Network-Management Software

You could count your company's Power Macs on your fingers and install system software manually on each user's computer–or you could invest in a tool that does those things for you. Netopia's netOctopus 3.0 and Wave Research's FileWave Enterprise Edition 3.2 offer a simpler way to deliver software over a network and maintain a database of hardware and software assets for Mac and PC configurations alike; however, they approach those tasks very differently.

netOctopus is most useful at creating configuration reports and monitoring software use, although its distribution component can't manage complex software packages. FileWave, though marred by a nonintuitive interface and high deployment costs, shines as a full-featured software-delivery system that can move complex combinations of applications, system files, and documents onto client workstations.

netOctopus is appealingly simple to set up and use, consisting of an administrative application and a client control panel for each Mac or PC. FileWave's client software is similar, but divides its software-distribution and asset-management functions among several server tools and administrative applications. Although this distributed approach makes sense for large networks, it does require that you devote all or part of several Macs to network-management tasks.

To distribute software with FileWave, you create filesets that reside on the repository server in a proprietary format. The easiest way to create filesets is to use FileWave to scan the contents of a hard disk connected to the administrator's Mac, and install the software you're distributing via FileWave on the same disk. FileWave builds a package based on the files you have modified or added since taking the "before" snapshot. You can deliver packages to individual users or to groups, and the software is smart enough to hold updates for absent PowerBook users until they return to the network.

netOctopus uses a much simpler arrangement, in which you distribute files or folders individually on Macs as well as PCs. The trade-off: you can't simultaneously install applications, extensions, and preferences, as you can with FileWave (but you can create distribution packages yourself, if you're handy with AppleScript).

Mac managers may recognize FileWave's Asset Trustee database as a remnant of TechWorks' long-dead Asset Manager. With an ACI US 4th Dimension database as its engine, Asset Trustee inventories computer hardware and software, right down to the amount of VRAM installed and–if you're inclined to enter it–the depreciation method used to pay for each system. Wave Research added a scanning function to the database, making it possible to track changes to hardware and software as they occur and to combine static data with dynamic information. (FileWave is also available without Asset Trustee; the 20-user version is $1,863.)

The asset-management interface in netOctopus is oriented less toward printing reports and tracking inventory than toward taking live snapshots of the network and managing software use. Templates and AppleScripts offer a quick look at common configuration settings for a group of systems. This is useful if you want to determine whether your systems are capable of accepting a Mac OS upgrade or have properly configured IP addresses, for example.

Both packages allow you to export data. netOctopus includes an HTML export feature, although FileWave does that feature one better by building in Web-server software that displays asset reports in HTML. And both include substantial printed documentation, though FileWave's manual is a bit disjointed and leaves out important information.

Although it's complex–and occasionally infuriating–FileWave Enterprise Edition 3.2 has no equal when it comes to software distribution. If you distribute lots of software to lots of users, FileWave may be worth the learning curve and the high cost of resources necessary to use it. If you can make do with a bit less, netOctopus 3.0 rewards your flexibility with a smart, straightforward distribution interface. For asset managers, netOctopus is the best choice when you need to take a "live" look at your network or monitor the way software is used; FileWave's asset-management features will appeal most to managers who need both continuous monitoring and static-information gathering.


3.5 mice
PROS: Sophisticated software-distribution capabilities; flexible server-placement options. CONS: Nonintuitive setup; expensive; heavy hardware demands. COMPANY: Wave Research (888/345-3928, ). LIST PRICE: $2,530 (20 users).


4.0 mice
PROS: Easy, on-the-fly asset and configuration reporting; intelligent license management. CONS: Software-distribution tools limited without resorting to AppleScript. COMPANY: Netopia (800/803-8212, ). LIST PRICE: $1,625 (25 users).

August 1999 page: 44

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