Thursday, 9 August 2007

Spiceworks - network management software for free

I've recently been tinkering with a piece of network management software called Spiceworks. It's a comprehensive tool with a web interface that helps IT staff manage networks for SMBs with up to 250 devices. It includes monitoring devices, hardware/software inventory listing, alerts, reporting and a help-desk feature to track end-user issues. To top it all off Spiceworks is free.

Claiming to be the "iTunes for IT management" the software is very easy to setup and use so apart from a small problem with Windows firewall and WMI I was up and running very quickly. The Ruby on Rails based server runs on Windows and the interface being web-based can be accessed from any other machine with a web browser, it also doesn't require any client agents to be installed but rakes in a lot of data about devices on your network via WMI and SSH.

It can deal with Windows, OS X, Linux, switches, routers, printers and more. Once it has scanned the network you can investigate the devices and there are some useful predefined reports that can be produced showing things such as computers without anti-virus, disk usage and services running. you can also create and save your own reports.

The inventory listing is a useful feature for small businesses trying to keep track of their software as it can be very time consuming to do this manually or extremely expensive to buy software to do it automatically.

The real "selling point" for Spiceworks is that is is free and anything comparable is either a nightmare to configure or prohibitively expensive for most SMBs. The obvious question is "where is that catch?". On delving a little deeper I discovered it is funded by advertising on the web interface. Of course advertising in software isn't a new idea but they've been sensible with the Spiceworks ads policy and there are no distracting Flash animated banners goading you to punch a monkey in the face but mainly just plain links to IT articles. These links lead to sponsored white-paper style articles on various IT technologies. There is the occasional animated advert but nothing you don't see around on the average tech website.

I can imagine this will work well considering IT departments tend to have money to spend and the advertising can be tailored to their networking needs. SMBs need hardware, software and training so advertising in a tool like Spiceworks can tap into this. For example Spiceworks could detect that your computers don't have antivirus so show you some related ads for AV products, or similarly if your server is running low on hard drive space suggest a retailer selling replacement drives. Combined with a very well written piece of software that is used by IT staff on a daily basis it sounds like a very clever business model.

One problem I have noticed is that running the server from my desktop PC seemed a little slow although I'm not sure if this is processor usage or the interface waiting for ads to load. Although I've only really been experimenting with Spiceworks so far I definitely think it will be a very useful tool for managing our network and plan to install it on a more permanent home soon.

1 comment:

akp982 said...

Spiceworks 4.1 is currently out with 4.5 hot on its heals.

I can’t wait to meet the Spiceworks team at SpiceWorld London http://www.spiceworld2009.com/london/

It will be a great day with loads off information and hands on training with Spiceworks 4.5

Spiceworks have also managed to team up with Intel for a power manager http://www.spiceworks.com/free-pc-power-management-tool/ which just rocks.