Coming soon ….

It’s been a long while since I would have written a post. In fact, I been almost out of touch with blogging in recent due to personal engagements (new office, father of one kiddo). Not sure, when I would be able to break the stand off, but meanwhile something important is coming soon…

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A Step by Step Guide about Spiceworks

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Wrote twice about Spiceworks, once for just introducing and once for showing a preview of upcoming Spiceworks 5.0. But I always thought that there is a vacuum, when we try to find some proper book over this great IT tool. The only resource is their very active users forum (really serves the purpose in superb way), which sure does the job, but I thought there must be something out there like step by step as well. Why to just think, when I could come up with one of my own? Here I am with a step to step guide about Spiceworks.

Introduction

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.

Spiceworks is an adware and is written in Ruby on Rails, It’s not a complete and detailed Monitoring Solution like Zabbix as of now, but it covers 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.

What are the main features available with Spiceworks?

Here is feature list:

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



For whom Spiceworks is designed for?

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 only one PC on your network (which might be even just a desktop with provided resource requirements).

Advantages of Spiceworks:

Though Spiceworks integration with active directory is still a work in progress from Spiceworks community end and complete performance monitoring like Zabbix or NagiOS is not available with Spiceworks, but there are two areas, where Spiceworks is very useful for our scenario.

1. Inventory of Systems: With the changing requirements and movement of systems, it’s a hard and purely manual work to keep track of updated inventory of workstations with us in some particular campaigns as earlier it involved going PC to PC and collecting detailed profiles of workstations.

Spiceworks solves the same issue with collecting the system related info like Serial number, MAC Address, RAM, HDD, Processor, Product Keys etc from a centralized location. Though the setup requires specific changes in system firewalls, but it works for covering almost all the workstation with little troubleshooting skills. Most favorable thing is, it doesn’t works on agent-less way means it could start it work without affecting current existing scenario and without installing anything on production machines that might raise issues for any compliance.

2. Web Based Helpdesk Solution: Centralized helpdesk is a proven resource to keep the cost and quality of support optimized and after searching a lot of open source Helpdesk solutions for a web based helpdesk solution, there was no satisfactory solution matching our requirements. Most of the solutions out in market assume an IT Helpdesk person logging and assigning calls after receiving telephonic or mail based complaints as that’s a standard in most of the places.

Spiceworks was only available for free solution that provides a very flexible and customizable Helpdesk solution that could address most of the needs in our environment with continuous learning and efforts to improve it.


Installation procedure and requirements:

The Spiceworks software as a less than 25 Mb download file (as of now) could be downloaded from the www.spiceworks.com. The same executable is inclusive of all basic requirements for Spiceworks that includes the SQLite database for storing settings-n-stats and Apache web server (need to check if installations already there to avoid conflicts).

System Requirements

1. Windows XP Pro SP2, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 2003 Server SP1, SP2 and R2, & Windows 2008 Server

2. 1.0 GHz Pentium III class processor

3. Minimum 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

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.

~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. 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. File and Printer sharing service and Remote Registry Service running on clients are the other main requirements for Spiceworks.


Working with Spiceworks:

There are two portions of the jobs that Spiceworks does in our environment and below is the details:

Inventory: The very first step to start with Spiceworks is running a Network scan from settings options. The following will be required inputs for the same:

1. It will require the credentials like Administrator passwords that are allowed to access registry of the clients and active directory info, SSH logins etc. Many times, it also requires to give local administrator auths than domain one.

2. Define the network range to scan. This has to be chosen systematically because scanning extra IPs increases overhead over Spiceworks and thus affecting other things.

3. After scanning, there must be many device mentioned in Inventory section and may be few reporting errors while scanning, which will be needed to sorted.

4. Once done with scanning all and sorting out error, you can always take a very flexible and customizable excel based inventory report based on almost every accessible info.

Helpdesk:

You have to go through http://<Server_IP&gt;:9675/user_portal to design the portal as per requirements and design preferences. For adding custom fields, there are plenty of options at the advanced setting page http://<Server_IP&gt;:9675/settings/advanced. For additional and useful customizations, there are many extensions and plugins available like we are making use of following plugins.

1. My Ticket Rules
2. My Ticket Views
3. Helpdesk only User Roles
4. Ticket Auto-Assign

After the required customizations, you can navigate to http://<Server_IP&gt;:9675/tickets for 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://<Server_IP&gt;:9675/portal) that could be flexibly customized through (http://<Server_IP&gt;:9675/user_portal).

There are other options available with Helpdesk like Active Directory auth, so that clients could make use of their normal domain login to login into Helpdesk and many minor options in advanced pro configurations to suit the needs.


Backing up configuration:

For backing up the configuration, the settings page is on http://<Server_IP&gt;:9675/settings/backup, which defines the location for the backup and also option to schedule the backup on daily, weekly or monthly basis.

You can set it at automatic, which create a job in Windows Scheduled Tasks that will make use of the command Spiceworks.exe backup, where the exe is located at

C:\Program Files\Spiceworks\bin

The backup job creates zip files in C:\Program Files\Spiceworks\backup folder (by default) in the format

spiceworks-backup-[Vversionnumber]-[YYYY-MM-DD].zip

Restoring Spiceworks data:

There are following steps involved in restoring Spiceworks from the backup done in above way:

  • Right-click system tray and select exit (or stop the service if running as a service)
  • Verify that all Spiceworks* processes are no longer running
  • Delete the db and data directories in the Spiceworks installation folder
  • Copy the db and data folders into the Spiceworks installation folder
  • Start Spiceworks


Moving your Spiceworks installation to a new computer

If you’d like to move Spiceworks from one machine to another, the following steps will work for you:

  • Download and run Spiceworks installer on the target machine
  • Important: Use the same installation directory and port as the original installation
  • Do not complete the registration process
  • Follow the steps above to copy the data and db directories into the new installation


Troubleshooting:

Problem 1: Spiceworks not starting, unable to access.

Solution: Spiceworks is proactive over such issues and updates are smooth at 90% occasions, so in most of the scenario re-installation of Spiceworks from the same exe will restore the configurations without any loss of info, which is most clean way than messing up with the configs.

Problem 2: Scanning errors for workstations.

Solution: There might be many reasons for the same like WMI services not enabled, remote registry not enabled, auths wrong or firewall denying the access. If everything is proper then running the following batch instruction should resolve the issue in most of the cases.

Net Stop WinMgmt /y
sc sdset winmgmt "D:(A;;CCLCSWRPWPDTLOCRRC;;;SY)(A;;CCDCLCSWRPWPDTLOCRSDRCWDWO;;;BA)(A;;CCLCSWLOCRRC;;;AU)(A;;CCLCSWRPWPDTLOCRRC;;;PU)
Net Start WinMgmt

The above commands basically set proper permissions on WMI Management Service of the client PC and restarts the WMI Management Service. It works in most of the cases, if all above precautions are taken.

One can make a batch file to run on problem PCs locally or remotely via using XCMD application to access the command prompt of the remote PC from a central location.

Problem 3: User not able to login into Helpdesk. Login failed.

Solution: This may happen due to two reasons:

1. The user has no read permissions on the Spiceworks folder of the server

2. The user’s LAN ID is restricted to login on some specific workstation and so denied login over other workstations.

Solution for the first is to provide read permissions to authenticated users on the following folder

C:\Program Files\Spiceworks

Solution for the second is to adding Server’s name in Logon To field of problematic LAN ID.


So, this is just a naive guide from my side, but I hope that it will help the people, who wants to know, wants to start with Spiceworks. Welcome friends.. let’s spice up the IT.

Spiceworks 5.0 The whole new frontier of Everything IT

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We love updates, specially when it comes to products, which already might be topping our list of favorite; either it be next version of Windows or next version of Smartphone OS of our favorite brand or your favorite Management software. So, here you are, coming September (my birthday month) bringing the biggest release of the IT management software Spiceworks (I covered sometimes back), the 19th release.

Spiceworks and me: It took a learning curve to me to get used for Spiceworks, as I taken a look over it about two years back as a free Software. I wasn’t that big impressed that time or could say kind of scared of many options and ads around within the interface. But now I feel that I was stupid that time and when it came back again, then it kept on amazing me …

I primarily using it for two purposes as of now ..

  1. Gather Inventory info from Multi-Domain structure: That’s probably one of the biggest task for any infra, if you need to get your hand dirty by going to each PC by yourself to gather info. Spiceworks not only empower an IT Admin to gather the same info by sitting at one place, but it provides flexibility of using authentication of multiple domains as well means no more worries. Best part still remains the way it provides you excel reports in exact way you always wanted.

    But the last releases have enabled users to not only gather info but to interact with running processes at the moment and many other relevant info of IT Management.

  2. Helpdesk: Perhaps among all the free/ open source IT Helpdesk software’s, I might have gone through in all those years, never found anyone compared to Spiceworks IT Helpdesk Software. Other one either focuses on concept of one IT person managing the helpdesk and lodging calls on behalf of users and assigning calls to engineers accordingly or even if give users some kind of console, then leave it utterly simple without no option to customize as per your needs.

    I feel Spiceworks Helpdesk solution could very well stand as an independent product and still will be a hot cake. It really gives you enough hands on customizations, rules, priorities, designing and even associating tickets with asset’s profile. Great!!! what else you could have wanted.


What’s new inside version 5.0

There is a lot of info on the official community page, which you could find here and if you can’t hold yourself waiting till the final release in September, then yesterday night they already has released the beta that you could download from here. There are some rules about testing out any beta, but I will come over the same later on.

Spiceworks is just not the two features I mentioned above, it some huge, very huge that’s why they call it everything IT, keeping track of your purchases, IT Services and many more.. lets see what the latest version got as addition:

  • Multi-site Helpdesk: When heard the name for the first time, I was confused that what is it, but later on reading about, it fascinated me a lot. Multi-Site helpdesk means many Helpdesk consoles that might be running in different site with different customizations, different prospects and still gather the data for a central console. Wow!!!! what else I was looking for, got my wish granted even before wishing for it.

    Things to try out with this beta are:

    Helpdesk

    1. Connect a remote site to a central helpdesk site.
    2. Submit tickets from a remote sites portal and respond to them from the central helpdesk.
    3. Set-up email at the remote site and have users submit tickets (including attachments) and confirm they reach the central helpdesk. Respond to the ticket from the central site.
    4. Customize the remote portal.

  • Purchasing: If I am right then there are purchase ticket kind of option in current version as well, but it got a complete redesign and attention with this release only. Finance people should really check this feature out rather than working over some custom made buggy CRM or maintaining the track of purchases manually. You can now use a purchasing workflow on tickets to track approval, ordering and receipt of purchases.

     
    Things to try out with this beta are:

    1. Add purchase to tickets
    2. View purchases and how they relate to Help Desk tickets, inventory and IT Services
    3. Approve and track purchases
    4. Shop for purchases

  • LDAP Authentication via SSL: It always been a treat to watch that how effortless the authentication methods of Spiceworks are. Either be it on user side or IT side, I never faced any big issue and using the AD authentication for logging into Helpdesk been superb thing to me. New Addition is LDAP with SSL that sure going to grab attention of security savy techies, who were avoiding it on the basis of security risks.

    Things to try out with this beta are:

    1. Access via Help Desk > Settings
    2. Users who have an Active Directory will be able to use an SSL option for user portal login
    3. Users can choose an SSL Configuration or leave unchecked for a regular Active Directory Configuration

  • Hyper-V support: Virtualization is something everyone is talking about right now. Recession has taught IT Administrators and companies to work in most efficient manners and probably the biggest technology catching up been the Virtualization. Hyper-V support really adds the missing part of Spiceworks as Virtual is today’s real. 

    New support for Hyper-V in 5.0 means that you’ll be able to discover your Microsoft virtual machines servers. This is in addition to the ability 4.6 delivered to discover your VMware virtualization servers (ESX/ESXi & vSphere) and virtual machines.

    Things to try out with this beta are:

    1. After a scan of your Hyper-V device in 5.0, verify the VM’s tab displays when viewing the device.
    2. Verify the content on the VM tab is accurate.
    3. Verify the Hyper-V server displays in the Virtualization Hosts group
    4. Verify the Hyper-V VM’s display in the Virtual Machines group.

  • NAS support: This is brand new and advanced feature in compliance of escalating expectations from Spiceworks. Many were asking that if Spiceworks could report even individual workstation disk spaces from thousand machines on daily basis, then why not something real like Network Storage? Version 5.0 beginning support for Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices. By inspecting the Web-based Management User Interfaces (MUI) of your Buffalo and Netgear devices, Spiceworks can gather device and disk space details, and show any changes over time.

    Things to try out with this beta are:

    1. Create an HTTP account type on the network scan settings page. This is the same account name and password that you would normally use to access the NAS Web-based MUI.
    2. Scan your NAS device.
    3. Verify the Total Disk Usage Information on the Configuration tab.
    4. Report back to the community and please post the Manufacturer of your NAS. (We have tested this with a Buffalo NAS device but we are looking for users with Netgear to try this out.)

  • Backup/Configuration of network devices: Spiceworks been always amazing to me in terms of backup and restore, it has even options of automatic backup over scheduled times. Not a single incident happened with me, when any of the update asked me to restore back any configuration as it handles most of the thing automatically. But there are many other devices in your network that might not be that lucky and you need to backup them on regular basis like your switches, routers, audio cards .. sure this might be a huge plus on part of the upcoming release in some scenario, if implemented well. It not only allows you to configure and backup your network devices directly from within Spiceworks but also let you compare configuration changes with previous versions to help in troubleshooting network issues.

    Things to try out with this beta are:

    1. Create Telnet and Enable scan accounts for your network devices.
    2. After a network scan select a network device through the inventory and view the gathered configuration data from the device’s Configuration tab
    3. After a change has been made to the device’s configuration, run another network scan and verify the device’s Running Configuration is now different from its Startup configuration, this can be done by select the Changes option for any configuration listed.
    4. Select Restore for any configuration that has been gathered to apply that particular configuration to the network device.

  • SNMPv2c and SNMPv3 support: The beauty of the Spiceworks in best lies within its support to global technologies that doesn’t need a client to be installed on each machine to gather the info and the upcoming version going to add support for SNMPv2c and SNMPv3. You’ll now be able to see more network devices scanned into inventory.

    Things to try out with this beta are:

    1. Create an SNMPv2c or SNMPv3 account on the Network scan settings page.
    2. SNMPv2c supports a community string authentication.
    3. SNMPv3 default options ‘authPriv:md5:des:username’ or ‘authNoPriv:md5:username’. You replace the ‘username’ with the username you log into the device.
    4. Scan your device using the SNMPv2c or SNMPv3 account and confirm the device shows up in your inventory.


So, what’s you waiting for grab the beta and start with it and if you are new to Spiceworks, then could check my introduction article over it or check their official page. I repeat it, its kind of essential weapon for any person handling IT Infra at a better level.

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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