Reviewer: Alan Drury
There’s a lot of talk about ‘the cloud’ these days, so we were intrigued when we were asked to review GFI’s new Cloud offering. Cloud-based solutions have the potential to revolutionise the way we work and make our lives easier, but can reality live up to the hype? Is the future as cloudy as the pundits say? Read on and find out.
What is GFI Cloud?
GFI Cloud is a new service from GFI that provides anti-virus (VIPRE) and workstation/server condition monitoring (Network Server Monitor Online) via the internet. Basically you sign up for GFI Cloud, buy licenses for the services you want and then deploy them to your internet-connected machines no matter where they are. Once that’s done, as long as you have a PC with a web browser you can monitor and control them from anywhere.
In this review we looked at GFI Network Server Monitor Online, but obviously to do that we had to sign up for GFI Cloud first.
Installation of GFI Network Server Monitor Online
Installation is quick and easy; so easy in fact that there’s no good reason for not giving this product a try. The whole installation, from signing up for our free 30-day trial to monitoring our first PC, took barely ten minutes.
To get started, simply follow the link from the GFI Cloud product page and fill in your details:
Next choose the service you’re interested in. We chose Network Server Monitor Online:
Then, after accepting the license agreement, you download and run the installer and that’s pretty much it:
Your selected GFI Cloud products are then automatically monitoring your first machine – how cool is that?
Below is a screenshot of the GFI Cloud desktop. The buttons down the left-hand side and the menu bar across the top let you view the output from either Server Monitor or VIPRE antivirus or, as shown here, you can have a status overview of your whole estate.
We’ve only got one machine set up here but we did add more, and a really useful touch is that machines with problems always float to the top so you need never be afraid of missing something. There’s a handy Filters box through which you can narrow down your view if required. You can add more machines and vary the services running on them, but we’ll come to that later. First let’s have a closer look at Network Server Monitor Online.
How Does It Work?
Network Server Monitor Online uses the GFI Cloud agent installed on each machine to run a series of health checks and report the results. The checks are automatically selected based on the type of machine and its OS. Here’s just a sample of those it applied to our tired XP laptop:
As well as the basics like free space on each of the volumes there’s a set of comprehensive checks to make sure the essential Windows services are running, checks for nasties being reported in the event logs and even a watch on the SMART status of the hard disk.
If these aren’t enough you can add your own similar checks and, usefully, a backup check:
This really is nice – the product supports lots of mainstream backup suites and will integrate with the software to check for successful completion of whatever backup regime you’ve set up. If you’re monitoring a server then that onerous daily backup check is instantly a thing of the past.
As well as reporting into the GFI Cloud desktop each check can email you or, if you add your number to your cloud profile, send you an SMS text alert. So now you can relax on your sun lounger and sip your beer safe in the knowledge that if your phone’s quiet then all is well back at the office.
Adding More Machines To GFI Network Server Monitor Online
Adding more machines is a two-step process. First you need to download the agent installer and run it on the machine in question. There’s no need to login - it knows who you are so you can do a silent push installation and everything will be fine. GFI Cloud can also create a group policy installer for installation on multiple workstations and servers. On our XP machine the agent only took 11k of RAM and there was no noticeable performance impact on any of the machines we tested.
Once the agent’s running the second step is to select the cloud service(s) you want to apply:
When you sign up for GFI cloud you purchase a pool of licenses and applying one to a machine is as simple as ticking a box and almost as quick – our chosen product was up and running on the target machine in less than a minute.
This approach gives you amazing flexibility. You can add services to and remove them from your machines whenever you like, making sure that every one of your purchased licenses is working for you. It’s also scalable – you choose how many licenses to buy so you can start small and add more as you grow. Taking the license off a machine doesn’t remove it from GFI Cloud (it just stops the service) so you can easily put it back again, and if a machine is ever lost or scrapped you can retrieve its licenses and use them somewhere else. Quite simply, you’re in control.
Officially this review is about Network Server Monitor Online, but by adding a machine into GFI Cloud you also get a comprehensive hardware and software audit. This is quite useful in itself but when coupled with Network Server Monitor Online it tells you almost everything you need to know:
On top of this you can reboot machines remotely and see at a glance which machines have been shut down or, more ominously, are supposed to be up but aren’t talking to the cloud.
The whole thing is very easy to use but should you need it the documentation is excellent and you can even download a free e-book to help you on your way.
What GFI has done here is simply brilliant. For a price that even the smallest organisation can afford you get the kind of monitoring, auditing and alerting that you know you need but think you don’t have the budget for. Because it’s cloud-based it’s also a godsend for those with numerous locations or lots of home-workers and road warriors. The low up-front cost and the flexible, scalable, pay-as-you-go licensing should please even the most hard-bitten financial director. And because it’s so easy to use it can sit there working for you in the background while you get on with other things.
Could it be improved? Yes, but even as it stands this is a solid product that brings reliable and useful monitoring, auditing and alerting within the reach of those who can’t justify the expense of dedicated servers and costly software. GFI is on a winner here, and for that reason we’re giving GFI Cloud and GFI Network Server Monitor Online the coveted Firewall.cx ten-out-of-ten award.