Netool network port configuration analyzer - good concept, needs polish

Potentially a terrific product but not quite there yet

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Pixababy (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

When you get involved in the actual wiring of networks, one of the things you find yourself checking over and over is whether Ethernet ports are actually live along with do they connect to DHCP, is the Internet visible, and so on. Typically you’ll grab your laptop, plug it in and run a few tests but while this works, you might describe it as “sub-optimal” because how often have you tried to do exactly this in a ceiling void? In a cramped comms cupboard? Somewhere in the bowels of a rack? In every one of those situations it’s just time consuming and annoying to have to fiddle around and juggle with your laptop. The Netool network port analyzer aims to be a better tool for doing exactly this.

hero phone Netool

 

Netool is a diagnostic tool for testing and discovering information about any given network port on any switch, router or any other network device … Netool is designed to be simple to use and understand. It enables anyone to find network port information … such as DHCP, switch port, switch host name, current VLAN, tagged VLANs and more. Netool also runs ping and other tests on the same port making trouble shooting easier.

The Netool is a small (3.75” by 1.13” square) computer running a stripped-down customized version of Linux that has an Ethernet port on one end, and, at the other end, a micro USB port for charging (it has a 3,400mAh battery which lasts for about 24 hours), a reset button, and a USB for future expansion. It has Wi-Fi built-in which is used to both setting up the Netool as well as in operation. On one face there’s a line of LED’s to indicate status and a power button. That’s it, a clean, simple design.

netool 0 Netool

Currently, the Netool can analyze:

  • Port status (up or down)
  • DHCP allocated IP address, gateway, DNS, and subnet
  • CDP (Cisco Discovery Protocol) and LLDP (Link Layer Discovery Protocol) status including switch port, native VLAN, switch hostname and IP
  • Tagged VLAN; detects 802.1q packets 
  • LACP traffic
  • Quality of Service settings on a port
  • Spanning Tree

By default the Netool pings the discovered gateway as well as google.com and you can add your own ping targets,

screenshot 0 Netool

 

You set up a Netool from either an iOS or Android app by connecting to the device’s Wi-Fi service then configure it to be in either client mode, connecting to your existing Wi-Fi service, or in access point mode, whereby it acts an AP. You can also enable Netool.cloud mode so that you can view test results from anywhere and multiple users (they have to run the Netool app) can simultaneously access the device. Results can be tagged (i.e. named) and saved as well as shared by email, texting, etc.

The Netool is a great concept and on the plus side, there’s so much this device could do in future software upgrades such as send alerts, perform network and port scans, and so on. A desktop app was promised for Windows and macOS in the product's Indiegogo campaign which ended almost a year ago and to have the ability to monitor a collection of Netool devices from one console would be great for enterprise installations.

On the minus side, I’ve been testing the Netool for a few hours and its analysis and reports can be flaky. I’ve asked the app to refresh the tests many times and for a significant number of tries (maybe 1 in 10 or 15), the app’s display has shown the NIC status to be down when I know it wasn’t, the gateway field has been blank, one or more of the pings failed, and or the list of DNS servers was duplicated (i.e. each server was listed twice which looks like a failure to clear the display string properly).

The app's UI is just okay though it isn’t optimized for the iPad and the ping time for google.com wraps to the next line on an iPhone 5s … a small detail but it reveals a lack of attention to detail. Here's a screen shot from an iPad about 90 seconds after clicking refresh and, as you can see, data is missing and there's no indication as to whether it's working or finished updating (this display didn't change until I refreshed it).

netool 2 Mark Gibbs

The Netool, priced at $160 with 10% and 15% discounts for 4- and 8-pack bundles, gets a Gearhead rating of 3.5 out of 5.

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