LANSurveyor 8.1 full review

If you administer a network, Neon Software’s LANsurveyor 8.1 is a useful tool for mapping, monitoring and tracking inventory. The program probes the network and gathers information to help you anticipate, diagnose, and fix network problems.

Version 8.1 offers improved Neon Responder agents, local agents you use to determine – and remotely start and stop – the applications running on individual networked machines. You can also determine the type of machine located at each node, and get detailed information on installed hardware and software.

Scant changes in new version
Version 8.1 is very similar to version 7.0. This is clear even if you don’t own the previous release, as the current version ships with the version 7.0 user guide, supplemented only by a 13-page pamphlet that covers the new features. The Mac release lags behind the Windows version, which supports voice-over-IP devices, Session Initiation Protocol (used by Apple’s iChat), and a Continuous Scan option.

By itself, LANsurveyor provides only information from ICMP (Internet Control Message Protocol) ping responses. It’s also designed to gather such information from agents running on the networked computers. The program displays data provided by companion product Neon Responder, as well as the Dantz Retrospect, Netopia Timbuktu, and SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) agents. SNMP agents are most often found on network devices (printers, switches, and routers) in the workgroup and enterprise markets. The low-end routers and printers designed for home use are often not SNMP-capable.

LANsurveyor is available in three versions: Management Station (with 20 Neon Responder agents), Workgroup Edition (with 100 Neon Responder agents), and Enterprise Edition (with 500 Neon Responder agents). Deciding which version to buy is a matter of figuring out how many Neon Responder agents you need – usually one for each computer you manage.

Easy mapping
LANsurveyor makes it easy to begin mapping a local network. Just select New Map from the File menu and choose the services you’d like to map: Neon Responder agents, SNMP devices (such as printers and routers), Timbuktu clients, and computers backed up by Retrospect, ICMP ping, or AppleTalk networks. Enter the range of IP addresses and the number of the range’s hops (the devices the information passes through as it goes from one point to another), and the program generates a map (see “Mapping a network” above). LANsurveyor with Neon Responder agents installed on client computers can save a lot of legwork by reporting a wealth of information.

Neon Responder agents provide details on the operating system, mounted volumes, installed applications, and running processes. However, a bug caused the software to consistently misidentify a 700MHz iBook G3. Neon is aware of the problem, and plans to address it in the next release.

You can create a software meter report based on the running processes and a software inventory report based on the installed applications.

Depending on a device’s support for SNMP, it may already offer a wealth of information. For example, a high-end Cisco router shows details about its software version, all configured networks (including virtual LANs and variable-length subnets), IP transmission statistics, and its ARP cache. New in version 8.1 is LANsurveyor’s ability to display a device’s physical port on a managed switch.

The software’s Map Notes feature lets you embed notes in a device’s map record, and optionally display those notes on the map. This is particularly useful if advanced agents aren’t available for a device, or if you want to add inventory information.

Powerful but inscrutable
LANsurveyor is powerful, but its interface isn’t friendly, and it doesn’t look or feel like a native OS X application. For example, you click on the Reports button and then choose from additional buttons to bring up yet another window to customize the report. Neon should consider adding scripting capabilities so users could automatically run custom reports. However, once you’ve mapped a network, you can easily generate a variety of software, hardware, process, disk-space, file-type, and other platform-independent reports.

The program’s IP Poll list is generated from each node on your network at a time interval of your choosing. Set the poll interval to something as long as five minutes, and you can identify nonresponsive polls and view statistics of missed packets to find out whether a problem is transient or needs to be addressed.

LANsurveyor can also remotely manage networked computers running Neon Responder agents. You can direct them to shut down, restart, sync their clocks, and more. Remote management of networked computers is a prime example of where scripting would allow automation of common tasks.

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