Product Review: GFI Cloud

by [Published on 4 Sept. 2013 / Last Updated on 4 Sept. 2013]

Cloud based management and monitoring is quickly becoming a necessity as users become ever more mobile. As such, I decided to take a look at GFI Cloud, which is a solution for monitoring both servers and workstations, and for performing cloud based patch management and malware prevention.

Product: GFI Cloud

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Free Trial: click here

Before I Get Started

Over the years I have written a number of product reviews for this site. In almost every case, I am asked to review products that I have no past experience with. This time things are a little bit different. About a year ago I had the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time working with GFI cloud. Even so, I decided to set up a brand new subscription and evaluate the product completely from scratch rather than simply writing what I already know about the software.

My reason for doing this is simple. A lot has changed in the last year. For example, Windows 8 hadn’t even been released yet when I last looked at GFI Cloud. I want to make sure that my review accurately portrays GFI cloud as it exists today.

Setting up a Subscription

I started out by going to the GFI Cloud Web site (www.gficloud.com) and setting up a trial subscription. Upon doing so, I was asked to provide some basic contact information and to select the GFI cloud services that I wanted to try. I chose to try all of the available options, which included Antivirus, Monitoring, and Patch Management.

It only took me about a minute or so to set up the GFI Cloud trail subscription. After doing so, I was immediately prompted to download the GFI Cloud Agent. I liked that the GFI Cloud Web site launched the download automatically without me having to do anything. However, I do wish that the agent download screen would explicitly spell out which operating systems the agent is compatible with. In all fairness, the download screen does offer a link to a PDF based manual, but I couldn’t find any agent compatibility information in the manual.

Deploying the Agent

Even though I planned to use virtual machines in my lab environment for this review, I decided to go ahead and let the GFI Cloud Web site install an agent onto my primary desktop as well. That machine is running Windows 8, and I really wasn’t sure if the agent would work with Windows 8 or not.

Upon clicking the option to download and install the agent, a very simple installation wizard opened. Within a few seconds’ time, the agent installation had completed and my browser was automatically updated and displayed the screen shown in Figure A. I was very impressed by how quickly this process occurred.

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Figure A: The browser updated and displayed this screen.

Since the agent installation worked so well on my Windows 8 desktop, I powered up several virtual machines and attempted to install the agent on them. The virtual machines that I used for testing included:

  • A Windows Server 2012 domain controller
  • A Windows Server 2012 server running Exchange Server 2013
  • A Windows Server 2012 server running SharePoint 2013
  • A Windows 8 desktop running inside of a VM
  • A VM running Windows 8.1 Preview
  • A VM running Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview
  • A VM running Windows Server 2012 core

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the agent installed on all seven virtual machine types with no problems. You can see in Figure B that all seven virtual machines, plus my physical desktop checked in without any problems.

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Figure B: GFI Cloud recognizes all of the machines on which I attempted to deploy the agent.

Once I had deployed agents to all of the test systems, the first thing that I decided to look at was the Dashboard view. The dashboard view, which you can see in Figure C, displays notifications for any monitored system. Sometimes these notifications are purely informational, but in other cases they alert you to actions that need to be performed. For instance you will notice in the figure below that one of my computers needs to be rebooted in order for antivirus protection to be enabled. The Dashboard not only tells you this, but also provides a button that you could use to force a remote reboot.

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Figure C: The Dashboard provides notifications for monitored systems.

The Dashboard screen is nice, but it could potentially become overwhelming if you have a lot of monitored systems. In all fairness, the Dashboard does allow you to filter the view by notification type and by service. For example, you might filter by critical antivirus notifications. However, I simply have no way of determining how well this type of filtering scales for larger environments.

Of course the dashboard isn’t the only place to get notifications. If you look back at Figure B, you will notice that the number of notifications and services are displayed for each monitored system. If you click on a system you are taken into an interface that allows you to add services such as monitoring, antivirus, and patch management to the monitored system. You can see what this looks like in Figure D.

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Figure D: 
You can add services to individual VMs.

Right about now I’m sure that some of you are wondering why these services have to be activated manually. It’s because the services are all licensed individually. GFI’s pricing for GFI Cloud is $12 per computer per year per service. However, GFI does provide discounts for licensing multiple services. The second and third services cost $9.20 to license as opposed to the full $12 as indicated on the GFI Cloud Web site. Therefore the cost of licensing all three services would be $31.20.

Incidentally, the GFI Cloud interface provides an interface that you can use to keep track of the licenses that are being used. You can see what this interface looks like in Figure E.

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Figure E: The interface makes it easy to keep track of license usage.

Asset Tracking

GFI Cloud also provides hardware and software asset tracking for the computers that you are monitoring. The asset tracking feature seems to work really well, even for virtual machines. For example, if you look at Figure F, you can see the asset tracking for a virtual machine running a server core installation of Windows Server 2012.

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Figure F: The asset tracking feature seems to work pretty well.

Patch Management

Next, I decided to check out the patch management feature. The patch management feature displays all of the various Microsoft patches and also tells you how many systems are missing the patches, and how many systems have the patch installed.

I found the patch management feature to be a little bit slow. When I tried to examine the patch management status of individual machines, I kept seeing the We Are Gathering Your Data. This May Take Some Time. Please Check Back Later message. I honestly don’t know how long it took to compile the patch management data because I eventually decided to just wait and check back the next day.

At first glance it appears that the patch management feature only deploys operating system patches. However, a scan of the patch list also reveals both Microsoft and third party patches for applications. For example, some of the patches that were applied to my test systems included patches for SQL Server and for Adobe Reader.

Antivirus

I wasn’t really able to test the antivirus detection and disinfection capabilities because all of my managed systems were clean. What I can tell you is that I like the fact that the interface includes a number of different antivirus policies that are based on the computer’s role. For example, in Figure G, you can see that there are policies with names such as Default Server, Desktop, Exchange Server, Laptop, etc. These policies are all created by default, and are fully customizable. Furthermore, GFI Cloud automatically assigned the most appropriate antivirus policy to each system.

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Figure G: GFI Cloud offers role based antivirus scanning policies.

Reporting

GFI Cloud offers a really nice reporting feature that allows you to create the following report types:

  • Computer Summary Report
  • Threat Detail Report
  • Missing Patches Report
  • Computer Summary Report

Reports can be generated in HTML or in PDF format.

All in all I liked the reporting feature. Some might be quick to criticize GFI for only offering four different types of reports. However, I have reviewed way too many products that feature dozens of meaningless reports just for the sake of being able to say that the product has extensive reporting capabilities. While it is true that GFI Cloud only offers a few types of reports, I found these reports to be very relevant to an administrator’s needs. I am glad that GFI kept the reporting feature simple and usable. My hope is that if GFI adds any additional reports in the future, they will make them just as relevant as the existing reports.

My only real gripe about the reporting feature is the fact that the Reports link is at the top of the screen instead of on the icon bar with the rest of the product features. In fact, the first time that I set out to review GFI Cloud, I completely missed the reporting feature because it was up at the top of the screen with things like Feedback, Help, and Logoff, instead of being on the icon bar with other core functions.

Conclusion

All in all, I liked GFI cloud. I found it to be easy to use, and I especially liked that the agent seemed to work well regardless of what type of system I installed it on (although admittedly I did not test any non-Windows systems). I also liked the fact that the various services seemed to work on core servers without any issues.

Like any product or service, GFI Cloud does have room for improvement. I think that the documentation could use some work (although you probably won’t need the documentation very often). I would also like to see mobile device support added in the future. For example, GFI might be able to make an agent available through the Apple, Android, or Windows store that would add management and monitoring support for iOS, Android, and Windows RT or Windows mobile devices.

When I write reviews for this site, it has been customary to rate the product or service on a scale from 0 to five (with five being the best). I give GFI Cloud a rating of 4.5, which earns it WindowsNetworking.com Gold Award. GFI Cloud is a solid product that works as advertised. I didn’t run into any problems or bugs during my evaluation, but I would like to see GFI improve the documentation and build onto what they have already created.

WindowsNetworking.com Rating 4.5/5

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