Scan your network for a global view of your infrastructure

CoperNet’s NTRama 3.0 is a network-discovery and inventory tool that scans your network’s Windows 2000, Windows NT, and Windows 9x computers. The software saves the results to a central ODBC-compliant database file, on which you can run queries to obtain a global vision of your infrastructure. CoperNet didn’t design NTRama as an end-all network-management application. Instead, NTRama is a scaled-down solution that functions impressively as a scanner, requiring no software agents on any other computer on the network.

You must install and run NTRama on a Win2K or NT server. To install NTRama, open the self-extracting executable file from the CD-ROM. The installation program’s wizard-based interface lets you select from a list the computers that you want to scan. Alternatively, you can scan a range of IP addresses. Next, you enter a valid connection string that NTRama will use to access the database (in which the software will store collected data), then choose the elements you want to scan for inclusion in the database. You can scan for information about hotfixes, specific files, event logs, scheduler jobs, network adapters, installed services, SAMs, ACLs, and specific partitions, as Figure 1 shows. The software also lets you scan for information about local groups, shares, network configurations, user accounts, service packs, licensing, Windows versions, TCP/IP configurations, and more.

One limitation is that you must provide the database on which to store the data that NTRama collects, and you must know how to extract the desired information from that database. NTRama supports all major relational database systems, including Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft Access, Oracle, and IBM DB2. NTRama uses ODBC to access these databases internally. Alternatively, you can use language-independent ActiveX Data Objects (ADOs) to connect a Web page to your ODBC-compliant database, then create custom Web-based reports. After you perform a scan, you’ll use a database-query tool to extract the data that you need. If you’re not proficient at running queries on a database, you’ll need to hone your database skills to get the most out of NTRama. The software’s Getting Started Guide shows how to run a sample query in Access.

After you complete the wizard, a status screen appears, and you’re ready to scan your network. The length of a scan depends on the number of servers and elements that you’ve selected to scan. You can select a few elements to scan and make multiple scans (my preference), or you can scan everything on all computers at once. Some of my scans took days to complete, although simple scans took only a few minutes. When the software finishes a scan, it creates a database file that contains the scan results. At this point, NTRama’s work is done. Extracting the information you want is up to you. After a network scan finds, for example, that a server is missing a service pack installation, the software offers no suggestions or means to update the server.

You can perform many separate scans and save the results to different files, or you can use one file and simply write over previous scan results. NTRama generates snapshot files so that you can monitor network evolution. The software’s Snapshot Cleaner removes old scan files. Other utilities include a Query Designer that you can use if your database system lacks sophisticated query tools, a Scheduler that lets you schedule unattended scans, an Audit Report Macro for Microsoft Word 2000, and Crystal Reports templates.

NTRama suffers from a lack of thorough documentation. All documentation is available online and in PDF format on the distribution CD-ROM. After wading through the company’s marketing documentation, I finally found the NT-specific Getting Started Guide. I was further frustrated to find that the guide covers only NTRama’s basics.

NTRama performs one task well: network scanning. Impressively, scans consume minimal bandwidth—unless you scan the event logs, which can become quite large. As a management tool, NTRama seems half-baked. However, the product’s scaled-down functionality might benefit companies that have specific needs. For example, if you need a scanner to complement your existing management solution, this tool is for you. NTRama is certainly cheaper than more complete network-management software suites. You can download a demonstration version from the company’s Web site and find the pricing breakdowns for the number of computers that you’ll need to scan in your network.

NTRama 3.0
Contact: CoperNet * (33) (05) 59-43-55-20
Web: http://www.copernet.com
Price: $487 for 100 users
Decision Summary:
Pros: Scans all Windows computers on the network without requiring software agents; consumes minimal bandwidth
Cons: Offers limited functionality; provides no solution for extracting or viewing scanned data; provides insufficient documentation