of my own tips. May it help you on your quest to put out great documentation! Hany Rule #1: Gray is the new black. Black is only used in two places in Hany's diagrams:
  1. Text outside of containers.
  2. Connection paths in the form of dashed lines.
Black can also be used as a background color for objects, but use in moderation.  Gray is used for all other tasks against the background, mostly because it allows everything inside it to pop visually. The level of gray may depend on what color you are using as your fill color, so you will have to play around with what looks best. This especially applies to gray filled objects and backgrounds. You don't want your border the same color as your fill or background.
Hany Rule #2: Objects and containers have rounded corners and have a border.a picture Sharp corners are for labels and tables (text lists). Objects and containers have a gray border and round corners. Objects within other colored objects should use a lighter border, closer to white.
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Hany Rule #3: Right-angle lines are ugly.
Hany doesn't go with the old right angle connectors. He's mastered the freeform line tool. I suggest you master it as well. Swoopy lines are much more pleasing to the eye. Use different colors, but try to keep them on the lighter spectrum, thin, and dashed...and swoopy. :D Hany Rule #4: Use Containers. a picture
Containers make a great representation for something that only exists in a logical sense. vApps are a great example. A vApp is a logical container for multiple VMs working together to provide a single application. It only makes sense to call out their relationship. Containers are generally not filled with a color.
Hany Rule #5: Use a background image. This is probably the biggest visual enhancement of them all. Who'd have thought that putting some sort of soft gray abstract image in the background would improve a diagram? The bold colors on top of a soft gray make for an eye-pleasing experience. a pictureHany Rule #6: White text on bold colors. Use bold colors for your objects, and stick to white text. If the color is too light to use white text, you should probably pick another color. :D Obviously white text on a clear container background wouldn't work, so add some kind of header to your containers. Hany Rule #7: Make your own stencil. a picture I, for the life of me, could not find a VM related stencil that I liked. And since I do more VM logical network diagrams than physical network diagrams, I needed something else. So, what to do? Make your own! Making your own stencil is as easy as grouping different shapes together and a drag-drop to your stencil area. Example...I couldn't find a cloud stencil that I liked, so I took a bunch of circles, grouped them, and voila. Cloud stencil. As a bonus for reading my post, I'll let you download mine. :D a picture Jake's trick: Send to back, bring to front Don't worry about connection lines perfectly lining up with an object. Just send the connection line to the back, or bring the connected object to the front! Perfect every time! Jake'strick: Keyboard shortcuts a picture
My absolute favorite is Ctrl-D, which duplicates whatever you have selected. Even if you don't need an exact duplication, but like the size of a text box, for instance, I just duplicate the text object, and change the inside text. That way, I don't have to fiddle around with sizing and text alignment within the box! You can also select multiple objects and Ctrl-D. Saves tons of time. Jake's trick: 2D or Isometric. Pick one. Don't put Isometric objects in a 2D diagram, and don't use 2D lines and objects in a Isometric diagram. The problem with that of course, is that all of the hardware vendors and even VMware use isometric objects in their stencils. All the more reason to create your own 2D stencil... So in summary, Thank you Hany for setting the standard by which we should all abide by!

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Oh yeah, and since you made it to the end, here is a stencil for you!
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