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NTM 2.2 Beta1 - Building a Better Network Diagram Tool

Level 15

Hello fellow network diagram geeks!  I'm excited to announce that NTM v2.2 beta1 is now available.  It has been quite some time since we've had a beta for NTM, but we're making some big changes and we need your input.

Let's take a look at what's new in this beta.

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Modular Scanning

This is the big one!  We've fundamentally changed how scanning works in NTM.

What is Modular Scanning?

Since NTM's inception, one scan has resulted in one map.  To make multiple maps, you perform multiple scans.  Each map may contain any or all nodes found during the scan.  If you want to map a different part of your network, start over with a scan.  If you want to create a different view of the same network (L2 vs L3 diagrams anyone?), start over with a new scan.  Map getting too big and unwieldy?  Start over with a smaller scan.  This worked, but we think there's a better way.

In beta1, we introduce the concept of topology databases (shout out to you OSPF engineers out there!).  Now, when you perform a network scan, what you discover with NTM is saved in what we call a topology database.  You then build maps based upon the data in the topology database.  One map, 20 maps; however many maps you want.  All maps are stored in the topology database they're built from.  A single file on your hard drive contains a topology database and all maps built upon it.

This realignment of core functionality is simple to explain, but has had a big impact on how NTM works and how you interact with it.

How Does Modular Scanning Help Me?

Modular scanning lets you:

  • Scan once for your whole environment.
  • Build maps on the fly without performing new scans.
  • Flip between maps quickly because the maps are based on the same topology database.
  • Copy nodes (including their layout) between maps because the maps are based on the same topology database.
  • Keep your NTM diagrams updated with a single manual rescan or rescan schedule.
  • Spend more of your time making useful maps and less of your time configuring, scheduling, and waiting on scans.

In addition, the rendering changes (described in the next section) that were required to deliver modular scanning properly provide the following additional benefits:

  • NTM's is faster and scales better in medium and large environments.  Try it.
  • Auto Arrange functions tend to produce more appropriate icon layouts without so much extra space.

Rendering Change


When we started down this path, we knew we would also have to significantly change how we render nodes.  In previous versions of NTM, filters were used to control whether nodes would display or not.  Enabling filters or disabling filters does not give NTM any indication of where you would actually like to place those nodes.  As a result, whether you were displaying all of your discovered nodes or 5% of your discovered nodes, NTM always kept track of every node and where it was on the screen to prevent the nodes from overlapping.  Although there were some benefits to this, there were two big negative effects:

  • Displaying maps where many nodes were discovered took more compute resources than was necessary.  Maps with many discovered nodes could be slow or laggy feeling, even if only a handful of nodes were actually visible.
  • When many nodes were hidden, the Auto Arrangement functions would often separate node icons by huge amounts of distance to make room for nodes that were hidden in between the visible nodes.

We knew modular maps will  naturally result in users doing bigger scans.  The performance issues and layout issues noted above would cause severe problems at that scale.

So we fixed them.  NTM now only renders nodes that are actually on the map.  All nodes exist in the topology database.  You place nodes onto your map by dragging and dropping from the left hand pane (ala Network Atlas), and the nodes that you don't want to see don't bog you down or cause rendering oddities.


While NTM's scalability and performance used to revolve around the total number of discovered nodes regardless of how many nodes were displayed, it now revolves around how many nodes are displayed on the map you're looking at.

Filters.pngDrag and Drop.png

Icons, Icons, Icons!

You want better icons, bigger icons, smaller icons, custom icons, icon alignment, icon spacing, and anything else icon related we're willing to build.  We've heard you.  Let's see how much of this functionality we can show in one screenshot:

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  1. All new out of the box icons in a scalable format
  2. Re-sizable icons
  3. Custom icon import
  4. Icon alignment tools
  5. Even icon spacing tools
  6. Text alignment
  7. Arbitrary text placement.

Best of all, you can do all of these with bulk operations.

Enhanced Etherchannel Support

This wouldn't be an NTM release if it didn't improve NTM's ability to map your network.  This beta now does a much better job of discovering and mapping your Etherchannels, port-channels, or whatever you choose to call your L2 aggregated links.  Take a look:


Etherchannel.png

  1. Accurately detecting Etherchannel
  2. Rendering member links of Etherchannel as parallel
  3. Excluding links that are not part of Etherchannel, even if they are parallel
  4. Identifying port-channel name
  5. Protocol name
  6. Protocol mode
  7. Aggregate bandwidth

So Much More

In addition to the big items above, we've made a truck load of other smaller improvements.  Here's some of them:

  • Not sure what connects to the nodes on your map?  Try right clicking and selecting "Add Neighbors".
  • How do you interact with multiple topology databases at the same time?  A drop down in the application?  Multiple levels of tabs?  Yuck.  In this beta, for the first time, you can open multiple instances of NTM.
    • Each NTM instance holds all the maps for one topology database.
    • If you have two topology databases open, you can scan in one window and continue working in the other.
    • If you have three topology databases open, you can scan in two windows (parallel scanning) and continue working in the remaining one.
  • Shortcuts allow you to add intelligent groupings of nodes to your map all at once.
  • Select nodes in the map you're looking at intelligently by clicking on individual nodes, groups of nodes, or node shortcuts in the left hand pane.  For example, selecting the "Router" group in the left hand pane selects all routers on your current map.
  • Connection jumps.
  • Copy paste nodes or groups of nodes between your maps.  Layout is preserved.
  • Improved Credential Management UI.
  • Extensible regex interface name handler to intelligently shorten interface names so they fit well on the map.

Known Issues in This Beta

  • Undo/Redo buttons sometimes do not work.
  • Etherchannels that are configured statically (mode "ON") are not currently detected as Etherchannels.

Conclusion

We're very excited about this release and can't wait to see the maps you guys create.  Feel free to post your feedback or your new maps in the NTM Beta Forum or email me directly at chris.obrien{at}solarwinds.com

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As a reminder, beta software is for testing only and should not be used in a production environment.

13 Comments

A couple of years ago I did a Beta analysis of SolarWinds network topology mapping functionality.  I was impressed at the questions they asked, and also by their responses to my wants and suggestions.

Some wishes were filled, others remain, but it's great that SolarWinds is continually trying to fill our needs better and better.

Whether NTM or Network Atlas, I need a network mapping tools that does better filtering than current products can.

Specifically I'm comparing products to the old Nortel Enterprise Switch Manager, which did LLDP similar to CDP Neighbor.   ESM displayed physical links between hardware instead of showing every segment and VLAN the way the SW product did, and filtering that info out was very cumbersome.

Getting too much information was my primary problem with the beta from SW, and I was also hoping some of the ESM-Like features could be added, including:

* Showing link speed by different color link lines


* Managing VLAN's by showing a list of VLAN's and allowing me to click on one and have every switch and link light up on the topology map if it contained that VLAN


* Showing VLAN mismatches on both sides of a port-channel


* Listing every VLAN on a link by just hovering over or clicking on the link.


I'm optimistic!  Good things are coming.

Level 10

some of the things you mention already exist in NTM, namely:

- link color shows link speed

- display vlans on a trunk

these can be turned on/off in display options.

I'm not sure you should be using a mapping tool to identify mismatched vlans on a port-channel, however:) Sounds like a task for a monitoring or troubleshooting tool to me.

Level 9

I tried to download the NTM beta but I get error survey monkey. does any one has this issue?

Level 15

iroperto​, the beta is long over.  That's good news!  The official release of v2.2 which includes all the functionality in the above post was released and is available in your customer portal, assuming you're on active maintenance for NTM.

Level 9

Ok thanks, Cobrien, I'm good now I was able to download the trial version.

Thanks again.

cobrien Is there any sort of roadmap/plan for future with NTM? I barely use it myself but some of our folks do.

Level 15

I'm afraid I do not have anything to share beyond what you can see in What We're Working on for NTM (Updated March 30, 2015)

So, nothing else? Ouch. Should I start adding some FR's or something? It sounds like this is getting about as much attention as AlertCentral, and maybe it should sit at about the same price point if so.

Level 13

if you guys are serious about having a mapping product, you need to take a VERY close look at your competition.

Netbrain and Intermapper are 2 i have seen/used that blow this tool away.  BUT - I will add - they are also 2-3 times the cost, but at least you can get an idea of what SHOULD be in a topology tool.

Level 8

Coming from a previous environment where I used NetBrain daily... NTM is meh.  I know it costs a small fortune..but its worth it.  I miss NetBrain. 

Level 8

I just purchased the latest version... how does this Beta work with the existing version ? Does it have API to setup a script to run from a Windows Terminal ?

I appreciate the improved Network Mapping in the latest version of NPM in Orion Platform 2019.2.  I don't know if any mapping tool will fill all my needs and dreams, but it's nice to have automatic mapping of nodes happening in the background, and being easy to add specific new use cases.

For example, NPM > Home > Orion Maps gives me the opportunity to create a New Map.  I pick that option, filter on the nodes in which I'm interested, and drag them to the right-hand window.  NPM automatically links them up via their OSPF neighbor relationships and I drag them to the order I like, and then save the map.  I can drill into the links, see the utilization, see the errors.  Not bad!

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Of course I can still open NPM and select any individual node and then click its Map tab on the left and see its relationships discovered through various protocols:

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I can make it as complex or simple as I want.  The above screen shots are of a simple BRT <--> ASW relationship.  The show below is from a more complex DSW to downstream ASW's:

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This discovery is happening in the background constantly updating.  But one can open the map in Editor and add more nodes or interfaces manually if desired.

No, not a bad improvement for free (for simply keeping up the support contract and upgrading as new releases come along).

I don't know if any mapping tool will fill all my needs and dreams, but it's nice to have NPM doing automatic mapping of nodes in the background, and SW making it easy to add specific new use cases.

Level 7

Yep, I have had this tool for about 2 years now and it's less than meh, in my opinion. It's a weak network tool and poor diagramming tool. The Visio integration leaves much to be desired, you can't even import stencils, and all the metadata on equipment is stored in the "Notes" section of the shape data, what a waste.  

About the Author
Lifelong technology enthusiast. Network Engineer turned Product Manager for network products. By geeks, for geeks! I started my career as a call center agent at a wireless ISP. I moved into the Network Operations Center to operationally support their network. I moved to another company to be a Network Engineer, and fulfilled that role at several different companies in different verticals including Healthcare, Software, and Finance. Eventually, I found my calling as a PM, where I work with all of the functions of a business, and particularly Development, to determine what to build next to deliver the most value to our customers.