IT Policies optimize

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.

19 comments
da_beast
da_beast

(it works with Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer) but only on the Windows platform. This is not true - the Spiceworks application runs on a Windows platform but you can access it via the web on any platform (Windows, Linux, Mac, Mobile, etc). (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.) This is an incorrect statement - I run a default web of Firefox on my Spiceworks server and it will open Firefox. Check it out for yourself!! http://goo.gl/oN7uQ

loidab
loidab

Adblock Plus extension to either Firefox or Chrome (I use ChromePlus.org, which doesn't feed all your traffic back to Google) can be used nicely to block adverts from Spiceworks.

dave-richardson
dave-richardson

I found Spiceworks when I was working for a small company with a number of server. I have recommended it anyone I meet how needs management and the bean counters will not fork out the cash.

kwolf
kwolf

If you use FireFox and NoScript extension you can effectively block ads served by SpiceWorks. Although I would wait until after you get it installed and set up (so you can login) before disallowing spiceworks.com. I run it this way and have had no problems with the functionality of the local Spiceworks installation.

AstroCreep
AstroCreep

Nice article, Jack. It certainly looks like a very nice tool that could replace multiple separate servers for me now (one server running SNMP tasks and another separate one running Alloy Navigator, a helpdesk/asset management package), but there are a things I'm curious about. In your testing with it, did you (or anyone else who uses it) know if: -One can create a "Ticket Template" that will create multiple "sub-tickets" or "work orders"? For example, if a new employee starts we have 13 "Tasks" that need to be accomplished before the employee begins distributed among four people. Any idea if it had that functionality? -Can it do a "Workflow" of tickets? Using the previous example again, if I submit a "New Employee" ticket and it creates the work orders, can they be set up in a manner that if Bob finishes one ticket it will alert David and assign him the next task? -Is there any easy way to run "Reports" through this system? For example, if I want to generate a list of PCs with warranties that expire before 12/31/2011 or which PCs have Office 2010 installed. -Is there a way to "Reconcile" software as being "Allowed" or "Unknown"? For example, we run a report of "Unknown/Unauthorized" software a couple of times a year. This report checks against a list of "Allowed/Recognized" software and only items that weren't on that list are on the report. That's really all I can think of at the moment. Thanks! :)

fentsi
fentsi

i want to start to use spiceworks.But i want to now if its safe to run on XP and i want know if its secure enough.

ih8computers.911
ih8computers.911

We have Spiceworks set up at customers with critical reports automatically emailed to us it saves our customers on IT costs. Allowing us to be proactive even though we are not physically there every day, we are virtually there giving our client peace of mind.

dryflies
dryflies

It can inventory and display info for Linux boxes. you can create plugins for spiceworks that can do virtually anything you can write a program to do. it does run on Windiows, But there are a lot of other apps that run on windows only. The reporting is also phenominal as you can either do drop down selections or use SQLite queies to create your reports. I like the alerts. They tell me when it is time to order ink and toner, when someones disk is getting low on free space, Lets me know when I need to purchase more Software licenses because I am aproaching my purchased count. And the community? it is people like you and I trying to keep our networks running and paying back by helping others do the same. The only drawback I see is they only have spiceworld in Texas.

jbruderly
jbruderly

I just started using Spiceworks today. So far this is one of the best things I've seen in a while. Love the help desk feature and the ability for my users to created trouble tickets.

dbl
dbl

Well, we're an all Windows shop with the exception of our Mac graphic designer and me, who only runs Linux. I have to dedicate a virtual Windows machine to run it. Other than that, can't beat it for the price ;-)

The Beer Monster
The Beer Monster

....and you cannot run the tool without seeing ads. Not entirely true. You can't run the free version without seeing ads, that's why it's free... However, you can pay and get an ad free version and that's only $330 per annum. You will then get your own corporate branded version (which some people may want for their organisations anyway). See http://www.spiceworks.com/myway I've been using Spiceworks since version 1.6 and it really is turning into a must-have tool.

HckrAdm2005
HckrAdm2005

My current place of employment we use spiceworks and love it. The network management tools are a great help and the help desk is a nice touch as well. The help desk seamlessly works extremely well with the purchasing/ordering feature of spiceworks. We have also email enabled the help desk so anyone, anywhere in our company can send an email to spiceworks and create a help desk ticket. All they have to do is reply to their ticket and it automatically updates. We moved from using SharePoint as our help desk and purchasing system to spiceworks. Another side plus is the community. The spiceworks community is very helpful and the people who post on their seem to be very knowledgeable. We've been using spiceworks for their past few major versions and this latest one is so far the best I have seen. There is only one issue I have with it is that spiceworks "phones" home every once in a while to relay data to home base. I've done some research on this and it only sends Non-identifying information. Just basic information with a installation number. Besides that it's a great software to use and from what I've seen out there in the open source community this beat's pretty much anything hands down.

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

The adware isn't bad. The only issue I have is that we are and all Linux shop. I can't bring myself to use Windows for a management role of a Linux network, nor can I justify the CPU cycles to run a dedicated VM. The other option is to dink with Wine to make it work, but I can't help think that there is a much more elegant solution out there. Nagios perhaps?

nedvis
nedvis

Yes, Spiceworks can be used to do those tasks.You can list ticket by assignees , reassign, merge , open/close/reopen tickets, run custom, queries and reports , group and regroup your devices, define custom devices by your own/custom criteria list all software installed on scanned nodes ( I was surprised when Spiceworks found more than 760 executable application programs on my network. I am still learning Spiceworks after year or so using it extensively and I find it extremely useful tool for mid size network as my nonprofit company LAN is.

kwolf
kwolf

@AstroCreep I've been using SpiceWorks for about 3 1/2 years now and while I am pretty sure you have the ability to create work order templates, I am not sure about workflows. I would suggest checking their website for additional information. They have alot of training and walk through videos that may answer your question. Also their support is very good. I am sure a quick e-mail will get you an answer. As for the reporting features. They are very good. Basically if Spiceworks knows about it you can create a report. Warranty information can be tracked, of course it has to be entered manually. You can then create reports. You can also report on software installed on some machines but not installed on others. There again, if Spiceworks knows about it you can report on it. I would recommend at least giving it a try. I don't think you will be disappointed.

nedvis
nedvis

I'm using Spiceworks to monitor my 270+ nodes ( 14 Windows/Citrix servers , 40 laptops , 60 workstations and 20 Wyse thin-client terminals) on my AD based LAN subdiveded in four subnet plus three separate WI-FI networks and two sites.. And guess what It is all done from my Windows XP Dell Optiplex GX760 SFF workstation with only 2Gb DDR memory which I also use for my other office work ( Office 2010, Outlook). Besides Sopiceworks' Apache that runs perfect Help-Desk Portal I am also running Zope WEB server for my Plone based CMS and this combination betas hands down my Sharepoint Services run of our Windows 2003 Server. For the price I pay (zero) for Spiceworks and Zope/Plone I can't complain about periodical reboots ( aprox. very ten days) and/or system responsiveness. Three hundred opened tickets in two weeks and intensive scanning/tracking routines might be the reason to migrate my Spiceworks to more powerful hardware, but since you asked about Windows XP operating system, my answer would be: " Yes XP can handle IT!"

AstroCreep
AstroCreep

I was going to ask if there was a "Premium", non-ad version. Does that include any support at all, or is everything community-based?