N-central: Inexpensive way to do a lot of things with a single tool
July 21, 2019

N-central: Inexpensive way to do a lot of things with a single tool

Anonymous | TrustRadius Reviewer
Score 8 out of 10
Vetted Review
Verified User

Overall Satisfaction with SolarWinds N-central

N-central is like a Swiss Army Knife, it is an agent-based system (monitoring can be done without the agent) with many talents and capabilities, and it is very good at what it does. It has many core features, such as:
  1. Remote management, control of endpoints.
  2. Monitoring.
  3. Patch management.
  4. Centralized anti-virus management (via Bit Defender).
  5. Backup.
  6. others...
We mostly use it for Remote management and patch management. The service desk team uses the remote management feature to provide desktop support, and the patch management team uses the patch management feature to provide fleet patching of servers and end-user devices.
Aside from addressing the two needs above, it is also a very good platform for pushing software and scripts to endpoints. This is especially useful in non-centralized environments that do not have core infrastructure, and in VPN tunnels, since the agent communicates directly over the internet. It is also very firewall-friendly.
  • Robust patch management: it is easy to set up patching groups via tags, and configures patch management profiles and maintenance windows.
  • Remote Control: as long as the agent checks in, it is very quick and easy to take control of an endpoint, either in a separate session (RDP, kick the current user out), or to join the existing session of the current user, to provide desktop support or collaborate remotely.
  • Patch management reporting: while the patching feature is strong, the reporting side of it quite limited and can be inaccurate. There is no built-in way to easily demonstrate to the customer that you have successfully patched their endpoints, and this can result in a lack of customer confidence. In order to provide effective patch management reporting, it is necessary to export raw data into another tool and perform further analysis.
  • Old UI: while the software has evolved through many versions and many features added, its UI is pretty much the same as before. There is no quick way to pull up devices which match a number of different criteria. You can do this by creating a filter, but when you have to create a filter, it is not quick anymore. The menu can be confusing to navigate. As a regular admin of the tool, I often forget exactly where to find items which are buried a bit deeper under the menu hierarchy.
  • Bulk management: this is also an effort of the weak UI. Since there is no way to quickly pull devices that meet certain criteria, there is no quick way to easily make bulk changes to devices. Everything is done through rules and templates and tags, and it can take a while to set them up.
  • No Access to OS: the tool is presented as an application only, and the vendor does not give you OS-level access. This can make it difficult to see the health/performance of your N-central server and to set up remote monitoring.
  • Permission and Access: SolarWinds improved access granularity in version 11, but it still has a lot of room for improvements. When setting user roles and access, I often find that I can never give them the exact amount of access I want. I typically end up giving them a lot more due to the lack of granularity.
  • N-central is very inexpensive considering all the things it can do. It is very easy to add values to the customer by being able to provide monitoring, remote management, patching, AV, etc., all from a single tool.
SolarWinds N-central is on the more unique side of tools because it can do so many things, and do most of them quite well. For patching, it is much easier to use than SCCM. In terms of monitoring, it is not great out of the box and requires tweaking to take full advantage. Since it is agent-based, any time an agent fails to check in, it means that that device is effectively no longer being managed. It can take a great deal of effort to maintain and remediate agent issues.
It is a great tool to manage small to medium-sized environments, but would struggle to cover all the angles required in a larger enterprise setting.
N-central is great for small to medium size deployments. I don't think it would scale particularly well in a large enterprise situation. This is partly due to the limits of everything that has to be done through the front GUI and the limits of that GUI. In a larger environment where there are many rules, templates, filters, dashboards, etc... it can become difficult to navigate and manage. Also, there are no HA or DR solutions to speak of.