Hardware

Review: SmartCode VNC Manager Enterprise

Busy system administrators who manage a large number of systems that use different remote access methods will appreciate VNC Manager.

SmartCode's VNC Manager application provides a consolidated point of access for all of your systems which can be remote administered. In addition to remote connectivity, system monitoring and management operations are supported as well.

Note: This review was performed with a publically available trial version of the application.

Specifications

  • Product: SmartCode VNC Manager Enterprise
  • Cost: $128.75 for license and 1 year support, discounts and site licenses available
  • Supported Protocols: VNC, RDP, Citrix ICA, Hyper-V, Virtual Server 2005, RAdmin, SSH, Telnet
  • Additional Information: Product Web site
  • TechRepublic Photo Gallery

Who's it for?

Busy system administrators who manage a large number of systems that use different remote access methods will appreciate VNC Manager. Its built-in monitoring and management tools can also fill a tools gap for shops that have not implemented other solutions. Desktop technicians and help desk workers can use it to provide support to users as well, provided their systems allow remote access.

What problems does it solve?

As you add more and more servers, it is a large headache to try to manage all of the various remote connections to them, especially if different servers use different connectivity applications. VNC Manager allows you to consolidate all of these access methods in one place, making it easier to work with a large number of remote systems.

Standout features

  • Protocol Support: You can connect to every OS out there, one way or another.
  • Management and Monitoring: The most common WMI tasks like system shutdown/reboot, Event Log viewing, printer management, etc. can be performed.
  • Can Control VNC Settings: A useful feature is the ability to control the VNC server application without logging into a computer, in case it has problems.

What's wrong?

  • Lack of X11, PowerShell support: While you can access *Nix servers via SSH or Telnet, you are unable to connect to them via X. Conversely, PowerShell is not supported so if you are using Server Core (or just like PowerShell) you are also out of luck. Editor's note: According to SmartCode representatives: The Remote Exec feature can be used to execute PowerShell scripts on a remote computer and to see the script's output.
  • Complicated UI: For an application which is supposed to simplify one's life, VNC Manager is extraordinarily complex; most of the added complexity could be removed with little loss of overall usefulness.
  • Licensing Terms and Cost: The licensing is fairly expensive, and you need support for upgrades. More disturbing was a warning during installation that use a purchased license, the license needs to be from the last year.

Competitive products

Bottom line for business

SmartCode VNC Manager looks to make life easier for the busy systems administrator, technician, or help desk worker who needs to work with a large number of systems remotely. In addition to acting as a locus for remote control functionality, many standard WMI functions are rolled in as well. The big problem is that VNC Manager combines a poor UI with a lack of application intelligence and the result is an overly complex product.

For example, out of the box, it is configured to have VNC be the default protocol, and every registered device (which can be pulled from Active Directory, a nice touch) is set by default to use those default settings. This creates a scenario where, if you have a wide variety of access mechanisms in use, you have to manually change them for each registered system. It would have been much better if the application simply made a test connection to each device through each protocol, and if only one protocol responded, set the device to use that protocol instead of the global default.

The value-add functions are nothing special. They are all basic WMI functions and you can actually access nearly all of them through MMC or RSAT with a touch of effort. If you have a really large environment it will save time for you to have them all easily accessible from the same place. At the same time, you probably have a more robust management and monitoring system in place as well. The thumbnail view is pretty neat, though, and useful as well.

I think that some more thought needs to be put into the interface. Once the application is easier to use, it will be a real time saver in the large environments that it is targeted for. As it stands now, while it is very useful, expect to spend a bit of time wrestling with the UI and configuring systems properly before you see time savings.

The biggest disappointment has to be the lack of *Nix support. Yes, it supports SSH and Telnet, but most *Nix admins are not as CLI focused as they once were. In addition, because the extra functionality is being provided via WMI, it does not work on non-Windows systems. Yet, PowerShell is not supported so you won't be able to work with your Server Core installations. All the same, if remote access to systems is a regular headache for you, VNC Manager Enterprise might be the cure you need.

User rating

Have you encountered or used SmartCode VNC Manager Enterprise? If so, what do you think? Rate your experience and compare the results to what other TechRepublic members think. Give your own personal review in the TechRepublic Community Forums or let us know if you think we left anything out in our review.

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About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

8 comments
iampedro
iampedro

I have been using S-Code VNC Manager Enterprise since generation 2.x and it has best one of the best 3rd party software for windows remote support. I understand your statement that this doesn't support non windows environments, but there is limited support for non-windows environments. As a user I have requested that more non windows environments would be supported and the developers have stated that they have looked into it and are aggressively trying to support as many remote management protocols as possible. When I know that they are looking into ideas and suggestions is when features that we request show up in the program. But as a fellow developer I realized that you will always have people requesting a lot of request but not be able to please everyone. So I have come to respect and understand that S-Code developers who do listen to us in the forums want to make there core product great before trying to open up another can of worms. Sure every software will not be perfect in this world but all you can ask is do they listen and try new ideas, and the answer is yes S-Code developers have used some of my ideas to make it a better product which I am grateful. So I will continue to use this product and give suggestions and know that out of the many 3rd party remote manager tools on the internet/market that this one seems to be the cream of the crop. So I do recommend people to purchase this product because they work to make this a better product for consumers.

sguser
sguser

This review was done really unprofessionally. The reviewer had no clue what he was writing about. 1) Licensing. The licensing is extremely simple. Each new license comes with 1 Year, 2 Years or Lifetime support and free upgrades. An expired license can be renewed by purchasing a Subscription Plan. 2) "Complicated UI". It seems that reviewer is assuming that the VNC Manager is just a VNC viewer with some added features. It's not. VNC client is just a subset of the huge features set offered by the VNC Manager. The VNC Manager is supposed to be used by network administrators performing various management tasks. We have received hundreds of emails from our customers parsing how easy to use the application. 3) "They are all basic WMI functions and you can actually access nearly all of them through MMC" I guess the reviewer never tried to use MMC snap-ins to manage computers that are a members of different ADs. And how about restarting a service on hundreds of computers using the MMC plug-in"! My guess would be that with MMC it will take you half an hour. All the management tools in the VNC Manager are tailored for management of multiple computers. Yes they use WMI for the most of them. Is that a sin" 4) "The biggest disappointment has to be the lack of *Nix support" - really?! You gotta be kidding me. If thats the biggest disappointment for the reviewer, that we are quite happy about it, since Unix support wasn't high on our priorities list anyway. 5) Issuing a command remotely. The lack of PowerShell is a major omission ? The reviewer is trying to appear smart but using cool word like PowerShell. The fact is that it's possible to execute PowerShell script via the Remote Exec. The review doesn't mention some of the killer features of the VNC Manager: VNC and Hyper-V Virtual Machines Thumbnails View, advanced VNC Deployment Wizard, network scanning features, ability to connect to Hyper-V VMs, reboot computer into safe mode with VNC, and many more. This is what some of long time VNC Manager users say in response to seeing this review: ---- Good move on your clarifications. Seems they didn't understand the purpose of VNC Manager at all. They completely missed the reason and purpose for it. Plus they didn't even get into some of the really cool tools and things it could do. Very dissappointing. ----

Narg
Narg

I have to disagree with the "What's Wrong" part of this article. X11? Who uses that any more? And the UI is the most simple to use of all the VNC/RDP manager programs I've tried. The cost is very competitive, and quite low for the market it's aimed at. This program works, where others fail. And it is continually updated to add features and smooth out operations. I recommend it 100%!

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

What application or applications do you use for remote administration?

Justin James
Justin James

Sorry if you disagree with my review. At the same time, I think you missed a number of items in it, and that your objections stem from different viewpoints, not factual errors. J.Ja 1. The licensing may be "simple", but it is certainly counts against it. The maintenance fee structure is fairly normal for server side products, even though customers are not happy about it. The TechRepublic membership has made clear with other products (such as Diskeeper, WinZip, various anti-virus applications, and so on) that they consider yearly maintenance fees for a desktop product to be a problem. Furthermore, the fact that an old license cannot be used is extraordinary. I do not think that I have ever seen that before. 2. It does not matter what the product is or does, the UI is complicated. As someone who's been writing software for a while, I understand how hard it is to pack a ton of functionality into a useful, usable UI. Microsoft Office has had this problem for a long time now. Once you hit a certain feature density, the UI is bought to get either very complicated, or force the user to go through a ton of hoops to access the "hidden" functionality. It's a tough choice. 3. Sure, in certain edge cases, the functionality would be useful. But the tradeoff is that the UI became very complex for little gain in day-to-day work (honestly, how often do people need to restart the same service on multiple machines simultaneously?). This is the 80/20 rule at work. It's a not a "sin" to use WMI, but especially with PowerShell, it is a snap to perform so much of this with a quick script or from the command line. For many users, it is probably not worth cluttering the UI for functionality that they can use elsewhere. 4. It's obvious that you weren't interested in support *Nix. However, *Nix servers are quite pervasive in the server room. If this was a product aimed at managing desktop systems, I would not have brought it up. But given *Nix's server room market share, I think that customers who want a tool like this would want it for their *Nix servers as well. 5. It certainly is not obvious from the system how to run a PowerShell command, and it would be great to be able to start an interactive PowerShell session. PS is quickly being adopted as an important management tool by administrators. 6. The review DOES mention thumbnail views (in the "Bottom Line" section) and is actually rather complimentary about it. There's also a screenshot in the photo gallery (admitedly, the link to the photo gallery is easy to miss). I didn't highlight it as a "killer feature" because it seems to refresh every 2 minutes (which is understandable given how long it would take and the about of network "chatter" on a busy network). The VNC Deployment Wizard could have been highlighted as a feature, but at the same time, I didn't think it was a "killer" feature (you really would use it once for existing servers, and then just add VNC as you build out new servers). The network scanning feature... well, I was not particularly impressed by it, especially since it failed to properly detect what form of connections to use in the first place (it assumed VNC for everything). I *did* mention the ability to connect to Hyper-V, in the first part of the review which listed what protocols were supported. Rebooting into safe mode with VNC is a useful feature. The fact is, I can't just take your entire feature list, paste it in, and comment on every single feature. It's unrelistic. The point of the "standout features" portion of the review is to highlight to the reader what the unique, unusual, or especially useful aspects of the application are. Our guidelines say to keep it around 3 - 5 features, which is what was done here. J.Ja

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

We seem to have a difference of opinion here. Justin had some criticisms of SmartCode VNC Manager Enterprise that representatives of SmartCode disagree with. I'd like to hear from the IT professionals using the product in the field - how well does SmartCode VNC Manager Enterprise work for you?

sguser
sguser

What maintenance fee structure are you talking about?! Each license comes with 1 Year, 2 year or Lifetime of free upgrades. In case of the 1 and 2 Year license, they can be easily renewed. Thumbnails view - the Hyper-V thumbnails view refreshes every 1 minutes by default. This period can be adjusted. You obviously haven't tried to use VNC Thumbnails view that has two modes: real-time and time-interval updates. The VNC Deployment Wizard - is actually one of the most used features by our customers. If it's wasn't much useful to you it doesn't meant it's not an important feature for other users. You did mention Hyper-V thumbnails view...but just barely mentioned... the fact is that no other product has such feature.

Justin James
Justin James

"What maintenance fee structure are you talking about?! Each license comes with 1 Year, 2 year or Lifetime of free upgrades. In case of the 1 and 2 Year license, they can be easily renewed." This is what I am talking about. TechRepublic members have made it clear in discussions about other products that they *do not like* maintenance contracts for desktop software. It is also very confusing that your Web site says that the license is a perpetual license, but when you install the application, it says that you cannot use a license purchased more than a year ago. "Thumbnails view - the Hyper-V thumbnails view refreshes every 1 minutes by default. This period can be adjusted." I am well aware (I thought the default was 2 minutes, not 1). Keep in mind, though, when using it for a large number of machines that will put a lot of "chatter" on the network, which not everyone will be thrilled about. And yes, I did try it with real-time updates. "The VNC Deployment Wizard - is actually one of the most used features by our customers. If it's wasn't much useful to you it doesn't meant it's not an important feature for other users." OK, that's fine... but any review is going to be from the reviewer's perspective. In my perspective, based on my experiences and the configuration of the network I tested in (where we already use a variety of remote management systems and they are already installed) it was not super useful. For someone who had a ton of machines without any kind of remote management system installed, sure, it would be useful. "You did mention Hyper-V thumbnails view...but just barely mentioned... the fact is that no other product has such feature." Like I said before, there is a format to be followed, and I can't go deeply into every single feature that you personally feel is important. To me, the thumbnails were useful (regardless of the protocol), which is why I mentioned it in the first place, but at the same time, it isn't overwhelming. They are too small to really see much detail on; I can see it being useful during a patching scenario when you can easily tell by the screen if the patching is done and the system is ready to restart. It is clear that other than a few minor misunderstanding (like the confusion around the "licenses cannot be more than a year old" language during setup), that you are disagreeing here on an opinion level, not a factual level. My suggestion would be to reach out to your userbase, and have them come here and post their experiences with this product. We've seen this a number of times before, when a company makes a great product, their users are passionate enough to come here and let us know about it, regardless of the review's opinion of the product. J.Ja