Why monitor the network?
One of the hardest tasks to handle in a medium to large network is tracking various assets. This includes computers and their installed hardware, and installed software and related licenses.
Fortunately, Lansweeper from Hemoco Software comes to the rescue with a simple to install, simple to use application. Using a small footprint GUI and a web application, Lansweeper can run reports and show extensive information as to what’s in the environment. What’s more, Lansweeper gives the admin some control of those computers that other tools can’t, or are too cumbersome to use.
The prerequisites for installing Lansweeper are fairly simple. The Windows 2003 server that will be running the app needs to have .Net Framework 2.0 and Internet Information Systems (IIS) installed. Lansweeper also stores it’s data in SQL, so access to SQL Server 2000 or later, or SQL express, is required. This can be on the local server, or a remote, dedicated SQL server.
Installation is very straightforward. The installer prompts for the website virtual directory name, installation path, and service account credentials. The service account must have administrative access to whatever resources you’ll be monitoring. Domain administrator access is preferred.
Once installed, some minor steps are needed so that remote computers can check in. A simple .exe file runs on each machine at bootup. The easiest way to accomplish this is via a group policy. The excellent documentation for Lansweeper walks the administrator through each step of creating the GPO and linking the .exe file. The next time computers boot, they’ll begin checking in with the server running Lansweeper.
How Lansweeper works
Once machines start checking in, they are visible in the web interface for Lansweeper. When launched, the web interface opens to the Digital Dashboard as seen in Figure 1 below.
The Digital Dashboard provides a general overview of information on the environment, including high priority and important and informational alerts. Each is a hyperlink to one of more than 80 detailed reports, allowing the administrator to drill down to the minutest detail. Other views in the web interface include the Software and Hardware reports, General Reports, and two pages of license compliance – one for applications, and one for Operating Systems. The license compliance reports, as shown in Figure 2 below, are a great way to see a snapshot of how many licenses you’ve paid for, how many are actually in use, and on which computers.
The report will also show how many licenses are missing, and a cost for those licenses. All of this information, including which licenses you’d like to track, is completely customizable.
A great feature of this product is the screen for a specific computer. Along the left side is a comprehensive list of tools and actions that an admin can take against the selected computer, as seen in Figure 3 below.
By using the Workstation Action screen, you can choose to VNC to the PC, use Remote Desktop, access event viewer, reboot/shutdown the PC, and use TCP/IP utilities like ping. As with all things in lansweeper these actions are completely customizable and you can even run your own scripts with it. In the center section is a detailed description of the computer, including OS, service pack level, processor and memory info, and more. A list of high priority, important, and informational alerts, similar to the Digital Dashboard, is also located here. A nice feature is a link for each network card in the remote computer that allows the administrator to initiate a Wake On LAN request.
Above these are links to more detailed info on the computer, including display, boot, and disk information. If there’s one thing Lansweeper isn’t lacking, it’s access to information on a remote computer.
The web interface also provides a rich searching experience when looking for specific computers, users, or software applications.
Customizing the interface
What really sets this product apart from others is the flexibility. Using the GUI interface on the Lansweeper server, an admin can customize screens for the web interface to tailor their environment. This includes adding or removing tools and other items from the Action screen, configuring license monitoring, configuring what aspects of remote computers are scanned, and other features. A nice aspect of customizing the licensing component is that the list of available applications is comprised of what’s been found in the environment. If an application hasn’t been detected on at least one machine, it’s not present in the list, as seen in Figure 4 below. Additional features, including the ability to select multiple computers and delete them, adding and removing custom reports, and customizing the Digital Dashboard, is also possible.
Hemoco Software also has a premium upgrade that adds remote screenshot, a report builder, active directory integration and other features for a ridiculously low price. Their website also includes support forums where other users of the software list their customizations and suggestions to further enhance the product.
This is an awesome product that takes a lot of the guesswork out of managing computer resources. There certainly are other more powerful, more expensive solutions out there. But Lansweeper is an excellent, free, solution that gives an administrator flexibility and control over their assets. As with any application that’s as feature rich and powerful as Lansweeper, it can take some time to get completely configured. But the time invested is well worth the return. I can’t recommend this application enough.
For more information, see Lansweeper.
Got a question? Post it on our Windows Server 2008 forums!