Product Review: AdRem Software NetCrunch 7
Product: AdRem Software NetCrunch 7
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Over the years I have reviewed more than my fair share of network monitoring products. Although there are undoubtedly some very good products on the market, most of the network monitors that I have had the opportunity to test have depended either on SNMP or on the use of agents in order to achieve maximum effectiveness. The problem with such products is that I do not use SNMP on my network, and the last thing that I want is to have to manage yet another agent on all my machines.
Recently, I had the opportunity to take a look at NetCrunch 7 from Adrem Software (http://www.adremsoft.com/netcrunch/). NetCrunch claims to do application, hypervisor, and operating system monitoring, all without requiring the use of agents or SNMP. Needless to say, I was really curious to see how well NetCrunch would work in my lab.
The Installation Process
For this review, I was given an NFR copy of NetCrunch version 7, which I downloaded from the NetCrunch Web site. The main download consisted of a 197 MB, self-extracting executable.
The first time that I attempted to install NetCrunch, I tried to install it onto a virtual machine that I had created last week. That VM seemed ideal because it was running a default installation of Windows Server 2012 R2. What really surprised me was that the Setup Wizard would not allow me to install NetCrunch because the virtual machine was only configured to use a single CPU core. I had to shut down the VM and reconfigure the hardware allocation before I could install NetCrunch.
Although some people might view the failed setup negatively, I personally find it to be a good thing. I applaud Adrem Software for building a Setup program that verified the hardware requirements rather than simply allowing me to install NetCrunch onto a VM that would have ultimately delivered a sub-par experience.
Once I had reconfigured the VM, the Setup wizard was really straightforward. There were really only a few decisions that had to be made during Setup. First, I had to decide whether I wanted to use an Active Directory account or a local account. Since using an Active Directory account is the preferred deployment method, that is what I used.
I also had to decide whether to install the Premium or the Premium XE edition. Even though the Premium XE edition is overkill for my network, I decided to go ahead and install it for this review.
When the installation process Setup opened a browser window and gave me the opportunity to play a Getting Started video. I thought that this was a very nice touch, because NetCrunch did not leave me wondering what I needed to do next. They showed me exactly what to do.
Unfortunately, Internet Explorer’s enhanced security configuration was enabled on my server, so the Web page containing the video did not open correctly. Of course this was not NetCrunch’s fault. Fortunately, I was able to get the video’s URL from the browser and I simply watched the video on a different computer. If you want to see the Getting Started video, you can find it at: www.adremsoft.com/netcrunch/page/getting-started
NetCrunch gave me a choice of simulating a 300 node network or of discovering a real network. Although my own network is considerably smaller than the 300 node simulated network, I wanted to find out how well NetCrunch works on a real network, so I chose the discovery option. Upon doing so, I was presented with the options to either run a discovery wizard or to import a host list from a file.
For this review, I powered up a variety of physical and virtual machines on my network and then ran the Network Discovery Wizard. The wizard works by examining an Active Directory domain and by scanning an IP address range.
Out of general curiosity, I decided to try entering an address range that didn’t exist on my network. I simply picked an IP network at random for this test. When I did, I received a message stating that the chosen address was a public domain address class and that scanning such hosts might be treated as a security violation. The software then gave me the option to either continue or to abort the scan. For this I have to say Kudos to Adrem Software for designing a product that protects administrators from themselves.
Once I had entered my real IP address range into the discovery wizard, I got a couple more pleasant surprises. First, the discovery process took less than half an hour to complete. I have had competing products to take several hours to complete the discover process.
The other nice surprise was that when the discovery process finished, the software opened a Web page that provided me with a series of configuration tips and walked me through the next steps.
Using the Software
Let me start out by saying that I love the NetCrunch interface. NetCrunch provides some good documentation, but you probably won’t need it. The interface is very intuitive, and that is quite an accomplishment for a network monitoring product.
The left side of the interface is what is known as the index. It essentially provides links to a number of different views. The right side of the screen displays the details of the selected index. There isn’t just one view per index either. Views are broken classified as dashboards, nodes, and objects.
If you look at Figure A for example, you can see the Map view of my network nodes. Notice in the figure how servers are grouped by type. You will also notice that one of my servers is having a problem and that the problem server is displayed in red. This brings up another point.
Figure A: The NetCrunch interface is very intuitive.
One thing that is missing from the interface is a refresh button. The reason why there is no refresh button is because the console shows a live view at all times. Remember that malfunctioning server shown in the figure above? Well, the first couple of minutes after the problem was detected, the icon representing the server actually flashed red to get my attention. After several minutes the icon turned solid red.
Of course the nodes map isn’t the only place where you can be alerted to problems on your network. If you look at the figure above, you will notice a bell shaped icon in the upper portion of the screen. This icon tells you how many issues have been detected. Clicking the icon causes a screen similar to the one shown in Figure B to be displayed.
Figure B: The Alert Notification window displays any detected issues.
As you look at the figure above, you will notice that NetCrunch does not just detect network communications errors. It also detects other types of problems. For instance, NetCrunch reported some disk performance issues on a server named Lab2. Keep in mind that NetCrunch was able to do this without an agent being installed on the server.
NetCrunch is even able to compile software licenses for monitored systems. For instance, if you look at Figure C, you can see that the software had no trouble detecting a hacking tool that I had placed onto one of my lab servers.
Figure C: NetCrunch had no trouble finding the hacking tool that existed on a lab server.
NetCrunch is licensed based on the number of nodes that you need to monitor. Unfortunately, NetCrunch does not display pricing on their Web site. You have to contact Adrem Software to get a price quote.
Although I was disappointed that Adrem Software hides the cost of a NetCrunch license, I do appreciate the fact that licenses are all inclusive. There is no need to purchase additional licenses in order to unlock features or to receive tech support (the included tech support is E-mail and telephone based and is valid for one year).
I think that Adrem Software has created a fantastic product with NetCrunch 7. As I worked with the various product features, everything worked in exactly the way that I would have expected it to. The software never displayed convoluted dialog boxes that left me guessing about which option I should be choosing. Everything was very straightforward. I especially liked the fact that NetCrunch provided links to instructional videos during various phases of the deployment.
My only minor complaint is the lack of transparency regarding licensing costs. I wish that pricing information had been readily displayed online and that it were possible to order licenses without having to get a quote first.
When reviewing products for this Web site, it has become customary to assign a star rating to each product. The rating system ranges from zero to five, with five being the highest possible score. With that being said, I think that NetCrunch 7 is a phenomenal product. It is easily one of the best networking products that I have looked at this year. I therefore give it a WindowsNetworking.com Gold Award with a near perfect score of 4.9.
WindowsNetworking.com Rating 4.9/5