capsule review

NetOctopus 4.0

At a Glance
  • Netopia NetOctopus 4.0

Whether you're planning a company-wide upgrade to Mac OS X, considering an application upgrade, or ensuring that all workstations have the latest security patches installed, surveying the Mac and Windows systems on a network without a systems-management tool can be daunting. Netopia's recently updated NetOctopus can help. NetOctopus 4.0 provides complete cross-platform functionality, flexibility, and scalability--great for anyone managing ten or more systems with dynamic configuration requirements.

For this release, Netopia rewrote the NetOctopus Administrator application; it now takes advantage of the multithreading, enhanced security, and networking features in OS X; new features range from support for back-end SQL databases to persistence of queued commands.

The Secrets of Scalability

NetOctopus consists of two applications: NetOctopus Administrator and NetOctopus Agent, which is the client software you must install on all of your machines. Agent acts as a proxy for Administrator information-retrieval commands and system changes such as installations, file management, and local system settings. (You can manage any system from wherever Administrator is installed.) You can use the program's Snapshot feature to quickly compare a system's settings or file system saved at different times, helping you identify changes that may be the root of a recently reported problem, for example.

One of NetOctopus's strongest points is its ability to delegate management privileges at a very granular level. For example, to distribute the triage functions your help desk needs to perform, you can grant departmental support personnel the ability to execute a limited set of NetOctopus commands on the systems within their department, while granting centralized support personnel broader access.

Mac system managers who like to shoot first and ask questions later won't be as successful with NetOctopus 4.0; you need to allocate sufficient time to plan your deployment strategy, configure your installation, and perform systemwide baseline-data collection. While NetOctopus's manual is extensive (730 pages), it won't quickly guide you through optimal deployment scenarios. Instead, Netopia support engineers help you with configuration planning over the phone.

Keep It Moving

Once NetOctopus is installed and configured, administrators can collect database information and use it to effectively manage systems by automating tasks. The commands you can issue with NetOctopus to one or more systems are too numerous to list here; they run the gamut from managing the file system (including running installer scripts or packages) to changing settings (such as TCP/IP network and file sharing). And if you've shut down while queued tasks are running, those incomplete tasks will resume the next time you launch the Administrator application. Version 4.0 also has extensive AppleScript support, so NetOctopus can replicate any task you can perform with AppleScript.

Managing software-license compliance is a breeze with NetOctopus. Two built-in reports let you quickly see how many licenses for a specified list of applications are in use at any given time. There's also a more comprehensive software audit that compares all installed software with your licenses so you can quickly ascertain adherence.

However, before you can use these reports, you must create a delimited text file that lists the type, creator codes, and license quantities for all the applications you wish to monitor.

Centralizing Your Data

Deciding where to store your data is another key step in determining how you'll implement NetOctopus in your office. You can keep information locally in a NetOctopus database on each administrator's desktop--a less efficient approach in a large organization with a multilevel administration. Or you can use a relational database--including administrative accounts and privileges--in a central location.

The program supports many database platforms, including IBM's DB2, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, and the open-source database MySQL. By using a back-end SQL database, you can manage systems from any workstation on your network; you're no longer limited to workstations on which you've replicated the NetOctopus database and configured access security.

What You'll Need

Licenses for version 4.0 are not platform specific, and this heterogeneity applies to both Administrator and Agent. The Mac version of NetOctopus Administrator works on any Power Mac G3 (or better) system with 128MB of RAM running OS X version 10.1.3 or later (only 64MB is required for OS 9.1), and the NetOctopus Agent software works on almost any Mac running System 7.1 through OS X 10.2. To use the Windows version of NetOctopus Administrator, you'll need a PC with 64MB of RAM running anything from Windows 98 through XP, and Agent runs on Windows 95 through XP.

Macworld's Buying Advice

Despite the frustrations of trial-and-error planning and lengthy documentation, NetOctopus 4.0 is handy. For troubleshooting or network upgrades, it's a must for today's understaffed and oversubscribed support teams. l

At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Extensive AppleScript support
    • Back-end database configuration provides great flexibility
    • Cross-platform compatibility


    • Getting started requires careful planning
    • Manual is disorganized
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