By Andrew Garcia  |  Posted 2005-05-02 Print this article Print

Shavlik Technologies LLCs HFNetChkPro 5 Plus features several long-overdue improvements for large networks and remains one of the easiest-to-use patch management packages eWEEK Labs has seen for Windows-based systems.

However, in our tests, HFNetChkPro 5 Plus didnt do enough to distinguish itself from its rivals, which include Microsoft Corp.s no-cost WSUS (Windows Server Update Services) and innovative for-cost solutions from BigFix Inc., Citadel Security Software Inc. and PatchLink Corp.

Click here to read Labs analysis of Windows Server Update Services RC1.
There are four editions in the NetChk Patch family, targeting small, midsize and large companies, as well as consultants. The company has eliminated HFNetChks LT version, which was free for companies supporting fewer than 50 seats. We tested the high-end, enterprise-focused HFNetChkPro 5 Plus, which offers multiple distribution servers, enhanced reporting capabilities and SQL Server database support. A 100-user license for HFNetChkPro 5 Plus costs $25 per managed host, or $21.25 per managed host for 1,000 seats.

HFNetChkPro 5 Plus centralized patching model does not require client agents on each managed host. However, as Microsofts Windows XP Service Pack 2 gains acceptance in corporate networks, desktop firewalls will remain a problem because they block HFNetChkPro 5 Plus scans by default. Administrators using desktop firewalls must ensure that Microsofts common networking ports are accepting requests from the HFNetChkPro 5 Plus server.

The most significant addition to Version 5 is the distribution servers to scale patch deployments to larger networks from one central HFNetChkPro 5 Plus console. We liked that we could place distribution centers in remote locations without needing to install new software, and we created distribution servers on both IIS (Internet Information Services) Web servers and Microsoft file shares. However, competitors have long offered this feature, and WSUS now offers replication as well .

We defined each distribution server in the HFNetChkPro 5 Plus console and synchronized patches with the central repository on the HFNetChkPro 5 Plus server. But Shavlik doesnt provide tools to schedule synchronization events and, instead, requires manual intervention.

Its a snap to get HFNetChkPro 5 Plus up and scanning. The main console page displays options to quickly scan hosts, domains or IP ranges. It is also quite simple to set up groups for long-term management, and we could create them not only by IP ranges or domains but also by Active Directory Organizational Unit.

The console has an easily grasped graphical depiction of each scanned systems state, with sortable lists of patches that are needed or installed. The console shows which patches cant be installed, and a right-click can undo patches that might cause conflicts on a production machine. Patches can be installed on demand or scheduled, and we could set install requirements for different groups.

HFNetChkPro 5 Plus offers a whopping 21 report types, ranging from patches by machine to deployment status reports to machine inventory. Reports can be viewed from the console and exported into Excel, HTML, PDF or XML. We could configure HFNetChkPro 5 Plus to send e-mail status reports immediately after patching jobs.

HFNetChkPro 5 Plus reports are also available from a Web-based Report Server that offers real-time data via an IIS Web server. The Report Server is a good tool for disseminating reports to multiple administrators or executives and includes the full complement of reports that can be obtained from the console. The Report Server can also pull reports from multiple databases if more than one HFNetChkPro 5 Plus server is in use. However, the Report Server relies on the Web server to provide authentication, so theres no way to parse data access to groups or individuals.

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.

Andrew cut his teeth as a systems administrator at the University of California, learning the ins and outs of server migration, Windows desktop management, Unix and Novell administration. After a tour of duty as a team leader for PC Magazine's Labs, Andrew turned to system integration - providing network, server, and desktop consulting services for small businesses throughout the Bay Area. With eWEEK Labs since 2003, Andrew concentrates on wireless networking technologies while moonlighting with Microsoft Windows, mobile devices and management, and unified communications. He produces product reviews, technology analysis and opinion pieces for eWEEK.com, eWEEK magazine, and the Labs' Release Notes blog. Follow Andrew on Twitter at andrewrgarcia, or reach him by email at agarcia@eweek.com.

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