Product Reviews

License, Please: NetSupport TCO

Staying on top of your organization’s software licenses will keep you gainfully employed and out of court.

I’ve been a longtime administrator of Microsoft SMS versions 1.2 and 2.0 and Novell’s ZENWorks, all flagship models of how to do workstation management. Because of my dealings with these other platforms, my first question regarding NetSupport’s product was this: What does NetSupport TCO offer that these packages don’t?

Product Information

NetSupport TCO
$1,999 for 100 users
NetSupport
Alpharetta, Georgia
770-205-4456
www.netsupport-inc.com

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I started my testing by reading through the product guide. It was helpful but had a few little errors, like incorrect screenshots and out-of-order steps. The company actually posts the manual online at www.netsupport-inc.com/tco/manual/manual.htm.

The software installed error-free. You can either set up a dedicated SQL Server to handle the database that NetSupport creates or let it choose to install its own (MSDE) on the local machine. This isn’t always easy to do with these programs, but this one was effortless. You can also install a console on a workstation, which is a nice feature so you can do your asset management right from your desktop (see figure).

NetSupport TCO
NetSupport TCO management console lets you view workstation assets easily. (Click image to view larger version.)

It all went smoothly until I looked at incorporating test clients, in this case machines running Windows 98SE and Win2K Professional (with no service pack). This is where the instruction manual truly failed me by not providing enough information. The instructions tell you to e-mail or FTP the install file to the workstation from the NetSupport CD-ROM or the client folder located on the server itself. I wound up sharing out the folder and running the install across the network to get the clients incorporated into the server management solution.

The guide should also have spent more time explaining how to assimilate 500 nodes across several remote locations, which is where these kinds of products usually provide the major payback.

The version of NetSupport I evaluated (Pack C, which starts at $3,999 for 100 users) helps you manage software licenses and usage and perform auditing and reporting and view details about your workstations, such as IP and MAC address and software installed. It also lets you roll out software updates to client workstations on the network. It’s not the right solution if you need heavy customization and scripting functionality because is doesn’t offer this depth of flexibility with its tool set.

The console works well and is easy to navigate. This is important because the contents can grow exponentially as time goes on and your database grows in size. One item I’d revise: Refresh. In order to see changes in real time, you need to refresh the console manually from the toolbar. Sound trivial? It’s not if you’re looking at workstation number 157 and press the refresh tab; the whole console is fully retracted, which can make for tedious and painstaking console usage when you have to keep expanding the console to work on the same workstation. The workaround to this is to go into the actual properties of the workstation you’re viewing and select to update the software, which forces a refresh.

One thing I loved about the product was its lightning fast "catching" of software changes. I mentioned earlier that I had a Win2K Pro machine without a service pack installed. I installed the pack and NetSupport immediately picked it up. Next, I uninstalled WinZip from my test machine and didn’t reboot it. Two or three seconds after I uninstalled it, I refreshed to console and WinZip was gone from the Software Inventory console. Performance impressed me.

On a security note, one thing I noticed is that when I tried to set NetSupport to do a discovery routine on my network, it uses ICMP to ping devices to see if they’re alive. This might pose a problem if you’re using firewalls or ACLs to block ICMP. I set up a test router to block it and the software didn’t find the devices on the other side. I found no mention of this in the documentation. With SMS you have to define site boundaries by IP, which means you’re forced to investigate this further (and clue you into the fact that you can’t get across the wide area network for asset management). It will work across your WAN or a firewall device; just be aware of the application flow of the product and that it does in fact use the ICMP protocol.

In sum, I liked NetSupport. The problems are minor and the program functions the way it should—as an asset management package that’s easy to install and use and does what it’s supposed to do. So, to answer my question, what does NetSupport TCO offer that these packages don’t? NetSupport provides streamlined support for asset management and a fast and incredibly easy interface that makes anyone unfamiliar with asset management software feel like a pro within a few hours. Does it deliver? Indeed, it does.

About the Author

Robert J. Shimonski, MCSE, MCP+I, CCDP, CCNP, NNCSS, Master CNE, is a lead network and security engineer for a major manufacturing firm and part-time technical instructor. Robert's specialties include network infrastructure design with multiple technologies and developing a host of Web-based solutions for companies securing their markets on the Web. Robert has also contributed hundreds of articles and study guides to Web sites and organizations worldwide, including Cramsession.com. He just finished co-authoring titles on Windows XP Pro and BizTalk Server 2000.

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