Spiceworks 5.0 Beta Adds New Help Desk Features

Tuesday Aug 17th 2010 by Stuart J. Johnston
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Spiceworks already provides free IT management software, an idea that has proven popular, and now it's upgrading its support for help desk and other network management features.

Spiceworks, a free ad-supported IT management product, announced it is adding new features designed to simplify life for managed service providers (MSP) that need network management features.

High on the list of new capabilities is a major upgrade of its help desk management technology.

The updated package, which entered beta testing earlier this month, is dubbed Spiceworks 5.0, Jay Hallberg, co-founder and vice president of marketing for Austin, Texas-based Spiceworks, told Small Business Computing.

"The new version [5.0] will be fully available in September," Hallberg added.

Spiceworks 5.0 provides additional network management capabilities, including customizable client portals, and a centralized help desk which enables support personnel to view and manage multiple service requests from a single dashboard, the company said in a statement.

"Usually, in the past, I'd have to go out and buy something to do that [help desk management]," Hallberg said.

The package was designed especially for small and mid-sized businesses, with 1,000 or fewer users, Hallberg added.

Launched in 2006, Spiceworks currently claims to have more than a million users in 196 countries, with some 150,000 of them IT service providers. "We now have 1,600 IT professionals from all over the world join every day," Hallberg added.

Help for the Help Desk

The new centralized help desk capability lets MSPs handle service tickets, even from multiple clients, using the same console, according to Spiceworks. A new ticket time-and-billing feature lets personnel track time and money spent on service tickets. The information can also be exported for accounting and invoicing purposes.

Additionally, a customizable client portal capability lets IT staff set up custom user portals as well as individual email aliases for each user. Finally, an executive dashboard lets systems managers administer and monitor help desk activity.

Spiceworks uses Microsoft's Active Directory for authentication and SSL (secure sockets layer) for encryption -- the interface supports Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google and Safari browsers. The software runs on a Windows server, Hallberg said.

For a free IT management package, Spiceworks does a lot for both cloud-based and on-premises networks.

It provides network inventory, asset management, software audits, warranty tracking, and virtualization management, according to Spiceworks' site. It also features monitoring of the network, of power management software, and of SQL Server, the site said.

In addition, Spiceworks lets system administrators manage configuration changes, map the network, and troubleshoot network problems, the site said.

Steve Steinke, senior analyst for The 451 Group, a research firm that focuses on enterprise IT, is enthusiastic about Spiceworks 5.0, particularly for small businesses.

"In order to take action when something happens, you need to know what's going on ... this is a non-expensive way to do it," Steinke said. "This basically gives you, in some cases, all that a medium-sized company needs," he added.

Steinke sees Spiceworks primarily as a small business computing product and a fit for some midsized companies. However, he doesn't envision much use on most corporate networks.

"[It will] probably not fit in a big corporate situation, but it might find users in particular organizations [within an enterprise]," Steinke said.

Community, Community, Community

It's not a big surprise, then, that a free product with a following of a million users has a strong community behind it.

"The Spiceworks user community currently supports 35 million workers, manages 60 million computers and devices, and spends over $180 billion annually on technology products and services," the company's statement said.

In fact, Hallberg said, the features added to Spiceworks in version 5.0 were the result of input from users in the community forums.

"We put a forum in the community [where users] can vote on features [other users submitted] -- called 'chili peppers' -- and that becomes our product roadmap," Hallberg added.

"The multi-client centralized help desk was the number one feature requested by our MSP user community," Scott Abel, co-founder and CEO of Spiceworks, said in a company statement. The statement compared Spiceworks' community with popular social networking sites.

The company does, in fact, have a Facebook page for users.

"Spiceworks is enabling 'social IT' by combining network management, network monitoring and help desk software with a rapidly growing and active Facebook-like community of IT professionals," the statement said.

Besides letting users choose what new features will be added to Spiceworks, the company also publishes some of its applications programming interfaces (API) so that users and other vendors can write plugins for the package. A list of available plugins is available on the Extension Center portion of Spiceworks' community site.

The Spiceworks 5.0 beta can be downloaded here.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.

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