Review: Netgear Insight network management

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Do you install Netgear devices? If so, Insight may become your new best friend. Stephen Dawson explains.

Screwed onto the wall behind my home entertainment system is a 16 port network switch. The multi-coloured Cat6 cables connect 10 or 12 pieces of equipment to my home network. And some additional equipment connects via WiFi rather than by cable.

Which just illustrates a characteristic of home entertainment – and indeed, that of much installation audio and video gear – in 2018: it’s all computer networks now. Just about everything has an IP address and a MAC. All the bits talk to other bits using bits over network protocols. And the user can control it all.

But what about the underlying network infrastructure? How do you control that? This is where Netgear Insight comes in.

What is it?

In a sense, Netgear Insight is just about the oddest thing I’ve reviewed because it is software, not hardware. But it is software designed to control and manage hardware. Network hardware. Network hardware from Netgear. Indeed, a limited range of Insight compatible network hardware from Netgear.

As I write, that includes a number of network switches, network attached storage devices and WiFi access points. At CES 2018, Netgear announced a wider range of such devices, and has said that it will be adding Insight support to its Orbi Pro Tri-Band WiFi System from February 2018.

Now, you might ask, how were network devices managed before Insight? The answer is, either not at all or via a web interface. Let’s look briefly at the three categories of devices Insight can manage.

Network switches

A network switch allows multiple devices to be plugged into the network and manages the traffic. An eight port switch, for example, can have up to eight devices plugged in, and it makes sure that a packet of data intended to go to a specific network address is sent to the correct port.

The typical home network switch has no interface at all. You just plug in the network cables and apply power and it does its stuff with no intervention required. However, there are also smart switches or managed switches which allow some control over the traffic and functions. Typically these have been managed by means of a built-in web page. You open a browser on a phone or computer that’s connected to the same network and type in the IP address (you know the thing: something like 192.168.1.22) and the control page will appear in your browser, perhaps after you’ve entered a password.

WiFi Access points

These allow WiFi connections to your network. Most home networks won’t include a standalone access point. Instead the one built into the modem/router will typically be used. These do require management, or at least initial setup. Again, they provide a built in HTML page through which you can interact with the device, setting up SSIDs (the WiFi name your phone can see) and passwords, along with deeper technical stuff.

NAS

Network Attached Storage is typically a box with one or more hard disk drives which is accessible to anyone on the network. These are like mini computers with their own processing capabilities, and they often do things like act as DLNA servers, providing media to the whole network, or including digital video recording functionality for surveillance systems. Yet again, you normally control them by calling up their built in HTML page in a browser on a device connected to the network. That’s for control: your most frequent interaction with a NAS is likely to be via Explorer or Finder on your computer, which you’ll use to copy files to and from it.

Netgear Insight

So what does Netgear Insight do? Four things.

First, with compatible Netgear devices it allows you to manage them via the free Insight app, available for both iOS and Android devices. That provides a consistent interface and groups all the devices together in a way that makes accessing them relatively easy, compared to the sometimes confusingly technical web interfaces. It also provides for easy ‘discovery’ and setup of Insight-compatible devices.

Second, with those devices you are released from having to be on the same network. You can control the devices remotely, from anywhere that you have internet access.

Third, the app will provide notifications, even remotely. If your NAS goes down, you’ll know about it straight away. In addition to pop-up notifications on your phone, you can receive email alerts.

Finally, if you’re prepared to pay more, you can remotely manage the devices using the Insight Cloud Web Portal in addition to the app, and gain deeper control of advanced functions, such as PoE (Power over Ethernet) management and timing.

Pay? Huh? What’s this about paying? Isn’t Insight free?

Indeed, the Insight app is free (it’s a 39MB download on Android). And with Insight Basic, the ongoing management of the first two devices – including remote management – is also free. But each additional device – from number three to whatever – will cost you $4.99 per year.

The ‘pay more’ I mentioned was for Insight Premium, which has no free allowance and costs either $9.99 per year or $0.99 per month per device. I doubt the typical home user would gain much benefit from that, but those professionally responsible for managing networks could find this invaluable.

In Use

Netgear sent me down three Insight-compatible devices – a NAS, a WiFi access point and a smart network switch – to test out Insight. Briefly, the twin bay Netgear ReadyNAS was about as easy to install, physically, as it’s possible to be. The front door swung open. A sliding lock released the tray for each drive. A locking mount slid out from the tray. It was just a matter of putting the drive into the mount and sliding it back in, then sliding the whole tray into the enclosure. The drive I used had been NTFS formatted, yet it only took a couple of minutes for the NAS to mount it into a volume. Perhaps things would have been slower had I installed two drives because then there would have been a great deal of work in preparing them to work together as one volume, although much of that may have been done in the background.

The network switch supports PoE so the dual band 802.11ac – AC1200 rated – WiFi access point needed no power supply of its own. I just plugged all the devices in and powered them up.

On starting up the app, it showed a few tutorial pages and then scanned the network to search for compatible devices (that’s the ‘discovery’). Somewhat to my surprise, it found not three but four. It turns out that the Nighthawk S8000 gaming network switch installed in my system is also (somewhat, as we’ll see) compatible. It did not see my Netgear Nighthawk EX7000 WiFi extender – a current model – so clearly that isn’t compatible.

The next step was to create an account. This can’t be skipped, and since remote access to these devices will be mediated by Netgear’s servers, it’s entirely reasonable. Once that is done, then you name your network – you can manage multiple named networks if you want – and add each of the found devices to it, one by one. Once they have been registered, a tap on the device in the app allows you to see relevant information and adjust settings.

All that worked smoothly enough except that at one point it was necessary to specify the time zone, and that proved to be a weird selection for Australia, and oddly inappropriate. On offer were settings for Perth (UTC+8:00), Darwin and “South” (UTC+9:30). Brisbane, Queensland and Lindeman(!) (UTC+10:00) and Adelaide (UTC+10:30). Missing were Canberra, Sydney, Hobart and Melbourne and their daylight saving time of UTC+11:00. I chose Brisbane and consequently all the time stamps on notifications were out by an hour. I imagine such a simple thing will soon be fixed.

In the case of the WiFi access point, that tap immediately took the app to the SSID/password setup. The same SSID and password are use for both 2.4GHz and 5GHz, as it standard practice these days (it allows dual band devices to switch seamlessly to whichever band is optimum at any moment).

While the Nighthawk S8000 switch that was already in my network was somewhat compatible, it was only available to the extent of the app providing a shortcut to its HTML page. As for the rest, the app allowed relevant information to be viewed, such as the power consumption from the PoE facility of the network switch, its port status. Each port could be selected and individual settings made.

Similar access was provided to the NAS and the WiFi access point.

And, as advertised, it all still worked when I left the house and used the app on my phone, connected to the Internet via 4G.

You do not even have to have an all-Netgear network. Indeed, my modem router is from an entirely different brand, yet there were no problems at all.

Conclusion

Obviously Insight will not be useful to you if you have older Netgear or non-Netgear devices, but if you’re thinking of changing devices, especially if remote control and monitoring is important to you, the availability of Insight could tip the balance in favour of new Netgear Insight-compatible devices.

 

 

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Reference: Connected Home