As an IT consultant, chances are that you regularly walk into projects that require you to make physical alterations to an existing network. For example, I recently did a consulting job for a doctor’s office in which I was tasked with extending a small TCP/IP network to new office space adjacent to the existing space.

The office restructuring project also included rearranging the front office to allow office staff to more efficiently handle incoming patients. This project required shuffling several existing systems between various workspaces and offices and adding a couple of new computers to the network. And, of course, my new client wanted all of this to occur with as little disruption of day-to-day business operation as possible.

This type of engagement can be tricky. On a physical level, the project required setting up the new workstations and adding them to the network and disassembling and reassembling the existing workstations—not to mention the time spent on a ladder fishing network cable through the confined spaces in the drop ceiling.

Before you can start a project that involves altering an existing network about which you know little, you need to spend some time getting the lay of the land for the network—network configuration, system names, IP addresses, MAC addresses, NIC info, server info, hub/switch capacity, printer info, and a million other details. You could go from system to system and manually gather the information, but that can be very time consuming and, if done during normal business hours, would be very disruptive to the day-to-day business operations.

I discovered a very professional piece of shareware, NetworkView, which is billed as a “compact network discovery and management tool for Windows.” Using NetworkView, I was able to quickly and easily gather all the information I needed about my client’s network. And best of all, NetworkView can be run from a floppy disk, so you don’t have to install it on your client’s computers.

Once I had NetworkView up and running, it took just minutes for the program to compile an inventory of the network and present a graphical map of the network that included all the information I needed and offered plenty of options for analyzing and sorting that information in a worksheet view. I could then easily save the information to a file for later analysis or print it to use as a map while I worked on the network. Let’s take a closer look.

An overview of NetworkView
While my primary use for NetworkView at the physician’s office was to quickly and easily document my client’s TCP/IP network, I hardly scratched the surface of all of NetworkView’s features. It really is a powerful program that can be of benefit to system administrators as well as consultants.

NetworkView performs two main functions: Discovery and Monitoring. In Discovery mode, the program searches the network and compiles a network-based inventory of all the systems it finds. In Monitoring mode, NetworkView can continuously monitor the status of each system on the network. As it does so, NetworkView can create log files and send out audio or e-mail alerts when the status changes.

Compiling a network inventory
Let’s take a detailed look at how you use NetworkView in Discovery mode to compile a quick network inventory for a consulting job like the one I encountered.

To run NetworkView in Discovery mode, pull down the File menu and select the New command. You’ll see the Network Discovery Parameters dialog box and you’ll need to fill in the range of IP addresses, as shown in Figure A. You can also fill in the Printout Info section if you wish.

Figure A
To perform a network discovery operation, you need only provide a range of IP addresses.

When you click OK, NetworkView goes to work and finds all TCP/IP nodes on the network. As it does so, NetworkView creates and displays a graphical map of the network, as shown in Figure B. As you can see, this map provides you with the name, IP address, and NIC manufacturer of each device on the network. You’ll also notice that each item is represented with a unique icon that helps you to quickly identify each network device.

Figure B
NetworkView creates a graphical map as it scans the network.

As you can see, by default, the map display is sorted by IP address. You can sort the map using other criteria, such as name or type. To do so, click one of the sort buttons on the toolbar or select an item from the View | Sort menu. Once you’ve created the map, you can save it by clicking the Save button on the toolbar. You can then print the map by clicking the Print button on the toolbar.

If you double-click on any device, you’ll see a Node Details window like the one shown in Figure C. The Node Details window displays all the information that was found during the discovery operation. As you can see, this includes the MAC address of the network card.

Figure C
The Node Details window displays all the information gathered during the discovery operation.

When you right-click on any device on the map, you’ll see a large context menu that allows you to access many other functions of the NetworkView program, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D
Right-clicking an item on the map reveals a context map that gives you access to many of NetworkView’s other functions.

However, in the case of a network inventory, the Edit Note command is of particular interest. Selecting it brings up the Note window, in which you can add other pertinent information that you may need as you plan your consulting job, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E
Using the Note window, you can add more specific information about each workstation.

In addition to the graphical map view, NetworkView can display the information in one of six spreadsheet-like views called Lists. To access one of these Lists, just click the List View button on the toolbar or pull down the Window menu and select the corresponding item.

For example, Figure F shows the Standard List view. You can then print this view by clicking the Print button on the toolbar.

Figure F
NetworkView can display the network inventory in a spreadsheet-like view.

Learning more
You can find out more about using NetworkView by accessing its Help system. You’ll find detailed instructions on performing each of NetworkView’s functions. The Help system also comes with a five-part tutorial that walks you through each of the functions that NetworkView performs.

Getting a copy of NetworkView
As I mentioned, NetworkView is available as a shareware program that you can download from the author’s site, NetworkView Software. The shareware version is only slightly limited in that the export functions are disabled and, of course, you’ll see registration reminders just about everywhere you go. However, all of the features you really need to evaluate the product are fully functional. If you like what you see, purchasing a single user license for $59 will allow you to take advantage of all of NetworkView’s features and remove the registration reminders.

NetworkView runs on Windows 98/Me/NT/2000/XP. On NT/2000/XP, you must have administrator rights to use the Discovery and Monitoring modes.