Networking optimize

Audit and manage your network with Network Inventory Advisor

Derek Schauland tests the ClearApps Network Inventory Advisor, an application to help you manage and audit your network assets.

Keeping a running list of all of the stuff on your network is no easy task, both the applications your IT department does support (and some of the ones it doesn't) to the switching, routing, and other hardware that make up your infrastructure.

ClearApps has created the Network Inventory Advisor to help you get your head around what exists in your organization.

What can I do with Network Inventory Advisor?

Network Inventory Advisor allows administrators to audit assets on their network. It can handle both Windows-based and non-Windows based equipment and provides a fairly robust information set.

Smart scanning

Once the application is loaded and running, you can configure assets by scanning PC names or performing a smart scan. When I added the first node, I entered a PC name in my test environment and the scan completed in about a minute (maybe two) and returned a large amount of information -- from applications installed to disk space availability and other hardware information.

I also found the Smart Scan feature to be more intuitive than expected. When I clicked the smart scan option, the application used information it found on the PC running the application to determine IP address and subnet information. This allowed the scan to take off and start looking for other hosts before any other information got entered. This was a welcome change. Often, you have to enter this information yourself, but I clicked the button and off it went.

Once the initial scan of my test machine completed, I was able to view information in the following tabs:

  • Summary - an overall view of the scanned PC
  • Software - application installation and licensing information collected
  • Hardware - system resource and hardware information
  • Other - other information, including Shares, Processes, Services, domain accounts

The amount of data provided out of the box and with very few clicks was outstanding.

Figure A

Summary information (click to enlarge)

Information refresh

Most tools need to have scans re-run, and if these aren't scheduled to happen regularly, the information likely needs to be re-entered or requires extra clicks to initiate a scan. With Network Inventory Advisor, the toolbar contains an Update Report Now button, which rescans the selected PC, collecting new information about the resource. Maybe the visibility of this option right on the toolbar is the thing that made this a great add; it is simple and very available.

Scans can also be scheduled to happen at non-peak times, which is a good thing if you have a large or very busy environment. Another thing I noticed when reviewing refreshed information is that subsequent scan information was displayed in a tab. This allowed comparison between two scans quickly and easily from the main interface.

Summary of network assets

Once your network is detected, the application can get summary information based on all the devices it knows about. This can be helpful if you need to generate an overview of the environment for a meeting or for documentation. I simply clicked the Network Summary button from the toolbar and the NIA took off to gather results. I was presented with a quick summary like the one in Figure B.

Figure B

Network Summary (click to enlarge)

After you have scanned or imported assets to manage with Network Inventory Advisor, you can save the structure of the discovered network. This way it can be available from other instances of the application or backed up easily should something happen and a reinstallation be required.

How much does the application cost?

Pricing is based on the number of nodes used with the application. The application starts at 25 nodes for $89 and goes up as follows:

  • 26-50 nodes for $169
  • 51-100 nodes for $289
  • 101 - 200 nodes for $389
  • 201 - 300 nodes for $489
  • 301 - 400 nodes for $589
  • 401 - 500 nodes for $689
  • unlimited nodes for $989

If you need a managed service provider and worldwide licensing, please contact ClearApps.

The cost for the application per node is really affordable, so the price shouldn't cause you to rethink a decision here.

Reporting

Any asset application needs to have a great reporting feature and Network Inventory Advisor is not missing in this area. Other asset applications I have used allow you to put a good amount of information into reports, but the result might not be what you saw while building the report. NIA is different in that what appears on the screen in a generated report is what you will get when printing the report. I like this as it allows you to build a report in almost a preview mode. If reporting is easy, it will be used more frequently, and I don't think it gets much easier than this.

The Reporting interface is very straight forward: Inventory Advisor offers pre-defined reports, custom reporting, and DIY options. The reporting page and toolbar are shown below:

Figure C

Reporting with Network Inventory Advisor (click to enlarge)

Figure D

Controlling reporting settings with the Toolbar

Integration

Many asset tools are their own adventure, all things are managed there and kept there and other tools do not worry about them. NIA supports full command line functionality to help it have results included in other existing solutions. If your company uses a CMDB or other solution, scripts can be written or commands sent to retrieve information and bring it in to the other solution. This helps keep all of your management solutions working together.

The bottom line

In my limited testing environment, Network Inventory Advisor was very fast. It had no trouble discovering the nodes in my environment. The speed of the tool was better than some other utilities I have tried, which was a nice change.

I was also impressed with the volume of information returned. If you are in the market for an inventory tool that offers ease-of-use, Network Inventory Advisor is definitely worth the time to test in your own environment.

About

Derek Schauland has been tinkering with Windows systems since 1997. He has supported Windows NT 4, worked phone support for an ISP, and is currently the IT Manager for a manufacturing company in Wisconsin.

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