Want to take a long lunch, but you're afraid to take your eyes off the network for more than a few minutes? Consider hiring an "extra pair of eyes" to watch over things.\u00a0SilverBack Technologies\u00a0says its InfoCare 3.5 service and appliance can do this without blinking.InfoCare is a 24-7 subscription-based, network-monitoring service that links your network back to SilverBack's data center. SilverBack installs a rack-mounted network appliance on the network, establishes a secure VPN (using Triple-DES\u00a0encryption and\u00a0IP Security) between the appliance and SilverBack's central site and then remotely monitors the network for performance problems and connection outages. Companies can access the InfoCare monitoring features locally via a Web browser.How we did it Interactive Scorecard and NetResults Archive of Network World reviews Subscribe to the Product Review newsletterWe tested InfoCare's network discovery, monitoring, reporting and ease of use. We also investigated the monitoring service's capabilities and expertise.While the remote-monitoring service was impressive and especially appropriate for small or midsize companies wanting to outsource network-monitoring chores, we recommend you keep your existing monitoring tools until SilverBack improves its client-user interface.At your serviceWe installed the InfoCare 3.5 Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) on a six-segment Fast Ethernet network (see\u00a0How we did it). Our tests revealed InfoCare lets you take your eye off the network, albeit with some drawbacks and nontrivial user-interface annoyances. It discovered our network and monitored it for a plethora of potential faults and problems. SilverBack's remote monitoring of customer networks appears to be secure, and is an effective alternative to adequately staffing a full-time, in-house monitoring effort. At its data center in Exodus, Mass., SilverBack has what it calls an InfoNest, or MegaCPE. The MegaCPE runs instances of InfoCare monitoring software that SilverBack's customer support staff use to keep watch over specific customer devices or servers. Typically used to monitor servers, the MegaCPE tracks network connectivity, server CPU utilization, memory utilization, disk utilization, background processes (Windows services) and the server's event logs to detect problems. However, the thresholds that the data center uses are separate from any thresholds the customer sets.SilverBack uses availability reports to determine which systems are unreachable. Event-log monitoring and Windows security policies are used to detect hacking and intrusion attempts. The MegaCPE notifies SilverBack customer support, via e-mail and paging, when a problem arises in a customer's network. If SilverBack personnel can't resolve the problem, they use e-mail, paging and phone calls to notify the customer.A VPN failure would cause the customer's SilverBack appliance to dial the data center through a built-in modem. Customer support staff also can dial in to the customer's appliance to check on the health of the network. SilverBack's procedures and policies seem sound - our tests elicited many phone calls and e-mails from SilverBack.Using the applianceIf you want to completely outsource network monitoring to SilverBack, read no further. However, like us, you'll probably want to access the local InfoCare appliance to set up your own alert thresholds and produce your own reports of network activity. After setting up various thresholds, performing discovery operations and viewing its reports, the InfoCare monitoring tool isn't nearly as useful or sophisticated as Concord Communications' eHealth, Heroix Corporation's eQ Management Suite or Lucent's VitalSuite. InfoCare's strength lies in SilverBack's remote-monitoring service.Setting up an InfoCare alert threshold, which involves naming the alert, choosing a resource to monitor from a comprehensive list and supplying a Boolean operator, threshold value, arm delay, rearm value and rearm delay, is a simple process (but you need to read the user's manual to navigate to the correct window). We could tell InfoCare to send e-mail or page us when an alert triggered. We also could restart failed Windows services automatically and reboot a server following alerts.SilverBack includes specific support for frame relay utilization, Cisco router CPU statistics and a wealth of other data collected via SNMP. Optional InfoCare plug-ins can monitor Oracle databases and Microsoft Exchange servers. We exported network-monitoring data into Microsoft Excel, and InfoCare pinged and traced routes to devices we specified.Unfortunately, the ActiveX control-based Internet Explorer interface is cumbersome, slow and buggy. Specifying a range of IP addresses that InfoCare should add to its list of monitored devices is simple, but we only could delete devices one at a time. InfoCare's browser interface also doesn't display a topology map of the network, and it doesn't handle catastrophic network errors gracefully. When we disconnected the InfoCare appliance from the network, simulating a major network segment outage, the browser client displayed a series of less-than-meaningful messages: "Invalid XML file," then a runtime error, followed by "Unable to autofetch Period Type." It should have just said, "Lost connection to CPE." Moreover, the ActiveX control locked up Internet Explorer once, in response to an excessive number of up-arrow keystrokes. To its credit, InfoCare allows browser access by multiple concurrent users.Installation is quick and painless, partly because SilverBack preconfigures the appliance based on a form customers fill out. InfoCare's Web browser configuration requirements are stringent. The documentation is clear and comprehensive, but it's only available as Acrobat-viewable PDF files.If you're considering outsourcing your network-monitoring chores, SilverBack's service is worth looking into. But we recommend you keep your existing monitoring tools running on your network until SilverBack improves its client-side user interface. InfoCare 3.5 3.1 Rating Company: SilverBack Technologies, (877) 745-5775, Cost: Typically $300 per device per year. Pros: Easy installation; thoughtfully planned and well-executed remote-monitoring service. Cons: Only for small or midsized networks of SNMP-manageable devices; cumbersome, buggy user interface. \u00a0 InfoCare 3.5 Remote-monitoring service 20%\u00a0 5 Local monitoring 20%\u00a0 2 Discovery 20%\u00a0 3 Usability 20%\u00a0 2 Documentation 10%\u00a0 2 Installation 10%\u00a0 5 TOTAL SCORE 3.1 Individual category scores are based on a scale of 1 to 5. Percentages are the weight given each category in determining the total score. Scoring Key: 5: Exceptional showing in this category. Defines the standard of excellence; 4: Very good showing. Although there may be room for improvement, this product was much better than the average; 3: Average showing in this category. Product was neither especially good nor exceptionally bad; 2: Below average. Lacked some features or lower performance than other products or than expected; 1: Consistently subpar, or lacking features being reviewed.