Product review: AppManager 3.0 sharpens NT management

With so many management tools flooding the market, separating the standout tools from the ordinary ones is getting more difficult. Identifying a niche makes this easier, and NetIQ continues to lead the Windows NT niche with its AppManager Suite 3.0, which manages NT-based environments. From network services to server-based applications, AppManager 3.0 is a tough contender for managing large NT shops.

AppManager provides a strong set of management capabilities for NT-based servers, network services, and applications. Its core strengths are its reporting facilities and customisation capabilities. Although I really liked AppManager's management capabilities, some management tasks could be a little easier. And because it remains a special-purpose management tool, you will still need a host of other products to manage your network and desktop resources.

This upgrade expands AppManager's reporting features, improves its distributed management capabilities, and provides new agent modules, including ones that support Hewlett-Packard TopTools and Dell OpenManage. AppManager 3.0 also adds management agent support for Citrix WinFrame, Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 Terminal Server Edition, and Oracle7.3 and Oracle8.0.

Additionally, NetIQ has beefed up AppManager's Web-based console, giving full access to its capabilities via a typical Web browser. Unfortunately, I noticed some mild rendering problems with the Java applets used in the browser-based console.

When it comes to managing Windows NT environments, AppManager is hard to beat. It has built-in support for several typical NT performance counters and various server-based applications. I employed six NT servers, using multiple domains and monitoring typical NT performance metrics -- including DNS, Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, and Windows Internet Name Service features -- to test AppManager 3.0.

For server-based applications, I ran the software against Microsoft SQL Server 6.5 and 7.0, Internet Information Server, Exchange Server, and Lotus Domino. I was impressed with AppManager's depth in monitoring the applications and services. The tool eases automating event-based behaviour based on threshold exceptions or other criteria.

AppManager performs its data-gathering functions by scavenging NT's event logs, monitoring Performance Monitor counters, and running some additional automation routines. It uses a series of knowledge scripts to enable the monitoring of events or actions. The knowledge scripts are written in VBScript, and I was able to quickly create copies of the default scripts and modify them with the product's built-in script editor.

AppManager 3.0's operator console offers a consolidated interface for viewing server status, errors, and reports. Performing some console tasks, such as assigning multiple jobs to particular servers, was cumbersome. NetIQ should implement in AppManager a basic group structure that would ease the process when administrators want to assign a series of related jobs to different servers.

In addition, version 3.0 has a few new administrative functions, including a Distributed Event Console that lets administrators group together several AppManager Management Servers for quick administrative access. I also liked its Security Manager, which allowed me to implement granular, roles-based security policies. AppManager 3.0 also has snap-in support for Microsoft Management Console.

I was disappointed by one limitation: AppManager 3.0 requires SQL Server 6.5 for its underlying data store; the product failed to install using SQL Server 7.0. This isn't a big deal for Microsoft-centric shops , but connectivity enabling Oracle, Sybase, and Informix support would be an improvement.

AppManager 3.0 continues to be a strong server management solution for NT shops. Although this release improves on the previous version, it could still benefit from interface enhancements and integrated support for more server-based applications, particularly backup products and third-party products such as Netscape servers.

Senior Analyst Jeff Symoens can be reached at jeff_symoens@infoworld.comThe bottom line: VERY GOODAppManager Suite 3.0With its robust monitoring and enhanced reporting capabilities, AppManager remains one of the top management tools for Windows NT-focused shops.

Pros: Expanded hardware and software agent support; good Web console; strong customisationCons: Requires SQL Server 6.5 as underlying data store; could use interface improvements and support for more server application softwareNetIQ, Santa Clara,California; (888) 462-7647 (toll-free); fax: (408) 330-0959; www.netiq.comPrice: Starts at $2500 per console and $600 per managed nodePlatforms: NT 3.51, NT 4.0, Intel, and DEC Alpha

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