At what point should you use trouble ticket software?

Fellow Tech Rebublic blogger Joe Rosberg has a great discussion going on over at his place, Desktop Support.  The post is entitled, "How many users can one person support?"  Based on the number of comments (89 so far) I would say he hit upon a subject about which most IT support people feel strongly, including me.  Rather than add my two cents to his post I thought I would elaborate and expand the discussion a little bit here.

Like Joe, I have been a one-man IT department for most of my career.  I have supported anywhere from 35 users up to 175 users depending on the company I was with at the time.  JosB, one of the commenters on Joe's post used the phrase, "one is none" and explained that unless you have a backup person, the company has nobody to help them in the event you are out sick for the day or might perhaps want to take a vacation.  There is a lot of wisdom in that comment.

I've written previously on Tech Republic about my small business career management strategy of convincing management to hire a second technician, training that person to take my place and then moving on to a bigger and better job.  After having gone through this several times I am convinced that having a second computer guy on staff is almost a requirement now.  It really helps to be able to bounce ideas off someone who knows a little about technology.

In other words, although I've been with my current employer for three years now, I'm not planning to move on anytime in the near future. I am still mentoring and training the junior IT guy who is now handling almost all the desktop support issues (100 desktops) allowing me to concentrate on server (12 servers), LAN, WAN (4 sites) and company management issues including purchasing of all upgrades and supplies, budgeting, planning for new technology and disaster planning.

Of course there is no way this could work without the full understanding and support of management.  It just won't happen if you have a jerk for a boss, who either knows nothing about IT but pretends that he does, or who knows nothing about IT but won't accept any input from you. I am lucky that I work for a company that is willing to accept my opinions and expertise.  It's a position of trust that I have come to appreciate more and more over the years.

Many of the comments on Joe's post pointed out that as long as you have a standardized environment, you can probably support more than 100 workstations.  I agree.  Others pointed out that you can probably support even more if you lock down the workstations.  I also agree with that.  And almost everyone agreed that working for a school district sucks because you are expected to support 300+ desktops with no help and no budget.  Ouch!

I have been thinking about adding some sort of trouble ticket software to track and report on our help desk requests.  I do not have a large budget (less than $500) so I can't use any of the big names like Remedy.  User plangham asked this same question last year but I would like to get some current input.  Is help desk software worth it since we only have two people in the IT Department and if so, which one would you recommend for providing reports to management?