REVIEWS

Simple Net Manager

Corporate customers demand good tools to help keep their networks up and running. After all, mission-critical custom applications are the ones you can't do without. Although NeXT innovations like NetInfo and the graphical administration tools help get networks up and running quickly, they don't offer much assistance in monitoring and diagnosing the problems that inevitably occur.

To fill this gap, Ridgeback Solutions now offers NetWatch, a graphical Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) network manager for NEXTSTEP. (SNMP is a widely adopted standard for devices on networks running the TCP/IP protocol to report statistics about their status.) Software "agents" run on clients, reporting blocks of information known as Management Information Bases, or MIBs.

NetWatch can be used to monitor any devices with SNMP agents supporting MIB-I, MIB-II, or Ridgeback's own SNMP AGeNT. When used with AGeNT, which is available for NEXTSTEP and SunOS 4.1.x, NetWatch can monitor system variables such as file-system usage and swap-file size. NetWatch then uses this information to detect common non-network problems that can cause applications to fail.

NetWatch offers three major functions. The Topology Maps feature works with your favorite NeXT drawing program to let you build a graphical representation of the network. Nodes in the NetInfo database can be automatically added to the map. The Query Panel helps you set up one-off or periodic queries of any MIB variable on any network device. When MIB variables reach the threshold values that you set, alarms can notify you by flashing icons on the network map, dialing a pager, sending e-mail, or passing alarm data to an external program.

Ridgeback says that NetWatch is easy to use, and our tests certainly confirmed its claim. Within an hour of opening the box, we were monitoring a selection of key nodes on our network, including several NeXTstations, Sun and HP workstations, and Cisco routers all on a network map whipped up in Diagram! 2. Had these machines all been in the NetInfo database, setup would have been even faster. During our test, the alarm facilities worked as advertised. AGeNT, however, was a little trickier to install.

The comprehensive documentation explained all the possibilities of the tools at hand, though familiarity with SNMP and TCP/IP networking is assumed.

NetWatch doesn't aspire to be the ultimate network-management tool. It emphasizes alarms and real-time monitoring, rather than statistical collection and analysis. It's designed for use by a single sysadmin who manages a moderate number of nodes. These might be all the nodes in a small network, or a subnet, or key nodes selected from a larger network.

In larger networks, administrators might miss some features that are starting to appear in high-end packages on other platforms. For example, automatic network discovery finds network nodes, even if they're not in NetInfo. Alarm correlation prevents the failure of one key router from setting off a cascade of alarms from all the other affected nodes. NetWatch lacks both of these features. And they would come at a price: increased complexity, longer set-up time, and a price tag two to five times the cost of NetWatch.

NetWatch is an application that has a clear mission in life and delivers admirably. It's a useful tool, and an excellent value.

by Rob Wilen


NetWatch 1.0

4 Cubes

A simple-to-use SNMP network manager for use in smaller, single system-administrator installations. Works well and as advertised.

$1995, including ten copies of AGeNT; additional copies of AGeNT at $120 per node

Ridgeback Solutions, 23715 W. Malibu Rd. #76, Malibu, CA 90265.

310/456-6094, 310/456-9715 fax; info@ridgeback.com.