Review: Spiceworks

Three years ago, if someone told me there was a piece of software that could set up an email and web-enabled helpdesk, manage my computer inventory, track vendor contracts, manage a purchasing list, proactively alert me to potential issues, and map my network, I would have said they were crazy.  If they mentioned that it was free, I would have recommended they seek professional help.

Well, two years ago, I found Spiceworks.  At the time, I was looking for an email-enabled helpdesk system.  I was doing consulting and didn't have an easy way to centrally manage and track user requests and other issues.  Did I miss a client issue in between system notifications?  Was Bob's request complete, or still sitting in my inbox?  Spiceworks allowed me to set up an email-based helpdesk system that generated tickets for new requests, tracked existing ones, and also keep the user informed each step of the way.  No more emailing me and wondering if I'm working on the issue.  The system notified the users that the ticket was received, when I took ownership of it, and organized the replies in a clear and structured way.  I couldn't have been happier.

In 2009, I went back to an employee basis at a company with around 200 computers, as well as a multitude of other devices.  They were using LANDesk to manage the network.  It has good patch management and remote control capabilities, but the inventory and alerting portions just weren't entirely too intuitive.  User requests were rolling in via phone, walk-by, email, sticky-notes, and even written-on napkins on my keyboard.  Computers I didn't know existed were breaking down, and I didn't have a good picture of the network in general.

After getting the green light from the IT Director, I installed Spiceworks.  The first hurdle was setting up and using the helpdesk system.  I set up the helpdesk in less than an hour.  From there, I set up a company policy that all IT issues where the user is able to send email get submitted to the helpdesk.  The tickets started to roll in almost immediately.  Using Spiceworks' Helpdesk, I was able to visualize the open issues and tackle the ones that had the biggest business impact first.  As I started going through the issues, I was able to review the existing open tickets and perform followups on them.  The users were thrilled because their concerns were not only being addressed, they were being confirmed as up and running.  Spending less time managing tickets meant spending more time resolving the issues, and ultimately led to a quicker turn-around time on most IT issues.  In the first year, the helpdesk enabled me to move over 1000 tickets.

The second major hurdle that Spiceworks was able to clear without effort was a network inventory.  I created a Domain Administrator account for the scan, and within 20 minutes, had initiated the first network scan.  The details I started to get back were astounding.  I could see not only the computer name and IP address, but also important info such as OS type, RAM, disk space, installed software packages, and much more.  I decided to try setting up a monitor.  I turned on two monitors.  One was for any drives that are less than 10% free to generate an alert, and one for any server drives that are less than 10% free.  Within moments, 15 alerts were generated and 3 emails were in my inbox.  It gave me the ability to remedy the issue proactively, rather than wait for the call to come in that either a user's computer is full or that the email's down because there's no disk space.  

The software has so many more features and options that I'm always discovering some new way to improve and automate IT at my company.  Whether it's visibility into router interface stats, ESXi server health, or a network map, Spiceworks always manages to impress.

Ok, so what's the downside?  Spiceworks is ad-supported.  Before thinking that it's hokey, the ads are sponsored by good, real companies such as CDW, Intermedia, Symantec, and many other IT brand headliers.  Many of the 'ads' aren't even ads and are actually white papers published by various vendors and service providers.  The ads are placed in unobtrusive locations such that an end-user is aware of them, but they don't hinder the operation of the software in the least.  The only other downside to the software is that the inventory side of Spiceworks doesn't handle networks with over 1000 devices all that well.  However, the helpdesk module can still be implemented in a larger organization.

Overall, I couldn't be happier with Spiceworks.  It's professional grade, constantly updated, and free.