NetCrunch, by Adrem Software, starts at $1,450 per year and represents a very capable entry into the network monitoring arena. NetCrunch is blessed with a very attractive interface and does well in terms of reporting and day-to-day management features. However, the fact that it really requires a fat client adds enough mobility and remote access restrictions to keep it behind our Editors’ Choice winners in this category, Ipswitch WhatsUp Gold and Paessler PRTG Network Monitor.
Pricing and Plans
The basic package mentioned above includes the ability to monitor just SNMP-based devices; the full monitoring suite will cost significantly more, namely $7,460 if you want every add-on. Like WhatsUp Gold, Adrem prefers to work on a quote by quote basis since there are many options, so it’s best to use the quote tool on the website or contact one of their sales people directly. While the full price sounds like a pretty penny, it’s actually very competitive even when compared to tools that make a point of being price-friendly, like ManageEngine OpManager.
Another plus to the cost will be the target installation machine. The NetCrunch Platform Server needs to be installed on a Windows 7 64-bit (or Windows 10) system powered by at least 2 CPU cores, 3.5 gigabytes (GB) of RAM, and with a minimum of 5 GB of available disk space. As a native Windows application, it’s not something you’ll be able to easily access remotely without a remote access scheme in place, so if you’re like most IT pros and you’re access your networks from home these days, then it’s imperative all of that ready ahead of time. The latest web version of NetCrunch offers some ability to view the network status, run reports, and similar activity, but if you want full administrative control, you’ll need the fat client. For the try-before-you-buy folks, a free 30 day trial is available on their website.
Installation and Interface
The install is one of the most positive aspects of NetCrunch. As a native Windows application, it installs like any such app, namely mainly through a wizard-driven process. What makes it unique is what happens when you finish. Upon starting the Netcrunch Monitor, it asks you to log into your NetCrunch account to validate your license. From there it simply starts scanning for available networks and asks you which one you want to scan for devices. From this point forward, it goes to work automatically looking for devices on your network. After it finishes, it determines what kind of credentials you need to provide to get access to the devices it found. After that, you’re done. Of all the products tested, NetCrunch was by far the easiest to set up and configure.
The interface is what you’d hope for from a fat client, namely robust and well crafted. However, the fact that it’s a fat client presents its own difficulties. Not only is it not as convenient as cloud service solutions, like Datadog, it means you need to install it on every system from which you might want to administer NetCrunch. This also implies some artful Virtual Private Network (VPN) or remote access gateway configuration to ensure you can administer it remotely. For IT road warriors, which could be the majority in this age of the coronavirus, this could be a major deal breaker. Nearly every monitoring tool these days can be fully utilized from a web based interface, so it was a bit of a surprise to see that this one wasn’t. Even tools like PRTG and WhatsUp Gold that have locally installed back ends generally make sure that IT pros can use them with a browser on the front end. However, if you’re content with a view only interface, you can get to NetCrunch remotely via a web browser, but functionality currently stops there.
If you can get past the fat client limit, however, there’s a lot to like about NetCrunch’s look and feel, which is quite attractive and well beyond apps with more dated interfaces, like Nagios XI and Vallum Halo. Along the left hand side, you will see a high level breakdown of different views and whether or not any alerts, in red, or monitoring issues, in yellow, are present. Simply clicking on that section brings it up in the middle view. It provides some system information and a clearly defined reason that illustrates why the system is misbehaving. If you double click on that, you can drill down until you find the yellow or red dots. Those are the settings you need to change to fix the problem.
The middle section shows details for the currently selected view. This can be anything from a list of the current nodes to an absolutely beautiful automatically generated graphical map of your network. The best part is that no matter how you are viewing your network devices, they are nearly always clickable and allow drill down into details to quickly resolve anything out of order.
Adding Devices and Configuring Alerts
Autodiscovery is truly automatic in NetCrunch. It requires very little interaction and begins running the moment you install it. However, if you want to get a single device added, there are a few ways to go about it. The traditional method of adding an IP Node is available if you want to hunt and peck. Alternatively, you can extend the reach of the polling agent by installing it on other networks. This will allow the auto-discovery process to work for you. The level of unattended operation is perhaps the greatest quality of NetCrunch. If, for some reason, something gets missed, and you need to add an individual device, adding an Internet Protocol (IP) node is as simple as selecting add from the Atlas menu.
Setting up alerts is easy once you know what to do. Alerts take the form of scripts that you can build up straight from the user interface (UI). All you have to do is click add notification and follow the steps. There are a number of basic actions that are available, such as playing a sound, notifying a user or group, or sending out an email. However, you also have a great deal of additional latitude under the control menu, which lets you perform system actions such as restarting a machine, running a script, terminating a process, and more. While it’s not quite as flexible here as PRTG, it’s fairly close. You can effectively automate most of the initial troubleshooting steps that plague network admins. At the very least, you can nearly eliminate the phrase, “have you tried turning it off and on again?”
Reports are also sophisticated and pleasant to use. Nearly every view offers the ability to either create a report from the current view or jump to all possible reports. Reports can be scheduled as well, so if you have need of a regular report, then NetCrunch has you covered. If I have a complaint, it’s that there isn’t an option for exporting reports to Excel. PDF if the only option you have. While this is a minor annoyance, it’s not uncommon to want a good data dump that you can sort through.
NetCrunch is every bit as sophisticated as our editor’s choice winners, but the lack of a complete web based interface keeps it from floating to the top of the list. Having robust mobile and remote access is more than just a nice feature these days. It’s a requirement. That said, NetCrunch does a darn good job of automating device discovery and management. It makes a point to keep you on top of managing your network with clearly defined alerts. We hope that NetCrunch will move to a web based platform soon, but for now, you can check out our editor’s choice winners, IPSwitch WhatsUp Gold and Paessler PRTG Network Monitor.
The Bottom Line
NetCrunch is beautiful and feature-rich, but it hasn’t fully adopted the web-based interfaces used by nearly every other product out there. While some ability to view the network status is in place in the browser, true remote management is currently out of reach without installing a fat client.
|Traffic Monitoring/Packet Inspection||Yes|
|Mobile Device Support||Yes|
|Application Programming Interface (API)||Yes|