For those of you who don’t know, Spiceworks is a program that helps IT departments manage the IT infrastructure. It’s help desk, inventory and monitoring software all rolled up into one package and one of it’s primary attractions is the fact that it’s free. Yep, you heard me, free. Spiceworks, the company, gets revenue a couple of different ways, one is through Spiceworks the program embedded ad’s and the other is through direct support from vendors, who are in turn given direct access to the Spiceworks community–trust me, this isn’t nearly as scary as it might sound.
So why am I writing about it? I’ve been aware of Spiceworks since around version 2.1 (they’re at version 4.5 now and their upgrade cycle is insanely fast!) but really started getting involved with it in March of 2008. The help desk package was–and still is–very basic which for me is one of the best things about it. I’ve used a lot of Help Desk packages through the years, Magic, Lotus Notes (custom database), Track-IT, SysAid, etc and they all captured a ton of data but frankly we never used any of it. Spiceworks let’s you create, comment and close a ticket all from one easy to use, appealing web page. No extra tabs, no extra steps. Bang bang and you’re done.
Inventory is agentless, so nothing to install on the workstations and it supports Windows, Linux (SSH login) and SNMP devices. For SMB’s this pretty much covers most of your devices. Inventory also recognizes special applications like MS Exchange and MS SQL which is a bonus.
Monitoring is pretty basic, and frankly still needs some work but for your regular day to day needs it will get you where you need to go.
All of this is fantastic, and alone would be more then worth the cost (did I mention it was free?) but the one thing that really sets Spiceworks apart from other packages is the community. Most applications these days have forums where you can post questions and hopefully get answers, but the usual experience is you post a question and 2-5 days later someone might respond. In most cases you have to ask a follow-up question and that never gets responded to and you end up wasting a lot of time waiting and not getting your problem resolved. At Spiceworks, the experience is quite different. You post a question, and in most cases you’ll get multiple responses within a half hour! It’s the most vibrant and active community I’ve ever been involved in. As an IT professional it’s invaluable to have this kind, and level, of expertise so quickly at hand.
What finally prompted me to write this article though, was my experience at work. When I first started at SeraCare we didn’t have any Help Desk package at all, so one of the first things we did was implement one. Over a year earlier the previous IT manager had purchased another product called SysAid and while it wasn’t my favorite package, it had 2 things going for it. Number one was the ability to email from within a ticket to another user. At the time, Spiceworks did not have this ability, you could only email the creator of the ticket. The second thing going for it was it was already there and the current staff was somewhat familiar with it. Reluctantly we went forward with it. It’s a pretty good package and for nearly a year we used it and were pretty happy with it. But I stayed involved in the Spiceworks community and saw the rapid growth of capabilities in the product, while our paid software didn’t change in the slightest.
Finally, Spiceworks introduced version 4.5 of their product and my frustration with Sysaid was hitting a high. What was my primary frustration? All the clicking needed to get things done! Want to read email correspondance associated with the ticket? Messaging tab. Want to close a ticket? Change the status to closed, then click on another tab and fill out the resolution. The reporting on SysAid was quite bad too. Good, canned summary reports, but no detailed reports so I could always see how many tickets were open, but not what they were! I finally solved this problem by creating a custom report in Crystal Reports but this was far from ideal. Also, to get an inventory on a device required the SysAid agent to be installed. The last straw was when we ran out of user licenses and I knew I’d have to purchase more just to have all the users in SysAid!
So in December of 2009 I created a test virtual machine, downloaded Spiceworks 4.5 and installed it. What a difference. Setup machine scanning in about 5 minutes, no agent installation required. Help Desk setup in 5 more minutes. Spiceworks clean and simple interface quickly reminded me why I liked it better! And with 4.5 they had so many cool new things to do. In version 4.0 Spiceworks introduced a plug-in architecture and there are now some really cool things you can do with it. Intel’s Power Manager and Microsoft’s SQL monitor being top of the list! So I opened up to the rest of the staff and the feedback was immediate that they liked it better.
Good enough for me! In January 2010 we switched over Help Desk operations to Spiceworks and haven’t looked back. If you’re in IT, do yourself a favor and check this product out. The combinations of features, functionality, community and cost are unparalleled.