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Review: Network Admin for iPhone

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Network Admin is an iPhone app that ‘s aimed at network admins and IT consultants “ as it is focused on helping you keep up-to-date records of clients ‘ network configurations and overall IT environments.  It is meant help in areas like asset tracking and configuration management “ for things like workstations, servers, firewalls, routers, switches and similar equipment.

I ‘ve worked in tech support and network management for many years, and as an IT consultant for the last five “ so an app of this sort is interesting to me.  I ‘m always glad to see iPhone apps that can potentially make tech jobs easier.

What Does It Do?

Network Admin provides you with a (very basic) framework to track information on client assets “ PCs, various types of network device, and printers are covered by its main categories but it ‘s easy to add your own categories if you also want to track software, other peripherals or whatever else is relevant in environments you work with.

It lets you group assets / configuration information under ‘Profiles ‘ “ so you could setup a profile for each client company you work with, for example. You can also add users to the program “ so that you can share your collected information with colleagues “ in a limited way.

What Does It Do Well?

The default set of categories cover a fairly useful “ though not comprehensive “ range of items you ‘re likely to deal with in a support / IT consultancy sort of role “ and the ability to create custom categories is very welcome, as every client environment is unique.

The app lets you create a 4-digit PIN to offer an element of security when accessing it, and keeps its information encrypted with 128-bit AES encryption.  It also lets you set access levels “ with Managers, Users etc. setup within it “ to control who has access to what within the app.

Data is stored encrypted on a central database server (which has a GeoTrust SSL certificate as its only security reference) and decrypted on the fly when you launch the app.

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What ‘s Not So Good?

Network Admin provides no templates for any of the asset or device types that its categories cover.  So, it ‘s all well and good to be able to choose Routers or Servers as the category for a new item, but once you do so, you ‘re presented with a blank slate.  There are no typical fields provided to be able to quickly add common data associated with each type of device.

So you ‘re faced with creating all of your templates / layouts for collecting and tracking information from scratch.  For example, for workstations you might want to record the Make / Model, the user or office location its linked to, hard drive details, RAM, OS version, and so on.  You ‘ll have to add all those fields yourself, and do it for every category, and do it all on the iPhone “ as there ‘s no companion desktop app for Network Admin, or ability to import any of this from an existing system.

For any independent consultants or IT companies who have been around for any length of time, this means reinventing the wheel in a huge way “ as a system for this is very likely to exist already.

The system for sharing of information is also a very weak point for the app.  It provides only very minimal details on its ‘central database ‘ “ and seems to expect that folks will be happy to shift their own or, even more to the point, clients ‘ confidential data into it. I ‘d wager that a tremendously low percentage of consultants would feel at all good about doing this.  Data security is a critical issue in IT “ and the current offering and explanations provided within the app don ‘t inspire a great deal of trust.

Overall

Network Admin could be a useful app, but it would need to change in some very fundamental ways to get there.  First off, it needs to provide some real templates and forms for the common categories it covers “ which should be simple to do for servers, workstations, routers, firewalls, and all the others.  Sure, being able to add to these and customize them is a must “ but the app needs to provide a decent start, not a blank page. 

It also needs to have an ability to let you import things done on a desktop “ so if you ‘re heavily modifying a template or creating a new one, it does not all need to be done on the iPhone itself.

Most importantly, the app needs to have an ability to tie into at least some standard existing systems (which may just be too steep a challenge) to be really viable.  Apart from someone brand new to the IT / support field, all other potential users for this app are going to have some sort of systems they already work with “ from simple Excel spreadsheets or in-house databases, up to Sharepoint servers or other specialized applications.  In order to get any serious consideration from IT professionals, Network Admin needs to be able to tie into at least some of these standard systems. 

If it doesn ‘t address the above issues, then to my mind Network Admin is really only an option for one-person outfits who are just getting into the IT field, or similar situations “ and even then, it needs to do far better on the templates / forms side of things to be a strong option.

Network Admin is in the App Store now, and costs $5.99.

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