Small to medium-sized businesses and large enterprise branch offices that need a package for IT asset management and network monitoring with an integrated helpdesk will be interested in the latest version of Spiceworks IT Desktop 5.0.
Headline features include network hardware configuration management, a new employee-centric view of which hardware and software assets firms have, new IT purchasing management options and a significantly improved integrated helpdesk.
Spiceworks is a Windows-only, browser-based software package that lets users manage their inventory of network and desktop assets, run a helpdesk and perform monitoring, troubleshooting and reporting on networked IT assets.
Spiceworks runs on Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2. It can also be used to manage Mac, Linux and Unix systems inventory, but does not run on them.
We downloaded a late beta of the 24MB package, and installed the system on both 32- and 64-bit systems. The 64-bit hardware was a SuperMicro system with an Intel dual-core 3.2GHz processor, with 2GB of memory, running Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise Edition. The 32-bit hardware was a Dell Precision M50 Workstation running Windows XP Professional, with an Intel Pentium 4 2GHz processor and 1GB of memory.
Installing the software took about five minutes. Spiceworks first prompted to find out whether we wanted to inventory our network or back up network device configurations.
We opted for backing up any network device configurations – a new feature that allows network administrators to baseline their current switch and router configurations.
Next Spiceworks scanned our entire infrastructure, categorising hardware into network, servers and workstations. After this, we set up email settings for Spiceworks so it was ready to handle helpdesk, monitoring and alert functions.
Testing new features
There are four major new features in version 5.0 that could tempt firms into trialling the software. The first is People View, which gives an employee-centric view of IT assets and can be used to prioritise and take care of a specific employee.
The next three features are: the ability for network administrators to manage their network hardware configurations; IT purchasing management options; and an upgrade to the helpdesk for managed service providers (MSPs) and multi-location enterprises.
People View let us add new employees and tie them to specific IT assets, such as desktop or laptop systems. We were able to interrogate these new users with Active Directory and pull out specific details, such as an employee profile, together with their account information, and their helpdesk requests timeline, for example. It also allows IT administrators to reset employee passwords with a single click.
The new network device configuration management feature prompted us, on startup, to back up the network hardware configurations and gave the option to set alerts to indicate whether someone has changed these configurations.
We tested it by changing parameters in the switch configuration file. The software triggered alerts that showed in the main Spiceworks application and triggered an email alert to the nominated person. This email can also be set up to go to a nominated group of people.
The purchasing management option allows users to set up IT purchasing details, such as purchase orders, identify the department the asset should be charged to, approve asset purchases and track whether the asset has been received.
The helpdesk upgrade in the new version allows the creation of separate helpdesks for multi-location firms or for managed service providers. Spiceworks can then be used to monitor different customer IT infrastructures. You need to set up a ‘collector’, which allocates helpdesk requests to the appropriate helpdesk.
Monitoring and alerting
Spiceworks detected and characterised all networked IT assets, but some hardware needed reclassifying manually – an HP printer and a Dell laptop, connected wirelessly, were marked on the network map as connecting through our 3Com 4250T 10/100 switch.
Spiceworks can be customised to send alerts for specific events, but there are also useful default alerts. We were automatically alerted to the low ink cartridges in the HP printer and to out-of-date anti-virus signatures on the desktop.
Spiceworks already supported VMware, but the new version adds the ability to discover and manage Microsoft Hyper-V created virtual machines. We did not test this.
One negative is that Spiceworks is an advertising-supported package. Research and development costs are offset with targeted technology adverts on the user interface. There is the option to pay around £200 per year to ditch the ads, but the company says only around one per cent of customers take this option.
The new features in Spiceworks 5.0, such as purchase management, network hardware configuration monitoring and improved helpdesk options for multi-location enterprises will appeal to many firms currently using other IT asset management systems.
It’s well worth IT administrators at least testing Spiceworks 5.0 and comparing it to their existing system. Managed service providers are also using Spiceworks, so the ability to silo helpdesk portals will help those users significantly.
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