For IT departments and network administrators, keeping track of all the Macs on a local network can be a tricky business. Apple’s Remote Desktop app, one that hasn’t been updated in years, is showing its age. Keeping track of all the Macs on a local network, along with software they’re running, can often descend into a poorly-kept and rarely-updated spreadsheet.
Network Inventory Advisor provides some useful reporting tools to keep track of all the Macs on your local network. Combine its ease at which you can add new Macs to the app with some genuinely useful reporting tools, you’re left with an app that every network admin needs to check out.
Network Inventory Advisor remotely connects to every Mac on your local network that you’ve given it access to and provides detailed reports on the hardware and software it contains. For the security conscious, these reports aren’t invasive and in no way does the app collect personal information. In fact, these basic system reports are nothing more than the information provided by System Profiler and Apple Remote Desktop is capable of generating these reports as well, though with far less grace than Network Inventory Advisor.
Before using Network Inventory Advisor, some best practices are expected. These include a specific administrator account set up on any and all the Macs you wish to track (known only to administrators, of course) and a decent naming scheme is beneficial. It’s often favourable to have a specific administrator account only available to IT staff so users can be given standard accounts and prevented from making fundamental, and potentially problematic, changes.
With the parts you need to do out of the way, Network Inventory Advisor can easily add entire networks of Macs in a single click. Should you prefer, you can specify logins for each individual Mac or groups of Macs.
By providing the appropriate login information within the app, Network Inventory Advisor will scan the entire network, find any Mac it can and then attempt to log in remotely. If successful, it can be added to the app. The whole process is fairly seamless and there are a number of ways you can scan for Macs, whether using Bonjour or specifying a certain network range. This allows for the addition of Macs that may not be accessible otherwise.
Where Network Inventory Advisor trumps Apple Remote Desktop in terms of reporting and gathering information is the well thought out layout of all the individual Mac’s report information. Each Mac is listed within the sidebar and multiple Macs can be grouped together, allowing for organisation by department, floor or even building. This isn’t as intuitive as it could be, you have to select a Mac and then use one of the menus, they can’t simply be dragged to a different group.
System reports are clearly displayed and there is a lot of information that can be gathered, from available hard drive space to attached devices. Again, this isn’t any different than the reports that Apple Remote Desktop can run, but the drawback of Apple’s own software package is that those reports are poorly displayed or have to be saved as text. Network Inventory Advisor provides a much easier way to get an overview of a Mac.
In addition to the standard information that Network Inventory Advisor provides, you can add custom fields to include further information, such as price or desk number. This turns the app from basic system report tool to a fairly flexible database of Macs.
All report information for each Mac is saved into snapshots. You can go back and view previous snapshots to see what has changed, perfect for troubleshooting a problematic Mac that you were sure had a lot more free space before.
While you have Network Inventory Advisor running, it will periodically check all of the listed Macs and update each report accordingly. A useful feature, buried within the preferences, is the ability to specify notifications when certain criteria are met. These are sent to OS X’s Notification Center when triggered, making them a good way to stay on top of changes or critical problems as soon as they are detected.
All reports can be printed, exported to PDF, HTML or even Webarchive.
Costs and Limitations
A network administration tool this isn’t. Network Inventory Advisor is solely a reporting app designed to gather information. It’s very much a passive app and cannot make any changes to any of the Macs it monitors. For this reason, it’s no substitute to Apple Remote Desktop if you’re wanting to perform remote administration and install software or perform maintenance.
Despite the app being easy to use and navigate, there’s no search functionality whatsoever, nor ability to create smart groups. Should you have a hefty number of Macs or a range of custom fields you’ve added to each, there’s no way of searching, filtering or organising this information. This can be very limiting if you’re wanting to find which Macs are not running the latest OS since none of the information is searchable within the app.
Network Inventory Advisor is free for non-commerical use for up to 10 Macs added. Beyond that, pricing starts from $45 for 25 Macs up to $345 for 500. The cost for each Mac drops the more you add. For small companies that have fewer than 25 Macs, $45 is well priced and the information it provides can certainly make any IT department more efficient. When a user calls or raises a ticket to say their Mac is running very slowly, you’ll be able to easily see if their hard drive is almost full and advise them to clear out some old data without making a visit or starting a remote desktop connection.
Network Inventory Advisor is a great app but the lack of search functionality makes it difficult to recommend to anyone managing a potentially large network. While the reports are much easier to gather and view than Apple Remote Desktop, the fact that the content isn’t searchable is a big disadvantage that could be a deal breaker for many.
As someone who has spent many years in Mac support and network administration, I find Network Inventory Advisor’s ability to easily present remote Mac system reports very useful. It’s something I’ve wished Apple Remote Desktop would do for the longest time, but as it hasn’t had an update in so long, it’s looking less and less likely.