Visio by DPTPB: Not Running Cables in Drawings?


Screenshot: Cabling for NetApp FAS8080EX HA-pair with eight SAS-stacks, multiple links to different networks

As seen in example above running and routing cabling can be quite complex and is definitely the most time-consuming part of drawing process. Additionally in big drawings some areas can get really “busy” with lots of cabling and make the drawing to hard read.

Examples of such busy areas would be switches, like Cluster Interconnect and/or Front-End 10GbE switches. Other example would be High-End Storage controllers with many PCI slots filled with even more ports.

So how about leaving the cables out?

For documentation purposes you could use just port assignment boxes. Fill in correct port information into the boxes, skip cabling all together and you are done.

Or are you?

One of  the main points of making architectural drawings is to make a visual representation of your solution and use it as sanity check against other documentation. Now if you start to drop visual elements from the drawing, will it defeat the main purpose?

Without any cabling shapes there is no visual information on cabling and you are solely relying on port assignment boxes, which may or may not be enough.

Is there some middle-ground, maybe something simpler with some visual information rather than no information at all?

Maybe a way to give visual information about cabling, but without having to spend too much time on routing and running the cable shapes?

Visualising cable end-points

In the past I’ve sometimes used “placeholder” cables instead. You can make “placeholder” cable out of any cable by changing cable properties to have just one leg. Then pull cable end points to adjacent ports to reserve ports. No need to route cables and much less time spent on cabling.

This approach only works when you assign ports in pairs as the cable shape always has two cable ends. If you try to pull both cable ends to the same port, the cable will disappear or will become invisible. Also it is sometimes hard to move these cable-shape-based placeholders as the Visio shape handles used for moving shapes become very small with cables where end points are next to each other.

Port Placeholders

To overcome issues with cable-based-placeholders, I created a special shape, “1 port placeholder”. It looks like an end shape for a cable,  but it is not and is easier to use.

Making the shape wasn’t as straight forward as I thought. Initial versions looked all right in Visio format, but turned into blurry shapes when exported as PDF files. It seems that Visio has some hidden mechanism in scaling cable ends and it works differently than scaling other normal shapes, like my new “placeholder” shapes. In order to get placeholder shapes to scale correctly and work also in PDF format, the “secret” trick seems to be: use 100% transparency with lines surrounding character shapes within “placeholder” shapes.

Even with this tweak,  I couldn’t produce 100% matching placeholder, but got close enough, at least when using recommended 1:16 scale. Might not work with other scales.

The new placeholder shape is now one simple shape with less shape handles, which makes it easier to use and move around.

The placeholder shape has a Visio outward connection point or “anchor”, so the shape behaves like a cable shape, if placed near a port shape, it will be automatically pulled/sucked into the port.

Additionally, you can now reserve single ports or dual ports which are not adjacent.

New shapes have been added to DPTBP Cables stencil. Since I typically like to keep shapes names short, only spanning two lines, so that you can see the whole shape name in Visio Shapes Window, “Placeholder” was abbreviated to “PH”.

Incidentally these new shapes also make navigating “Cables” stencil easier. Thumbnails used for “normal” cable shapes are so tiny that you have to read the description in order to pick the right cable. Thumbnails for placeholder shapes are much larger and you can pick shape by just looking at the thumbnail. If looking for “normal” cable shapes, these can be found just above thumbnail shapes

Screenshot: various placeholder shapes in Visio Shapes window

Using placeholder shapes

As this is new shape, I am still figuring out how to use it most efficiently. Few ideas:

  •  With single SAS stack solutions you can use placeholder shapes, but it only takes four cables to cable stack properly, so not much savings.
  • With multiple SAS stacks I would recommend using real cables, not placeholders. Each SAS stack has potentially multiple cables running in different directions and with placeholder shapes this information is lost
  • Your thinking / use case might be different from mine and you might be happy with using placeholders also with SAS cabling, so I have included placeholder shapes for SAS cables as well
  • Maybe use placeholder shapes mostly with controller-to-switch connections. Most of the time there are only few cables running between controller and switch, typically one or two cables running between per switch-controller pair. Furthermore all switching cables run pretty much the same way for each controller and not much information is lost by using placeholder shapes instead of real cable shapes



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