Nodevision Offered So Much Hope, So Little Delivery

nvosmNetwork managers who want to pinpoint changes in network workstation configurations may find a potential solution in Fresh Technology Co.’s new Windows-based node-administration program, NodeVision 1.10, provided Fresh can make some needed improvements to the package.

NodeVision 1.10 is an admirable effort to provide network managers with a tool that spans a variety of network operating systems and equipment. But in our tests the package suffered from compatibility flaws when we configured it with some network operating systems.

NodeVision supports Novell Inc.’s NetWare, Banyan Systems Inc.’s VINES and Microsoft Corp.’s LAN Manager, along with TCP/IP hosts. It also works with a variety of other network-management systems, such as Novell’s NetWare Management Services, as well as some concentrators and uninterruptible power systems.

We used NodeVision’s extensive data collection tools to gather data on nodes running NetWare 3.11, but when it came to monitoring a Banyan VINES 5.0 LAN, the package hung. Fresh Technology claims the package does support earlier versions of VINES, and version 5.0 support is planned.

Configuration Chores

When it ran successfully, NodeVision was an unobtrusive tool. We configured it to automatically run its Investigator module during the NetWare log-in script. In tests, Investigator collected workstation data and stored it in a central Btrieve-based database that we later queried using NodeVision’s Management Console. Once the data-collection phase was completed, NodeVision unloaded from memory, as opposed to some node-administration tools that require a memory-resident module to remain loaded on the monito red workstation.

Unfortunately, NodeVision was not able to work with our monolithic IPX drivers for PC Week Labs’ Eagle Technology NE2000 network interface cards — the program hung during the network log-in/data collection process. It was able to run successfully when we switched to IPX Open Data-Link Interface drivers.

Configuring NodeVision was somewhat difficult. Since it supports several LAN operating systems, NodeVision does not have a complete installation routine for each network. Although the installation program copied the program and data files to a file server and installed the NodeVision administrative console in Windows 3.1, PC Week Labs had to manually set the file attributes on some program files to make them non-sharable and read only. Other similar utilities do this automatically.

We also used NodeVision’s SoftScan feature to scan selected applications software on the target node, looking for any changes in the size or integrity of executable files. Because SoftScan can take a long time to search a workstation’s hard drive, we configured the log-in script to run it only once a week.

Data Collection

NodeVision was quick to notice changes in the AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS files on a test node (a Dell Computer Corp. System 486D/33). After we logged in to the Node-Vision Management Console, the program displayed a warning explaining that critical changes had been made to a workstation. Using the Windows-based NodeVision Management Console, it was easy to monitor a workstation by selecting either a log-in name or a specific network-adapter card address.

The workstation information gathered by Investigator formed a baseline configuration against which future log-ins were compared. Investigator noted a variety of changes in the test workstations ranging from file size, checksum (a rudimentary method for checking file integrity and the possibility of virus infection) and any changes in the version or serial number of an application package. By choosing from an extensive list of applications and their associated executable files, we were able to set up SoftSc an to monitor all test network workstations to identify any changes in test applications, such as Microsoft’s Excel or Word for Windows.

NodeVision displayed a listing of hardware and software configurations for each workstation. The handy summary screen showed the basic elements of the hardware (such as the drives and network interface card) and software, as well as any indication of critical changes in those configurations. When NodeVision

indicated that a workstation had critical changes, the program provided more detailed information (see photo, below) that listed the baseline value for each hardware or software parameter. Critical file s that had changed were marked on-screen with a special symbol similar to the copyright character. NodeVision’s menu bars eased the job of working with critical changes.

Lacks LAN-Based Remote Control

Though NodeVision alerted the Labs to critical changes, it didn’t always offer enough information to take corrective action. When the CONFIG.SYS file was changed on the test workstation, there was no way to actually see the details of the changes on the administrative console. This feature can be found on some node-management systems, such as Microcom Inc.’s LANlord. With no provision for LAN-based remote control, we had to walk over to the workstation to actually view the file. This may be inconvenient fo r help-desk personnel who attempt to fix a problem remotely.

PC Week Labs used NodeVision’s helpful Recon tool to troubleshoot a machine that could not log in to the test network. We copied a baseline sample of the test workstation along with the NodeVision program files to a floppy disk. Recon took a snapshot of the workstation and marked any changes in the configuration.

NodeVision’s documentation, which is organized like a school textbook, is fairly complete and understandable. Each chapter starts with a summary of the key concepts and definition of terms, followed by a Quick Steps section for experienced users who need only a short listing of commands. The same information is explained further in a more detailed section, which includes sample NodeVision screen shots. Chapters end with review questions. The manual would be a little easier to navigate if all Quick Steps s ections were specially marked in a different color or typeface.

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