Remote Monitoring Software: N-central Review

N-Central is a remote monitoring and management system that is geared towards managed service providers and larger IT departments.  Managed service providers (MSP’s) can use to manage multiple customer networks using the dashboard that makes it easy to add additional sites or customers.  The dashboard also allows an MSP to monitor the customers’ desktops, servers, and network devices that have been set up to be managed remotely.  Network devices can also be troubleshooted, controlled, and serviced remotely using N-Central.

N-Central can be used by an MSP to remotely deliver services for small and medium-sized business whereas IT departments for larger corporations can also use it to remotely monitor and deliver services to their internal customers and across multiple business locations. Since N-Able gave us access to one of their N-Central servers, we were able to test the newest version of N-Central, Version 8.1 which was still in beta testing at the time of the review.

Although we have never used or reviewed earlier editions of N-Central, a number of new or improved features were listed on the latest version. Some of the more note-worthy ones include:

  • Automated Warranty Expiry Monitoring – allows N-Central to gather warranty expiry dates for HP, Dell, Lenovo, Toshiba, Acer, Apple and Gateway devices.
  • Configurable Expiry Time – This is essential because it allows an MSP or an IT department to specify another time within a 30-day window, in which to execute a task that missed its originally scheduled time.
  • Android App – added to available downloadable software.  The Android app allows an MSP or an IT department to view devices, alerts, active issues, and other needed items using N-Central.
  • Support of new versions of Firefox – N-Central currently supports Version 5 and will add new versions as they are released.
  • Support for Windows Home Server 2011 and Windows SBS server 2011
  • Improvements to monitoring capabilities of VMware-driven servers.
  • Additional scheduling options

Operating Procedures

Upon logging into the N-Central server, we were immediately on the “Add Customer” wizard view.  The wizard will walk the user through the process of adding a new customer (i.e. a new network to monitor).  Included in the wizard the user will find embedded videos which explain in great detail the process of adding customers and adding devices.  This answers most of the questions without the need to contact support or consulting the company’s website for answers.

After adding a customer, N-Central automatically places the user on the “Add Device” screen. Here, devices can be easily added using a couple of different methods. The Windows probe can be downloaded to assist in discovering the devices on a network. A single workstation or server can also be added by installing an agent on the individual station. Lastly, a device can be added manually. None of the methods seemed too difficult, especially for technically-oriented individuals.

When using a probe to discover devices on a network, the probe must be installed on a Windows machine, and according to the videos in the wizard, preferably on a Windows network device that will not change its password.  This allows the N-Central server to use the probe to update devices and add new devices. The probe should be downloaded and installed on the Windows device directly whereas an agent can be added remotely to an individual workstation or server according to documentation.

Once the probe is installed, the user will have to input information including the IP range of the network on which the probe is to discover devices. Data can be gathered on Windows, Mac and Linux devices along with a variety of network devices such as firewalls, switches and routers amongst others. When the probe finishes discovering devices on the network, some or all of them can be imported.  After this step the devices are ready to be managed.

It is recommended that an agent will be installed for mobile devices such as laptops. This allows N-Central to manage them even though they might not have been connected to the local network when the probe was installed.  Documentation states that additional capabilities are available on the network devices when an agent is installed even if the devices have been already discovered using the probe.  Agents are available for Windows, Mac and Linux devices along with mobile apps for iPhone and Android.

The user can have N-Central hosted on their own site or can access it via the web depending on the user’s needs and capabilities. N-Central also allows technicians to connect to their customer’s computer remotely through the “Help Desk” feature in order to provide support for devices that are not part of N-Central but may require technical support. Since most IT environments are very fluid, this allows technicians to service a computer that has not yet been added to N-Central.

The user will especially like N-Central’s different dashboard views and the ease of editing each dashboard.  The editing capabilities for the server dashboard view can be seen in the screenshot below.  Services and filters can also be added or subtracted.

Patch Management is available using N-Central although the update process must be integrated with the Microsoft WSUS server.  Support for any other update servers or services is not available.  The user will notice, though, that N-Central allows automatic script execution.  An updated script for Linux and Mac devices could be written to get around the issue with the Microsoft WSUS server.

For managed service providers and corporate IT departments, N-Central is definitely worth looking into. Since N-Central’s other features are quite numerous, it was impossible to include them all in this review. Prospective customers should check out the free trials that are available on the .