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?
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 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
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
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.
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