David Strom

Network Segment Management Still A Mess: Too Many Tools, Too Little Time To Use Them

By David Strom

Finding the right tool to manage individual network segments is a real chore: the products

change quickly, there is no clear product differentiation among them, pricing policies vary

tremendously, and understanding which products are most appropriate for which tasks is a

daunting proposition at best. 

Part of the problem is that network managers -- the people, not the products -- don't have

time to spare:  they usually have their hands full just keeping their file servers and local

networks (what we mean when we say network segments) up and running and their users

happily connected to the network. But part of the responsibility rests squarely with the

vendors of these products themselves, who have done little to make it easier for network

administrators to match product features with the tasks at hand; not to mention installing,

configuring, and keeping the management software running itself.

We looked at eight products from seven vendors that span a range from full-featured segment

managers to specialized single-purpose tools. They are Alert View from Shany, Inc.,

Foundation Manager from Pro Tools, Inc., LANDesk Manager from Intel Corp., LAN

Directory and NetWare Management from Frye Computer Systems, Inc., LANlord from

Microcom, Inc., SaberLAN Workstation from Saber Software Corp., and Xtree Tools for

Networks from Xtree Company. (See sidebar for details on each product.) 

This is more of a representative sampling than a comprehensive list: there are easily more

than 50 products that fit into this particular market. Rather than produce a comprehensive

comparision, we looked at how easily each product could address a series of real-world

network troubleshooting issues. The goal here is to provide some insight in how networks

work and which tools are most appropriate for which tasks, since not all products could help

in every situation.

Trying to compare these products becomes even more difficult when it comes time to price

them: prices ranged from $39 per node (Saber) to more than $10,000 per server (Pro Tools),

and everything in between: a popourri that reflects the overall state of confusion when it

comes to network pricing. Some server-based prices are good for unlimited numbers of users

(LANDesk) and others offer tiered pricing based on the number of users connected per server

(Frye and Microcom). And Shany offers both nodal and server pricing, just to cover all their

bases and muddy the waters even further.

We tested these products on a small Ethernet network that contained four workstations: A

Dell 486 PC running Windows, a Macintosh IIvx, a Compaq 486 running OS/2, and a Zenith

Z-lite 386 notebook running DOS. The network had two file servers, a Dell 486 running

NetWare 3.11 and a Compaq 386 running NetWare 3.12. Each machine had a different

network adapter and memory configuration, ranging from 2 megabytes in the Zenith to 32

megabytes for the OS/2 machine.

Few of the products we tested could manage this small but diverse network. Most of the

products are geared to one client (DOS or Windows) and one network operating system

(typically NetWare). And that presents a major hurdle for many network administrators who

are stuck with a mixed bag of clients, servers, and network topologies to manage. Only one of

the products offered any instrumentation of our OS/2 workstation (Shany), and only two had

any products for our Macintosh (Frye and Intel). 

There are several components to these products: First is the network manager's console, the

control station that is used by the network administrator to track down problems and view

alerts and network statistics. How this information is displayed is critical: if a network

administrator has to wade through several screens, or consult a series of manuals, then the

product will be less helpful at solving problems or keeping track of network conditions. It

seems obvious to us, but it isn't the case when you look at a series of products. Some of the

products use Windows as a console, one (Foundation Manager) uses OS/2, and others use

DOS. (See sidebar for details.)

Next is the user agent, a piece of software that either runs on each individual network node or

is invoked at login time. Some of the products use a terminate-and-stay-resident software for

as their agents for DOS client machines. Others use dynamic linked libraries for Windows

and OS/2 clients and INITs for Macintosh clients. These TSRs occupy anywhere from 12 k of

RAM (LANDesk) to over 30 k (Alert View and Xtree). Users may not be too excited about

giving up precious DOS memory to be managed by a network administrator. Other products

have no client software per se: they only intrude at login time and collect their information

then. Frye and Saber are in this category. 


Finally are the various probes and collection engines that are used to gather network statistics,

create event logs, and interact with each nodal agent to manage the network. These pieces can

be range from a relatively simple NetWare Loadable Module (NLM) that is installed on a

NetWare file server to more complex engines that require OS/2 machines. Intel's LANDesk

wins the complexity prize: it has NLMs for its engine along with DOS-based programs for

network probes that must run on relatively fast dedicated 486 machines. LANDesk also has a

Windows-based console and various agent TSRs and DLLs for individual network nodes.

That's a lot of hardware, overhead, and installation effort for one product.

Documentation on many products was very poor, with many products lacking a

comprehensive index or specific instructions on what part of the product is used for what

purpose. Two products' manuals stand out: Saber and LANDesk. Saber's manual had the most

carefully crafted installation procedure, something that could possibly cover almost every

situation. Its index was the best and most complete. LANDesk, which has many other

drawbacks, comes with a troubleshooting guide that makes it easy to match particular

problems with procedures -- we only wish that the software itself was structured in this


The volitility in this marketplace is astounding: almost all of the products were being

upgraded during October when we did our tests. (The sidebar indicates which product

versions we used and which are now shipping.) This represents a real challenge for the

network administrator: the amount of time spent in keeping current versions and doing

upgrades will be non-trivial. Installation and configuration will be a nightmare.

Normally, we wouldn't mention this aspect but these products are complicated enough that a

network administrator will have spend some time getting things working. And since these

products are not designed for consistent use the ease of installation and learning is a critical


Given that there are many parts of each product that go in various places (NLMs on the

server, TSRs for DOS clients, other client pieces if available and the console software) --

configuration is not easy and requires a great deal of skills in understanding what each

operating system requires and how to get around some of the problems. 

Here are some examples: ProTools' Foundation Manager was the most troubling installation,

partly because of how it uses OS/2 and partly because of how we had configured our OS/2

machine. We were using our OS/2 machine as a NetWare requestor, which requires either a

second network adapter to run Foundation Manager or else to disable the NetWare client

software. There is an overall lack of fit and finish with the product as well, which given its

steep price tag is worrisome. 

Our first attempt with installing Lanlord's Windows console locked up our machine, for what

reason we couldn't determine (the second attempt worked flawlessly). The OS/2 collection

engine was a snap to install (nevertheless Microcom is working on an NLM, according to

company officials, to make things easier for NetWare administrators who are fearful of OS/2). 

Alert View had one confusing screen with its console installation that lead us to load the

wrong protocol support engine: this was quickly corrected once we called their technical

support staff. This product also had no simple way to filter its many alters generated from

simple (and we thought error-free) situations, so that a network administrator quickly gets

overwhelmed with useless data. [CHECK]

Finally, two of the products didn't yet support NetWare 3.12 servers: Frye and Xtree. Both

are working on versions to correct this, according to company representatives.  

Let's get to the specific troubleshooting situations. In the following discussion, we will

examine the noteworthy products and describe those that could easily determine an answer, or

those that took some effort to track down the problem. 

 -- How many machines are running versions of DOS earlier than DOS 5.0?  Network

administrators often have to find out questions like this, to determine who should get

upgraded software or who will run into problems when a new applications is available that

requires new software. Products that could address this issue have the ability to inventory all

connected client machines and to be able to easily report on what they have found. 

While several products could address this issue at least in part, two of them were best for this

task: Intel and Saber. Intel's LANDesk's Inventory Manager module has a simple to use query

builder than can quickly find this sort of information, provided you remember to look in this

module. Saber's inventory query function involves opening a number of dialog boxes and

specifying DOSVERSION as the variable of interest and then running the report. 

Other products could collect this information but not allow a network administrator to sort or

query this information to focus on particular DOS versions. This makes searching for

particular information cumbersome. For example Frye's LAN Directory (with a preset report

called WSSHELLW.REP), Frye's NetWare Management (with report FUN201, Node

Configuration), Lanlord (in its "Workstation Inventory Report") and Xtree (in its Workstation

Monitor module, under Network Configuration option) all contain the DOS version

information on each network node.

-- What is the contents of my NET.CFG file? Many problems originate from misconfigured

parameters in this file, which is used by each NetWare client machine to specify protocols

loaded, specific network adapter parameters such as I/O and interrupts, and other information.

This is not the single configuration file that creates trouble: CONFIG.SYS and

AUTOEXEC.BAT files are also suspect. Products that address this issue are also

inventory-oriented products, but also enable the network administrator to view the contents of

this file. We set up a client machine with several copies of NET.CFG to see if the

management software would locate the correct one.

Two products addressed this issue. Lanlord has the capability, but viewed the wrong copy of

the NET.CFG file that we were using. Frye's LAN Directory could view NET.CFG, provided

it was placed in the workstation's root directory or a special "file collection procedure" was

performed ahead of time -- a cumbersome process. 

You could view the contents of this file with other products by using the remote workstation

control feature that is found in LANDesk and other products.  

-- I want to reboot a certain user who is having a problem. This issue addresses the need to

have workstation remote control over the network itself. There are several products that offer

this feature: Alert View just reboots the machine, without asking or warning the user. Lanlord

asks for confirmation or delay, but doesn't provide any feedback if the user denies permission.

LANDesk asks the user for confirmation as well as an option. And Xtree allows for remote

control but not for remotely rebooting individual workstations. [CHECK]

-- Who is my top talker? By this we mean can the network administrator determine which

workstation is the most active in a given time period and using the most network bandwidth

on a particular segment or server. Here Foundation Manager has a preset report that can

quickly find out the network address of the user: however matching the network address and

user name is a chore that will take some time.

Intel's LANDesk Traffic Monitor module also sorts its results by the level of traffic for each

workstation and could provide the answer to this question. None of the other products could

address this issue.

-- What applications are running on my Macintosh? Frye's LAN Directory and the Inventory

Manager module of Intel's LANDesk are the only two products we tested that offers a

Macintosh module for collecting any sort of information. Most of the other products ignore

the Macintosh or give it minimal attention. 

-- What is my server utilization over the past day? Network administrators want to know how

congested their servers are, so that they can balance the load or justify the need to purchase

additional machines. While NetWare itself can describe the actual utilization at any point in

time, collecting this information over a 24-hour period is more difficult.

Several products addressed this issue:  Xtree's NetTrack module,  Frye's NetWare

Management, and Intel's LANDesk all do a fairly solid job of reporting on this information,

and allowing a user to manipulate the reports. Sabre collects other information on its servers

than utilization, unfortunately. 

David Strom is a network consultant in Port Washington, NY and founding editor-in-chief of

Network Computing magazine. He can be reached via the internet at david@strom.com.


Sidebar: Network Management Products Reviewed 

Alert View 2.1 

$93.50 per node, alternate server pricing available 

Shany, Inc.

1101 San Antonio Road

Mountain View, CA 94043

(415) 694-7410

(415) 694-4728 (fax)

Foundation Manager 

$10,795 to $16,500 per server

Pro Tools, Inc.

14976 NW Greenbrier Parkway

Beaverton, OR 97006

(503) 645-5400

(503) 645-3577 (fax)

LANDesk Manager 1.5 (we tested beta version)

$1495 per server, additional servers discounted

Intel Corp.

PO Box 58119

2200 Mission College Blvd.

Santa Clara, CA  95052-8119

(800) 538-3373

(503) 629-7354

(503) 629-7580 (fax)


LAN Directory 1.5

$495 (50 node license), $395 (additional 100 node license)

NetWare Management 1.5

$495 per server, additional servers $395 

Frye Computer Systems, Inc.

19 Temple Place

Boston, MA 02111

(617) 451-5400

(617) 451-6711 (fax)


LANlord 2.0

$2,495 (50 user license)

Microcom, Inc.

1 Executive Blvd. #4

Yonkers, NY 10701

(914) 968-2300

(800)  822-8224

(914) 968-7100 (fax)


SaberLAN Workstation 2.0 (we tested 1.2)

$39 per workstation (without documentation)

$179 per workstation (with documentation)

Saber Software Corp.

5944 Luther Lane #1007

Dallas, TX 75225

(214) 361-8086

(800) 338-8754

(214) 361-1882 (fax)

Tools for Networks 1.5 (we tested 1.0)

$795 per server, additional servers $595

Xtree Company

4115 Broad Street

San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

(805) 541-0604

(800) 876-6368

(805) 541-4762 (fax)  or 8053?


Product   Console   Engine    Functions offered

AlertView Windows   Windows   APP, EV

Foundation Mgr.          OS/2 OS/2 PA

LANlord        Windows   OS/2 SM, NM, WRC, INV, EV,  

LANDesk   Windows   NetWare + DOS*      SM, NM, WRC, SRC, INV, PA, APP,EV

Lan Directory  DOS  NetWare   INV

NetWare Manage.     DOS  NetWare   NM, SM

LAN Workstation     Windows   (none)    SM, NM, EV, INV, APP

Tools for Networks  DOS  NetWare   SM, NM, WRC, EV, INV

Key to abbreviations:

SM = server manger

NM= node manager

WRC= workstation remote control

SRC= server remote console

INV= inventory 

PA= packet analyzer

APP= applications monitor 

EV=event notifier

*LANDesk requires both NetWare server along with at least one dedicated fast 486 DOS

machine to run its probe software 

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David Strom David Strom Port Washington, NY 11050 USA US TEL: 1 (516) 944-3407