the spice must flow

January 6th, 2007

inventory.gif

If you’ve ever worked in IT — and may God have mercy on your soul if you have — you know that the process of keeping an inventory of your machines is a relentlessly thankless process. First you have to run around with a clipboard, scrabbling under desks and inhaling pounds of dust and user foot crunk. Then you have to write down a bunch of specs and serial numbers longer than your arm. Then you have to run back to your IT hole and enter those specs and serial numbers in a spreadsheet or database. Then, every time you add or remove a computer, you have to do it again. It’s amazingly tedious work — don’t we have computers to keep track of this crap for us? There’s got to be a better way!

…and there is, but typically, these asset tracking solutions fall down on two counts:

  1. They are way expensive.
  2. They require you to install complicated monitoring daemons on each and every workstation or server you monitor.

Enter Spiceworks. It’s a free network monitoring package that is one of the best thought-out products of this type I’ve ever seen. It’s a web-based app (yea Ruby!) that runs on a local server, and after a painless install all it requires you to do is enter admin password(s) for your local workstations and servers. After that, Spiceworks runs around your network and collects serial numbers and system specs, checks on installed software, catalogs your network devices, and generates reports on printers and servers. You can even set up automatic email alerts to notify you if your servers are filling up, or if Todd from accounting installed WeatherBug again (friggin’ Todd!).

It’s not a real-time monitoring package — the most it checks on your stuff is every half hour, and it doesn’t do detailed network bandwidth monitoring. For that kind of thing, you’d probably want to use something like jffnms or Nagios. But I’m genuinely impressed by what a rich feature set Spiceworks manages to have without losing simplicity, and without seeming bloated or unwieldy. Spiceworks also does an excellent job of integrating the remote functions into the local user interface, giving the user one-click access to the online help, forums, and other useful resources.

The most interesting thing to me is the revenue model; as you use the Spiceworks web-based interface, it shows you a unobtrusive banner ad along the side. That is, apparently, how it can remain free software. As much as I loathe the idea of more ads being pasted everywhere — no one wants their software to look like a Nascar racer — competing solutions cost hundreds of dollars, so I can deal with a couple of unobtrusive ads.

Biggest/only downside? Right now it only runs on Windows XP, although it’s web-based, so after you get it installed you can access it via Mac OS X or linux. Hopefully someone’s working on that right now.

~jeff

6 Responses to “the spice must flow”

  1. Tom says:

    I shall not I.T., I.T. is the mindkiller…

  2. Jeff says:

    Well, go ahead and post those suckers, PerlMasta98.

    ~jeff

  3. Jeff says:

    I AM HAXXORING YOUER SYSTEM RIGTH NOW! LOLOL!!

    PS I AM HELLA LEET

  4. Jeff says:

    I’m glad you tried it. I think it’s pretty damn decent for free, and I find the business model (“Solid as a rock!”) fascinating.

    ~jeff

  5. David says:

    I really enjoy using NetPoint for my network inventory. I definitely agree with Evan about SpiceWorks not being suitable for anything beyond a small network. NetPoint is easy to install, straight forward to use, and scales well on my 500 server network. Not to mention, I don’t have to deal with any ads :-).

  6. Mad says:

    God created I.T. to train the faithful.

    I had used myself some software with ads and i believe is not that bad. Only that i cannot believe anybody ever click in those ads