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June 28, 2021, 6 a.m.
How Jeremy Wheeler Uses OmniGraffle

Jeremy Wheeler is a Staff Consulting Architect at VMware who regularly uses OmniGraffle in his work.


Andrew J. Mason: You're listening to the Omni Show. Get to know the people and stories behind the Omni Group's award-winning productivity apps for Mac and iOS. My name's Andrew J. Mason, and today we learned from Jeremy Wheeler, staff consulting architect at VMware, on how he uses OmniGraffle.

Andrew J. Mason: Well, welcome everybody to another episode of the Omni Show. Like I mentioned, my name's Andrew J. Mason, and today we learn from Jeremy Wheeler, staff consulting architect at VMware, on how he utilizes OmniGraffle. And it's so cool. Some of the stuff that Jeremy's created is just these amazing layouts that reflect different systems setups at VMware. We'll get into that, but first, Jeremy, thank you for joining us today.

Jeremy Wheeler: Yeah, you bet. Thanks Andrew. Appreciate it.

Andrew J. Mason: Well, Jeremy, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you find out about the Omni Group and OmniGraffle? Catch us up on your story, and you.

Jeremy Wheeler: Yeah, sure. I am from Seattle Washington. And the whole concept of using OmniGraffle and such, that came about from when I originally joined VMware actually, we had the option to pick a PC-based laptop or a MacBook. And I was usually a PC guy myself, but I was told that a majority of the field have been using Macs, so I decided, "Okay, I'll just give it a shot." Prior to that though, with PC, I had to use Visio for doing kind of my designs and stuff like that. So then I found myself in a quandary where I now have a MacBook, but how am I going to do Visio, because they don't make a Visio for Mac. So people were saying you could do it inside of a virtual machine, however, the issue with that is there's a latency issue when you're starting to do extensive drawing inside of a virtual machine. And then I started to do some general Google searching and I came across the OmniGraffle. And that was, I want to say, nine years ago.

Jeremy Wheeler: And so then I got a taste of it just using OmniGraffle, and I'm like, "Okay, I'm completely hooked," just because I found it so much easier to use compared to Visio, like night and day. And so I just started promoting OmniGraffle internally to VMware, saying, "Hey, you guys should be using this." And people were like, "Oh, can you go between Visio and such?" And I'm like, "Yeah, you can do that." So that's how I got basically turned onto the whole OmniGraffle aspect. Aside from that, myself, like I said, I'm from Seattle. I like to go camping and stuff like that, but obviously with the pandemic, it's been more of just working remote lately. And they have me typically fly out, I would say, at least once a month and do in-person presentations to large groups of people and try to educate them on how to get to the Cloud, et cetera. But this has all been remote and it's been all kind of a learning experience trying to put this all in a remote perspective, so a lot of difference on that.

Andrew J. Mason: And what about your current job at VMware? Talk to us about that.

Jeremy Wheeler: So I'm a staff consulting architect with professional services and user computing at VMware. And over the progression of nine years, I started as what's called a "senior consultant," which is basically the guy who does the current work. He goes in and installs all the servers, and works with them on the technical level. And then I got eventually promoted to a consulting architect, and that's kind of the same role I'm in now, except for, I eventually promote to a staff consulting architect. A little more different because you're doing more strategy discussions, et cetera, with customers. But prior to that, I was basically an Intel geek, I was in the Intel labs over here at DuPont, Washington.

Jeremy Wheeler: And they had me actually doing architect and virtualization testing, all that kind of stuff, with blade servers for VMware, and Citrix, and Microsoft Hyper-V, and Virtual Iron, and a couple of others. So I'm also a coder at heart too, so I created some code back then and they threw patents on it. And of course I was a consultant at the time so I couldn't obviously get on the patent, but there's some code I put together that actually, to this day, they still present at their sales and marketing conference every year at Intel to demonstrate virtualization, and the way you can have dynamic workloads between multiple servers and stuff like that.

Andrew J. Mason: That is so cool. Talk to me about OmniGraffle. Where does that fit in this whole picture? Do you use it for personal, professional? How do you find yourself using OmniGraffle?

Jeremy Wheeler: Yeah. So from an everyday life, almost non-work level, I would still use OmniGraffle for around the house kind of projects, things I want to plan out. I did some wiring with the circuitry in the house because I also host the West Coast End-User Computing PSO lab in my basement, so I had to make sure I had enough power down there with all the blade servers I was setting up. I use that basically for that purpose. Primarily, from a personal level, that's what I've been doing with that, is just leveraging it for around the house kind of projects.

Andrew J. Mason: Got it. And what about your role within VMware?

Jeremy Wheeler: So you've heard the phrase, "A picture can be worth a thousand words," and that's really what we're trying to do. My job is to essentially conduct these workshops with the customer. And the workshops can be a week long, sometimes two to three hours at a time, to essentially gather their requirements and basically capture the vision of what the customer is, and to basically put that fruition into an actual picture or design. And then from that, we basically create a large document that talks to that particular design. But the core is, is that we're trying to basically address business continuity and disaster recovery. "What happens if one of your major data centers blows up? Are you able to keep things resilient, keep the lights on kind of thing, and just keep people working, even during a pandemic, to be able to have all access to their tools, et cetera?"

Jeremy Wheeler: So that's the concept there. And so these requirement workshops that we put together, it's about gathering stuff like how many users we need to support, it's also representing stuff like components within that design, like storage and networking and security, and where are those different server components would go inside of an actual graphic design. Because the whole concept of these documents we create, they can be up to 700 pages long because what we're trying to do is we're creating a runbook to where, if literally a disaster did happen, the customer could take this as a runbook and use it as their reference as they're rebuilding the infrastructure. That's essentially what the concept is.

Jeremy Wheeler: And by also doing some of that, to kind of leverage OmniGraffle, we've created stencils where we have them all shared out on a One Drive, where multiple users can create their own stencils. And then if we need to leverage a particular object in a stencil, we can drag and keep those updated constantly throughout the organization. And I think we have 10 to maybe 12 different people that update these different stencils, that come up with a design object that, "Hey, this would be good to work with this customer," or, "This might be good for a future customer." So we're just going to create it and then we'll just put it inside of a stencil for using later or something like that, and that's typically the methodology we use for that.

Andrew J. Mason: We asked this of information architect Thomas Vander Wal in a previous episode, and I'd love to throw it your way. I find myself sometimes thinking circularly when I'm working with a tool like OmniGraffle, of where it's just, "Cause makes effect, which might somehow impact cause," and then around and around we go. How do you find yourself being able to think at that multi-dimensional level that allows you to see the complexities of a really, really big interlocking situation, like an install in VMware? Hopefully that makes good sense.

Jeremy Wheeler: Yeah, I think so. I think a lot of it, after nine years, of just studying how to design against a horizon architecture. That's essentially what this is, is the horizon architecture. "Horizon" being, typically has multiple items within that suite. So we have Horizon View; that's what we typically call it, and that's the VDI space. Or we also have other components within Horizon, like a product called App Volumes, for example, that you can deliver applications dynamically to desktop, stuff like that. There's just a lot of moving parts.

Jeremy Wheeler: So it can be definitely challenging, because I'd say we changed the product, not monthly necessarily, but I would say at least every quarter we do a major change to it. So you have to constantly be educated, up to speed on exactly what those requirements are. Because we have maximum limits and stuff like that you also have to honor, you can't exceed certain thresholds, otherwise you might fall out of the support level. So there's a lot of different moving parts. And by, I think, visually just putting them into a picture, it helps me also keep track of all those components, really.

Andrew J. Mason: And what about any general or specific tips for somebody who's jumping into a program like OmniGraffle for the first time? Maybe they just aren't really familiar with information mapping, or just trying to get everything out of their head in a way that makes sense or is coherent. Do you have any first-time tips for them?

Jeremy Wheeler: Yeah, it's a good question. So my advice would be the same as if I'm learning a new coding language, for example. I have the same advice for that, is play around with it, just draw some boxes, try to get familiar with just some of the tools. I recommend going to the Omni Group video... I think it's They have a whole training session there with videos. Also, they have a whole training course on OmniGraffle. I've watched the entire training course before.

Jeremy Wheeler: I'm always trying to... And I'm also doing just general YouTube searches on any kind of tips and tricks of stuff that I don't know about, because the more you learn, the more you actually can advance your skills towards it. Plus, you might be doing it the hard way when there might be an easier way out there that you're not aware of, within the actual tool. So I would say just definitely play around with it, keep messing around, and eventually you can start picking it up. That's essentially how I learned it.

Andrew J. Mason: What about the flip side of that? Are there any misfires, or what you would consider to be failures, where you're like, "I want to try this out," and then after the fact, "No, that didn't quite work out for me."

Jeremy Wheeler: I would say, not so much mistakes, but there's definitely some recommendations I would have. And that would be, I would recommend with any kind of large scale designs that you're working on, you start learning about layers. Because I avoided layers for quite a long time, just because I figured I didn't really need it. But after I actually started digging into the layer feature within OmniGraffle, I definitely found a lot of value in it, versus... Because if you're not using layers, you're potentially going to be impacting other objects on your canvas, and I just found a lot more value in that. And also, keep a consistent font throughout your document, and also make sure that font is compatible with cross platforms.

Jeremy Wheeler: I ran into a situation a couple of years back where I created some designs, and I had a unique font that I was using, and it looked perfectly fine actually on the Mac platform. And I'm talking specifically about even exporting this out to a JPEG from the design. When you pulled that JPEG up that was embedded into a word document, there was weird text and stuff like that throughout the picture on a Windows platform, but in the Mac platform, it was perfectly fine. And I couldn't figure it out. I even opened a support ticket and I... Basically it came down to, it was something weird with the font. And I would say just keep a consistent font throughout the document instead of a lot of one-offs. I think you'll find a lot of value by doing that.

Andrew J. Mason: That's really good advice. I've actually seen that for myself in Photoshop before. You have 300 layers open, and then because of bad naming conventions or not using folders, you're like, "This is not good." Do you have any other final words of wisdom that you think might be helpful for folks?

Jeremy Wheeler: The one thing I would say is use the tool. I can't express it enough. I've played around with Visio a little bit more on my Windows box, but honestly, it fails in comparison to actually using OmniGraffle. The big thing, I would say, is just leverage OmniGraffle to create all the design work that you can. Like I said, there's a lot of tutorials out there. I would definitely create stuff like stencils and stuff like that, if you can, for repetitive work, so you're not just recreating stuff. But my only piece of advice would just be, use the tool. If you're doing any design work, I recommend anybody actually use the tool, for sure.

Andrew J. Mason: That's awesome, and so true. Because I have so many things that I've bought that just gather dust on a shelf, and the best tool in the world is not going to help you unless you get out there and use it. That's so true. Jeremy, if folks are interested in catching up with you, or connecting with what you're doing, how can they do that?

Jeremy Wheeler: Yeah, so you can go to my blog actually, it's And I'm also on LinkedIn. So my LinkedIn handle is "vmbucket", virtual machine bucket. All one word.

Andrew J. Mason: Perfect. Jeremy, thank you so much for spending this time with us today.

Jeremy Wheeler: Yeah, no problem. Thanks for the opportunity.

Andrew J. Mason: And thank all of you for listening as well. We're so grateful that you spent time listening to us today. If there's anything that we can do, or any conversation that you'd like to have, you can reach out to us at @theomnishow on Twitter. You can also find out everything that's happening with the Omni Group at omnigroup/blog.