Product Reviews

Manage Environments Remotely with NetSupport Manager 12

The new version sports a new interface to help IT troubleshoot from the field using iOS and Android devices.

When it comes to managing users, administering databases and overseeing data protection, many organizations are pushing their IT departments to do more with fewer resources. In my day job, I'm an IT manager, but I also fill every other role in the IT department. This means tools and shared information are a necessity.

NetSupport Inc., a longtime provider of client management tools, has upgraded its namesake NetSupport Manager for those in IT who wear many hats. NetSupport Manager 12 sports an improved user interface and is designed to manage various new client devices, including the new Windows 8.1 OS and Google ChromeOS-based devices. You can also use iOS- and Android-based tablets and phones to manage devices with NetSupport Manager 12, though the software can't yet manage those devices. That is planned for a future release.

NetSupport Manager 12 offers flexible remote support. For this review, I tested NetSupport Manager 12 from a PC. During installation, you can opt to install the entire product, which includes a component called NetSupport Manager Control. This is a client application that functions as a control station. In many cases, you'll want to choose the standard installation (at least the first time) to ensure the whole product is available.

From there, you can deploy the client agent to other systems on your network. To do so, the control machine from which you'll deploy the client and the target machine must be members of the same workgroup or domain. If you're installing the client on just a few computers, it may be faster to copy the installer to a flash drive and run the installer locally. Selecting client during installation will put the application on the target system.

In the left pane of the control application (Figure 1), there are options for selecting various configurations on a network, including:

[Click on image for larger view.] Figure 1. The control application lets you select management options.
  • All computers: displays all the computers with the client application installed
  • Auto Group: shows a view of computers grouped by criteria, such as Windows PCs, Macs or Linux machines
  • Browse: lets the control station browse for computers
  • Active: displays all computers actively connected to the control console
  • Help Requests: displays clients who have sent a request to connect
  • vPro Management: displays client computers that have Intel's vPro technology
  • Internet Gateways: displays computers connected over the Internet
  • Automation: a list of scripts that can be executed on client PCs The application's ribbon lets you create new system configurations, set up connections, perform authentication and manage systems. The following are a number of options and commands the ribbon and menu controls provide:
  • New: To add PCs, groups, automation scripts and gateway objects
  • Connect: provides methods for connecting to clients with a user ID, PC name, IP address or PIN configuration
  • PIN connect: lets you configure a PIN server
  • Disconnect: ends the session with a connected system
  • Browse: search available computers and select a target
  • Actions: issue a remote command, get an inventory, chat with the user and launch an application against a target computer
  • Desktop: view, record and replay actions/sessions on connected systems
  • Manage: send system management commands, including restart, logoff, logon, Ctrl+Alt+Del and power commands
  • View Client: view the selected clients screen
  • Inventory: collect information from connected clients
  • Show: display your screen to connected clients
  • Properties: view the properties information for connected clients (or groups of clients)
  • Settings: configure options for NetSupport Manager

Reach Out Remotely
Remember when working with remote computers took place by visiting the desk of the employee needing support assistance or helping them over the phone? With tools like NetSupport Manager 12, directly working with the remote user from your workstation is not only possible, but often preferred. With the remote client installed on your managed systems, you can view the screen or interact with users to help them. It also provides a secure way for employees to request help and share information with IT staff.

Gateway services expose a predetermined IP address (using port 80), so even remote users who need assistance can get it securely. These features are huge because they can extend your visibility and availability for all users in your environment.

From a management standpoint, being able to collect inventory information from systems managed by this application is an easy way to get a list of things both installed and running on systems. The control application can also deliver scripts to client computers. This could be a way to regularly, and automatically, collect inventory for systems within your environment.

The scripting environment is proprietary to NetSupport's applications, but it closely resembles VBscript. Outside the included scripting environment, you can invoke commands on remote computers that allow things like using PowerShell (if installed and configured on the remote computer) for executing administrative commands, as well.

Mobile Management
Most of you will find the ability to manage systems from mobile devices quite useful. If I'm in a meeting and see an urgent problem, I can connect from my iPad to assist the user with an issue. Making tools like this available from any screen can reduce the time to complete a support request and reduce the overall cost of support.

While working with a client system using the control station, you may find you'd like to save a record of the session for further review once the call is completed. From the tools menu, select Record. When you do, a dialog will appear asking for the path in which to save the recording file. You can also specify if the recording should use physical fonts (not available substitutions) and if you want to use the notification area to stop the recording. Once you've set your options, click OK to begin recording the session. When recording is stopped, the file(s) for the recording will be stored in the predefined location.

To view a recorded session, simply choose the Replay option from the tools menu. Select the recording file to open. A player will open and play back the recording, which behaves like any viewer, except you can also capture a screen shot at any point in the video by clicking the Capture Screenshot button in the player's ribbon.

Multiple Clients, Same Action
Many times, specifically in an after-hours or downtime situation, you might need to perform an action on several computers. While you can do this one client system at a time using NetSupport Manage, if you've organized your computers into groups with the same properties, you can take an action on a group.

REDMOND RATING
Installation: 20%
10.0
Features: 20%
10.0
Ease of Use: 20%
8.0
Administration: 20%
8.5
Documentation: 20%
10.0
Overall Rating:
9.6

Key: 1: Virtually inoperable or nonexistent  5: Average, performs adequately   10: Exceptional

For example, if I have a location that only works during a third shift, I might group all of the systems in that location and label it third shift. This way I can do something like reboot all the systems there at noon on the Wednesday after patches are deployed because I know they're sitting idle.

To create a group of computers, select New from the Group menu. Then provide a group name and description. Select the clients to add from the list of available systems. After clicking Add and then Finish, you've created your group.

Once you've created groups, you can now perform any management task you could perform on a single system on an entire group. This includes connecting, disconnecting and even rebooting the computers.

NetSupport Manager 12 lets you control Windows (including Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2), Macs and Linux-based systems. The company is working on adding support to manage iOS and Android tablets. Being able to manage your systems remotely is a huge help in this day and age of distributed systems.

NetSupport Manager 12

$71.40 per seat for l00 or less, $58.80 for 100 to 150 seats. Larger volume discounts offered. Annual maintenance costs 20 percent of the license fee.
NetSupport Inc.
888-665-0808 | netsupport-inc.com

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