CXO

DIY: Manage networks and help desks for free with Spiceworks

Spiceworks provides network auditing and help desk management in one interface for free. The catch is that you see IT-related ads in your interface. Despite this drawback, Jack Wallen explains why he recommends Spiceworks.
I've received a lot of requests from readers of this DIY column to cover network auditing tools, and I've found a free tool that does a phenomenal job: Spiceworks. The software runs from within a browser (it works with Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer) but only on the Windows platform. (Note: When you click the Spiceworks icon, it automatically opens in Internet Explorer even if your browser is set to default to Chrome or Firefox.) Also, Spiceworks is free because it contains advertisements, and you cannot run the tool without seeing ads. Despite this caveat, find out why I like Spiceworks.

Features

All of the following features are in one user-friendly, web-based interface:

  • Network inventory
  • IT asset management
  • IT audit software
  • Warranty tracking
  • Virtualization management
  • Network monitoring
  • Green IT software
  • SNMP network management
  • SQL Server monitoring
  • Cloud computing management
  • UPS power management software
  • Help desk software
  • Hosted email support
  • Active Directory management
  • IT purchasing management
  • Help Desk iPhone app
  • Network mapping

Installation and usage

The installation requires the creation of a Spiceworks account, which is free.

Cautionary note about selecting the network to be audited/monitored: I did a test install on a new network and noticed the default network Spiceworks wanted to audit was the VPN network, which was not the correct choice — it was actually another company's network I was connected to for support. So instead of the 10. IP address scheme, I had to enter the correct address scheme of 192.168.100.1-254. Then the network scan started, and I just had to wait until Spiceworks informed me the scan was done, and I could access my control panel (Figure A). Figure A

From this one dashboard, you can manage network hosts, run audits, and access the help desk. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Hardware information

By clicking Inventory | Devices, a list of all known devices will be printed out. Click the Overview tab and then you can view devices by:

  • IP
  • Manufacturer
  • Antivirus status/vendor
  • Network cards
  • Domains
  • Operating systems
Click on an Operating Systems listing to see all computers that use the same OS. From the listing of PCs, click an icon representing one of the host PCs to reveal the specific configurations of that system (Figure B). Figure B

From this view, you can gather as much information from a machine as you could if you were sitting in front of the machine. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Installed applications

One of the best features of Spiceworks is that it allows you to quickly find out what applications are installed on the hosts. To get this information, click Inventory | Devices and then click the Applications tab to see a list of every application installed on all machines, as well as a list of the install date of every application. The install date information can be incredibly helpful when you need to manage software licensing.

Network Map

Another great feature of Spiceworks is the Network Map. To gain access to an interactive graphical representation of your network, click Inventory | Network Map (Figure C). The default type of map is a backbone map, but you can opt to view the full network — just understand that if your network is huge, the map may take some time to draw. Figure C

There are three layouts to the map: Radial, Hierarchy, and Tree. The type of layout you choose depends on your needs. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Help Desk

One of the handiest features of Spiceworks is the built-in Help Desk ticketing system. If you click Help Desk | Tickets, you get a bird's eye view of the current queue of trouble tickets.

In order to make this system available to users, you need to configure the Help Desk by clicking Help Desk | Settings. From the new window that opens, click Help Desk Settings, where you can make changes to the following configurations:

  • Admin email notifications
  • User email notifications
  • Ticket notification templates
  • Help Desk extensions
  • Optional functionality
  • Bulk ticket delete

Before the Help Desk can be effectively set up, users must be set up to receive emails, and admins must have the Email Notification option in their user settings checked. You must also configure the Email Settings by clicking Inventory | Settings and then clicking Email Settings. The Email Settings require:

  • Sender email
  • Display name (of sender email)
  • Outgoing email (either Exchange or SMTP)
  • Incoming email (POP, Exchange, or IMAP)

If you don't configure the Email Settings properly, the Help Desk functionality and the notifications functionality will not work.

Active Directory integration

You can integrate Spiceworks with Active Directory by going to Settings | Active Directory and configuring these three settings:

  • Active Directory Server: Address or hostname of Active Directory server.
  • User: This is most likely in the form DOMAIN\user.
  • Password: The password for the user.

The user configured will need to have write-access permissions in order to sync with Active Directory, so this will likely be an administrative-level user.

Bottom line

DIY is all about free or inexpensive solutions for often complex problems. Spiceworks nails both of those requirements without batting an eyelash.

More about Spiceworks on TechRepublic

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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