Since its inception in 1999, NetBotz has become well-known for its environmental monitoring equipment - not least with the WallBotz 500, which we reviewed last year. The NetBotz 420 is a new monitoring appliance for mid-range applications, less expandable and with a lower-resolution camera, but with a lower price tag. Although older (pre-WallBotz 500) units run different internal firmware (and are therefore slightly different from modern ones to configure) the company is working toward a single software base, which will help organisations that use more than one different version; the NB420 therefore runs the same software version as the bigger 500.

The NB420 is an all-in-one black box with a camera built into the front panel and a number of internal sensors that monitor humidity, temperature, airflow and sound volume. There are also four ports into which external sensors (see here for a review of some of them) can be connected, and a jack plug into which an on/off-type device such as a door or window switch can be plugged.

Like its siblings, the unit is configured using a Java-based console application. To get started you can either set the device's address using an RS-232 connection or let it grab an IP itself via DHCP. We chose the DHCP route, and then checked our DHCP server's log to see what address had been allocated. Once you know the address, you point the Java configuration program at the unit and set the options from there. Note that although we connected our unit on wired Ethernet, there's a PCMCIA slot to take a wireless card instead.

Because the purpose of the device is to alert you to problems with its surroundings, you use the configuration application to set the various thresholds above which you want to be alerted. Naturally you also want to tell it how to notify you - you can choose between sending an email, uploading files (most probably pictures of intruders) to an FTP server, generating an SNMP trap or making an HTTP POST request to a Web server. Because you can connect external pods such as an output relay unit, you can also have the NB420 turn external devices on and off - so you could make it switch the lights on in the event of any or all of the various alerts, for instance. Oh, and there's a collection of LEDs on the front panel that show both activity, such as the LAN link and general status lights, and alerts. with an LED for each of the internal sensors, plus one that glows if an external pod shows an issue.

Day-to-day monitoring of the device is done via a standard Web browser, which means that wherever you are you can take a peek at the current conditions, along with recent history (just how far back you can look depends on how much data you chose to store in the configuration screens). Because security's an obvious consideration for a device that tells you stuff about your office or server room, access is restricted by user ID/password authentication and IP address, and certificated SSL connectivity is supported both for the Web interface and for the management application.

Like the other units in the range, the NB420 is simple to use and the straightforward GUI makes it a breeze to install. Physical mounting of the unit is achieved via an articulated plastic bracket that's included in the box, which you screw to the back of the unit and then screw either to a wall or to a rack (or, in the case of the WallBotz 500 we have in our lab, to a lump of MDF that sits on a shelf).

The NB420 is a well-implemented, sensibly specified new product in the NetBotz line that strikes a balance between functionality and price, and which will therefore be more attractive than its more complex sibling to the average organisation with modest requirements.


Although the sensor pod isn't detachable, this unit will probably cater for the needs of the vast majority of organisations.