SpiceWorks IT Desktop: IT Management for Dummies

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While managing IT infrastructure for any organization, over the time, things grow up a lot, only to make you feel that you can’t be everywhere, can’t keep eyes over everything, specially when management seems to squeezing human resources all the time. In place of delegation of things, responsibilities seem to get centralized over few and one just find frustrated with the tiny details he needs to care about all the time. Is it time to be negative about the responsibilities or come up with a new and positive approach? Do some more hard work or keep yourself updated with cleaver work? Really being an “IT Guy” sounds tasteless … here comes SpiceWorks … spicing up IT as it says.

What is SpiceWorks?

Spiceworks provides a free systems management, inventory, and helpdesk software application, Spiceworks IT Desktop, designed for network administrators working in small- to medium-sized businesses.

Spiceworks IT Desktop is used to inventory, monitor, manage and report on software and hardware assets. It also includes an integrated help desk system. Spiceworks runs on Microsoft Windows and discovers Windows, Unix, Linux and Mac OS X machines along with other IP-addressable devices such as routers, VOIP phones, printers, etc.

An adware and is written in Ruby on Rails, Its not a complete and detailed Monitoring Solution like Zabbix (I already wrote about), but for me it covers another other aspects of your IT management that Zabbix left, in a powerful way like Inventory, events reporting like installations/ updates and complete out-of-the-box-Helpdesk segment.

Login Page


Here is feature list:

  • Scan SNMP Devices
  • Linux Scanning via an SSH login
  • Scan Windows Devices via WMI
  • Ability to manage your software licenses
  • Alerts on customizable definitions (eg machines with no anti-virus or low printer toner)
  • Software automatically categorizes machines into groups. eg Laptops, servers, routers etc
  • Ability to define custom devices
  • Ability to compare one machine with another
  • Ability to manage services on remote machines
  • Plugins
  • Reports
  • Network Map (Beta)
  • Helpdesk with user portal

Having Inventory of all your hardware’s and Software’s is something as important as having control over each aspect of your servers. An Inventory not only helps IT staff, but could be a key document for management as well. But the most tedious part is to keep it updated and you always wish that there is some solution that might be doing the job for you without any manual intervention. SpiceWorks does the same job very well, lovable because it doesn’t requires any client side installation and still keep you updated about any changes done in your infrastructure.

Customized report

The other important aspect of SpiceWorks in my scenario is Out-of-Box ready to roll Helpdesk solution. A helpdesk keeps your support efficient and ensure resolution of issues within time frame. Not only evaluate individual’s skill sets, but also provide a complete view for IT Staff and management that how well or worse they are providing support. Not only that it may also reduce common calls that requires little IT interventions and could be dealt by non-IT Staff because, it grows up with an open database of resolved calls with causes and comments about the resolution.


Enough with dry talk, now let’s engage ourselves in some real things

Installing SpiceWorks IT Desktop:

A 23.3 MB Download from the link, the spiceworks.com web site claims the software is an IT manager’s dream – asset management and help desk, all from a simple Windows PC. As the site mentions

Spiceworks IT Desktop is designed for

  • IT Pros who have admin rights on their network.
  • Organizations with less than 1,000 devices on their network. It will work with more but it won’t be as fast.
  • Running on a PC. It discovers Windows, OS X, Linux and Unix but you need to run it from a PC on your network.

System Requirements

  • Windows XP Pro SP2, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 2003 Server SP1, SP2 and R2, & Windows 2008 Server
  • 1.0 GHz Pentium III class processor
  • 1.0 GB RAM (Notice that this one is trickier as it has to cover a lot of aspects)

Browser Requirements

  • Firefox 3.0 – 3.5
  • Internet Explorer 7.0 – 8.0
  • Google Chrome 2.0

As its not always the case that you get a fresh server to install a new application, one should worry about two things with installing any of the web solution, first if its going to take the default http port 80 and if the database its going to use already exists on the same server, you are going to install SpiceWorks IT Desktop. Thankfully, SpiceWorks goes well about both the cases. It takes port 9675 (Of course, choice is yours) for HTTP and the database used is not MySQL, but is a SQLite database.

End of worries. Could go for installation now…

~24 M of installation take a little while to install and greet you with a couple of questions about your network like range of IP Addresses to scan, various Windows username/ passwords details possibly across your network, ssh credentials and you are ready to scan your network for finding devices. Yeah! As the very first step, it asks you to get registered with Spiceworks, which would be your one point help system and integration of your account with web resources.

There are also services related requirements on client side like WMI related services should be in running mode and firewall should not be blocking SpiceWorks access. I am not sure that Remote Registry Service is required or not, but possibly that is also in set of requirements on client side.

typical dashboard

Go for a complete network scan and in just few minutes, you should start getting discovery, monitoring, and alerting items from all over your connected network.


Inventory

I think it would take a few days for you to manage all of the devices showing up in Inventory Dashboard of SpiceWorks. After the same, one could go for the first amazing part.

Click on reporting (http://localhost:9675/reports)

Reports page

Create a new report, name it and add columns as per your requirement or even add conditions for making inventory for some specific group of devices/ workstations like I went for all workstations, whose names might be starting with “IT-“. Columns added in my case were Name, IP Address, Operating System, Serial Number, Model, Manufacturer, Memory, Processor Type, MAC Address and Installation Product Key

Customized report

Click on Save and Run and few minutes more will present you a perfectly made, Excel/ PDF/ CSV exportable inventory of your network. More of it, this report will be saved with you to re-run later on for finding more current status of devices.


Helpdesk

Adding a new face to your IT Support, profits of a fully equipped Helpdesk really could amaze you and your clients, if you never worked before with any kind of IT Helpdesk. Many even might be running their home made CRM to keep it flexible for meeting their needs. This might come to surprise many in the fact that its totally free of cost and still works like a charm.

HelpdeskTicket

Just click over Helpdesk to find the tickets (http://localhost:9675/tickets) being displayed there with filters like Open Tickets, Closed Tickets, Unassigned Ticket etc. Now you have two ways; either let IT Staff lock the complaints themselves with details or even pass the responsibility to actual users themselves via portal (http://localhost:9675/portal) that could be flexibly customized through (http://localhost:9675/user_portal) like let me show you mine one..

Helpdesk view

There are many details left to be explained in this article, much left for even me to understand and learn through, still waiting for some book (SpiceWorks community seems to be working on the same http://bit.ly/antjqa) … even then like Zabbix, I find SpiceWorks IT Desktop kind of must recommend for any IT Administrator.

SpiceWorks official Twitter page has introduced me with their few free training and demonstration videos, which you can go through to know that what this could do for you.

Videos | Events

Let’s spice up IT a little (in fact a lot).

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Zabbix Monitoring-Simplest becomes more simpler

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Remember that IT guy from the movie “Hello” based on Chetan’s One Night @ Call Center? So many USBs hanging around neck, some screw drivers in the pocket, some wires here and there … and don’t know what else. A funny sight to laugh about, but little does you realize that life of us, we ‘IT guys’ somewhat really become the same.

Month by month reduced manpower and day by day getting complex infrastructure really make we IT people, (even if equipped with most powerful and expensive hardware on our side) running every moment of each day. Even sometimes, we find ourselves fed up of our own jobs and issues popping around from all over, try to come up with new energy at every next day and tired at the end of day thinking that will ever we going to get some productive time to block issues before rising rather than facing issues which most of the time arise due to the fact that even after knowing rules, we can’t keep an eye over each and everything by own.

Monitoring solutions do the job for you. You know that problems come due to grown logs, low disk spaces or any such parameter, which could be monitored easily if individual, but monitoring all at one place is what these monitoring solutions are all about.


I already have recommended Zabbix as complete monitoring solution and even wrote a dummies manual about deployment of the same on your Windows/ Linux workstations and Servers. Once I even been complaining about the complexity and confusions around simple yet very complex in nature Zabbix Solution.

Genuinely, having a cool product in your hands solve many things, but it frustrates you a lot, when you get lots of questions hitting your mind and no authentic solution over the same other than random answers in forums or hit-n-trial experiences of other users. You wanted to have command over what’s going on in your infrastructure and you not confident about the product itself?

After receiving and reading the Packt Publications book over Zabbix written by Rihards Olups, I really feel getting the same confidence I always wished for. The book really clears around tiny details of Zabbix. As I promised in my last introduction post about the book, allow me to share detailed summery about the book now…


Zabbix 1.8 Network Monitoring
Language :
English
Paperback : 428 pages [ 235mm x 191mm ]
Release Date : March 2010
ISBN : 184719768X
ISBN 13 : 978-1-847197-68-9
Author(s) : Rihards Olups

428 pages are like nothing, when you talk about something that covers really a lot, but the step by step and Layman’s approach make each of the page of real worth.

Chapter 1: Getting Started with Zabbix

This chapter covers almost all what in first place, you may come to know after installing not one, but a few Zabbix servers. It starts from what Zabbix is, what are the features, how it will look like and then how to install and configure. Yes!! even the first chapter leaves you with completed installation and web frontend with brief explanation of each step and command you went through while installation.

Chapter 2: Getting your first notification

Zabbix is much bigger thing than just the installation. by looking at the default provided graphs and monitored data of the server itself already gives you an idea that what Zabbix is going to do for you, but knowing the details like creating a host, items to monitor, defining triggers, email notifications, creating actions etc are what concerns this chapter. It explains in details that how we can monitor some particular element of consideration in Zabbix terms.

An experienced learner could gather the details at his own pace, but having the correct manual about each and everything makes your life easier about the product and enables you to concentrate more on your scenario itself.

By the way, this chapter could be downloaded as sample chapter from here

Chapter 3: Monitoring with Zabbix Agents and Basic Protocols

Zabbix usages client-server way to bring the most from the monitored host. You are needed to install Agents on client side (already discussed in earlier chapter). This chapter deals with more finer elements of Zabbix Agents and show the way to use them all over the Zabbix frontend.

Chapter 4: Monitoring SNMP and IPMI Devices

Once I mentioned that it requires installation on client side, few of you might have started to think that not each device will be like that you could install something up on like your DSL, your UPS, your EPBX etc… what about that? Don’t get worried, Zabbix isn’t only for typical specialist Server Administrators, but it does the job for more complex scenario as well, where the infrastructure to be monitor includes more variety of devices.

This chapter deals with how to monitor SNMP devices and how to get along with other monitoring interfaces and real worth reading for people, who wanted to extend their capabilities/ responsibilities at another level.

Chapter 5: Managing Hosts, Users and Permissions

This chapter is about the instructions that how to behave with frontend about managing hosts, users and permissions as the name hints. It also shows that how you can create different groups for different monitoring responsibilities and in this way delegating the works and rights that might be more suiting to your environment.

Chapter 6: Acting Upon Monitored Conditions

A monitoring solution is not only about knowing whats going on, but also doing corrective measures at first place, if harmless. This chapter deals about the same like how to create triggers on specific scenarios, putting human readable constants and using scripts/ remote commands to deal with situation in first place with human intervention. One of most worthy chapter of this book.

Chapter 7: Simplifying Complex Configurations with Templates

Templates are like standards or tailor made copies for scenario and having lots of customizable ones make your life more easier. This chapter deals with various templates available with Zabbix and also how to use them.

Chapter 8: Visualizing the Data & Chapter 9: Creating Reports

These two chapters deals about the presentation part, which would be actual impression when people other than administrators go through them.

Chapter 10 to Chapter 13

These four chapters dig deeper into advanced item configurations, scenarios, later included proxy method for monitoring remote locations and database itself. Worth reading for administrators, who feel themselves comfortable with day to day tasks with Zabbix and want to go geeks with it now.

Chapter 14: Upgrading Zabbix

This chapter deals with one of the most important aspect. Zabbix is a constantly growing application and sure we find ourselves in front of another version with new features in short intervals. Knowing exactly that how to make the transitions without loosing data is what concerns this portion of the book.

Chapter 15: Taking Care of Zabbix

My experience says that even beginners should read this chapter for sure otherwise they are bound to pass through un-necessary worries like I went. Having a good thing is good, but best is to keep it good. This chapter not only talks about performance and efficiency cautions, but also give good instructions about backing up and restoring data.

 

There are two Appendix A & B after these all chapters, which deals a little with troubleshooting in a few scenarios and things like Global support through online documentations, forums, wikis, IRCs.


If you know the worth of a monitoring solution like Zabbix, then more than anything else, this book makes the place in your closest book self for any free time reading more than anything. Its not about impressing others with some tricks around Zabbix, but its about real living with it.

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