Our review unit, the “standard” product shipped as a pre-installed appliance, is on a 1U rack-mountable server (the NBC software itself is Linux-based). There’s also an “enterprise” version, which ships on a larger server with a shedload of disk space, and which is targeted at companies with loads of NetBotzes hurling traffic around at high frame rates. Once we’d overcome the minor issue of not knowing the device’s IP address (it wasn’t a default 192.168.1.1 job), getting started was simply a case of turning the unit on, giving it a couple of minutes to boot, and then pointing a Web browser at it from a Windows PC. There’s a very basic pre-configuration screen you can use to define the IP address, machine name, network mask and default router, which is accessed through a null-modem serial cable into the machine’s COM1 port, but the main management work is done through the Web interface. The first job is to install the management console application to your desktop PC. It’s available for both Windows and Linux (we chose the Windows one). Although the installer is tens of megabytes in size, this isn’t a problem because it’s copying over a LAN connection anyway. There’s a heavy Java emphasis in the control panel program and so as well as installing the proprietary code it also drops a Java Virtual Machine on your PC. We used an old Pentium-II Dell Latitude running Windows 2000 Pro as the management station and the installation process took about five minutes (note that as well as the code, the installer copies a pile of PDF-based documentation over as well). All Change
The user interface of the console application has the fairly obvious two-pane approach. The system summary information is on the left and when you select something to look at it’ll appear in the larger, right-hand pane. As you’d expect you can click on an individual device to set any of its parameters, or look at the current status of the various sensors (door switches, cameras, humidity detectors, etc). What NBC brings is the ability to configure a number of devices at the same time and apply the same setting. So, if you decide that (say) a temperature threshold across all your devices is too low or too high, you can make one change that percolates out to all the devices you’ve chosen. Because the architecture of the NetBotz device range has evolved, each of the “mass configuration” screens (those that allow multiple devices to be reconfigured in a single sweep) is split into two areas – one for NetBotz 500-series units and another for the old NetBotz 300- and 400-series. This is, presumably, because for some measurements there are different parameters to configure on the two different families of device. For example, one of the key differences is that the 500-series have removable sensor ‘pods’, while they are permanently built into the older versions. As a result, the status panel on the mass configuration screen has an extra column for the removable pod’s status. As well as configuring devices remotely, the console will also keep an eye on what’s happening with each of the devices – whether they are online, for instance. So, while the remote devices themselves monitor their locality and alert you to problems, the console will poll the devices to check they’re still there. Any errors are put in a list that you can drill down into, to see the detail. Unsurprisingly, you can also apply firmware upgrades to your units from the central console. It’s as simple as telling the NBC server to check the company’s Web site for updates, downloading them to the local disk and then selecting the machines to send the various updates to (as expected, there’s one version for the 300- and 400-series and another for the 500-series). Self-manage
The final thing you can do with the NBC is manage the unit itself. There’s a screen full of server management options, which deal with everything from log file management, disk space monitoring, backups of the configuration (either to an NFS-mounted disk or a Windows fileshare) and user/group management (you can allow different levels of access to different users, so some individuals can only monitor activities and others can make changes). NetBotz Central is extremely useful for anyone who has a collection of NetBotz units and no inclination to spend all afternoon making the same change, over and over again, to a fleet of devices, one-by-one. Naturally, there’s a cost involved with running NBC but if your enterprise is large enough to warrant having a number of monitoring devices the effort you save, and the benefit of managing everything from a central point, will, in our opinion, quickly pay back the cost.
When you’re using devices that push lots of image traffic across the network you need to be careful to choose the settings of the devices, so they’re not swamping the network.