SAN MATEO (04/10/2000) - A big network often calls for a big network management tool, which usually translates into a big price. Many companies purchase a major network management suite, only to find that it doesn't cover all of what they need. But surprisingly, a few low-cost tools can take care of entire networks -- even for large corporations.
In keeping with this high-cost mentality, people may see WhatsUp Gold 5's modest $695 price tag and dismiss the product as just a way to get into network management on a lite-beer budget. But Ipswitch Inc.'s WhatsUp Gold, is more than an inexpensive way to manage a network: It's a complete network management package with enough features to keep even the most demanding network managers happy.
WhatsUp Gold tracks devices and services on your network, allows you to send appropriate alerts to staff members so problems can be resolved in a timely way, works with SNMP, keeps history on monitored devices, and can be used from a Web browser on other systems. Business leaders will be impressed by the productivity boost it can give to enterprises. It was unflappable in my testing, and it easily earned its rating of Excellent.
It is hard to pin down WhatsUp Gold's competitors. Because of its low price, there are no direct competitors. But several times during the past few years, product managers for more expensive products have told me that they consider WhatsUp Gold their most significant competitor. The only product that is fairly comparable, GenevaSoft's AlertPage, was purchased by Platinum Technology, which sold AlertPage's descendant, Platinum Network Monitor. Computer Associates then acquired Platinum Technology, and the product has become hard to find and is more expensive than WhatsUp Gold.
Setup without a hitch
As I have come to expect from Ipswitch products, the installation was easy and the manual was clear and helpful. The worst part about setting up a network-monitoring package is usually the initial scan and setup.
Most of the packages I've seen lately will over-scan, ignoring the subnet boundaries and picking up other companies as well as your own. Then they return too little information. By interrogating a router on my network that supported SNMP, WhatsUp Gold pleasantly surprised me by knowing what was on my network in seconds.
I would have preferred to scan the nodes for services in batch mode and to use a scheduler because scanning for services took about half a minute per device I checked. Nevertheless, WhatsUp Gold offers subnet scanning, manual input, and importation of data files to populate its network map for sites that don't have an SNMP-based router.
In the past, the worst shortfall of WhatsUp Gold, compared to larger management packages, was its inability to support multiple management consoles. Additional copies of WhatsUp Gold were less expensive than an additional management console for other products. Ipswitch addressed this by allowing good Web access via WhatsUp Gold's internal Web server.
Remote use via Web server
Ipswitch has enhanced WhatsUp Gold's internal Web server, and using WhatsUp Gold remotely is almost as effective as using it on the console.
On the plus side, WhatsUp Gold's Web server is largely browser-independent; I used Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Netscape's Navigator, and Opera's Opera with good results. If you are running WhatsUp Gold as a service on a Windows NT machine, the Web service will start automatically with the machine, which allows WhatsUp Gold to act as a monitor in remote sites, even in sites with no technical staff.
WhatsUp Gold continues to offer its Network Tools submenu. These tools allowed me to work on a network at a low level, look at ping time, do Whois lookups, and so on. The functions have been extended across the previous versions.
The most significant change is the addition of time-server monitoring. You can select a number of timeservers to monitor, and the monitor package can keep your PC on time. All the Network Tools functions are available separately in the WS_Ping Pro Pack for less than $37.40 a copy.
Ipswitch has added an SNMP graphing utility to WhatsUp Gold. This allowed me to track any SNMP field on any of my systems that supported SNMP. I used it to track traffic patterns and loads, and it worked very well.
A report generator also has been added to the package that allowed me to look at the different nodes and their performances. The report generator was flexible, and although I wasn't crazy about the reports, they are useful for management presentations.
WhatsUp Gold also will monitor IPX-based networks and Windows NT-based networks. To monitor IPX, however, it is necessary to use the Microsoft IPX stack, which most NetWare administrators, myself included, would rather not do.
During my tests, we didn't have any NT servers online, so both of these functions were passed over.
At the end of every test, I uninstalled the software. WhatsUp Gold uninstalled as easily as it installed, another example of the quality that earned it a score of Excellent, which makes it easy for me to recommend it highly.
WhatsUp Gold is an affordable and powerful network-monitoring tool and a class act from start to finish. Its grace and power makes it easy for every level of network manager to monitor and manage networks.
The new feature that stands out in WhatsUp Gold is its capability of using an SNMP-based router to do the initial network scan, which is a major time-saver.
The value of the product is even more amazing when you realize that the price of Whatsup Gold still hasn't increased since Ipswitch introduced it.
Mike Avery (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a networking consultant in Beaumont, Texas.
THE BOTTOM LINE: EXCELLENT
Ipswitch WhatsUp Gold 5.0
Business Case: This network management product offers ease of use, excellent network management tools, rock-solid performance, and an unbeatable price. It will pay for itself the first time it is used.
Technology Case: A powerful range of tools in WhatsUp Gold allows the network manager to monitor networks, set alert conditions, and send alerts to staff members. With it, the network manager can look at -- and into -- almost every device on a network.
+ Reduction in the number of foreign devices found during setup scans via improved network scan+ SNMP-graphing functions for at-a-glance performance tracking+ Improved Web-server functions via simplified remote monitoringCons:
- Requires use of Microsoft IPX stack to monitor IPX networksCost: $695Platform(s): Windows 95/98, Windows NT; Intel 386 processor or higher.
Ipswitch Inc., Lexington, Mass.; (781) 676-5700; www.ipswitch.com