Big IT challenges haunt even the smallest businesses. Spiceworks, a company that provides free network management software and also operates a community hub for technology professionals, helps small businesses navigate a computing landscape that has been radically altered by mobile devices and cloud services.
The company recently released the latest edition of its network management suite, Spiceworks 7. Mirroring some of the biggest trends currently reshaping IT, the software provides what are now considered must-have capabilities. Mobile device management (MDM) sits atop the list of most-desired features by IT managers.
Free Mobile Device Management
No longer do small business owners fret when employees grab their iPads or Android smartphones to get work done. Spiceworks 7 offers free MDM features, through a partnership with MaaS360, that allow network administrators to inventory and monitor iOS, Android and Windows mobile devices and apps.
Spiceworks also provides simplified mobile device enrollment along with custom alerts that notify administrators when the system detects jail-broken devices, disabled passwords and exceeded data thresholds, among other criteria. Upgrading to the paid premium-MDM option enables app deployment and management capabilities, policy management, over-the-air configuration and remote wipe and lock.
The Spiceworks software's interface has also been overhauled. In a departure from its desktop software roots, Spiceworks 7 presents a modern dashboard packed with charts, graphs and other visualizations that provide IT managers with an at-a-glance view of their networks and the devices shuttling data across it.
New customizable group scanning options let you target desired metrics on select device classes. Admins can get rid of unwanted Windows applications with remote software uninstall functionality. A cloud-scanning feature gives administrators visibility into which users and devices are connected to third-party cloud services like Salesforce or Dropbox.
Finally, the help desk capability has been rewritten "from the ground up," according to the company. Taking cues from the new user-friendly dashboard, the component has been optimized to make it easier to access, change and ultimately resolve support tickets.
Small Business Reaction to Spiceworks 7
It's this feature that most excites Nigel Hickey, infrastructure administrator for metals distributor National Specialty Alloys, which is headquarted in Houston, Texas. Acquired by Reliance Steel & Aluminum in 2012, the wholly-owned subsidiary operates like a small business, for all intents and purposes. Hickey beta tested Spiceworks 7 in anticipation of a potential upgrade (the company currently runs Spiceworks 6).
National Specialty Alloys employs 110 people and maintains branch offices in Oklahoma and Georgia. Add a mix of traditional PCs, virtual desktops, mobile devices and remote workers, and the company's handful of IT pros (who wear many hats) know first-hand how distributed workforces can present SMBs with enterprise-grade management challenges.
Prior to using Spiceworks' help desk, there was no ticketing system, reported Hickey. As is typical with small, tightly knit workforces, users informally requested support by just dropping by the resident expert's desk. That's a problem when an administrator's trying to effectively manage a complex network, deliver rock-solid server uptime and implement technologies that support vital business processes.
While it took some adjustment, Hickey was able to roll out a new Spiceworks-powered support ticket workflow. The new streamlined system helped him "look like a hero in four days," said Hickey. In addition to providing faster, more effective user support, Spiceworks further unburdens administrators with a self-help section that instructs users on resolving common tech issues.
The revamped help desk in Spiceworks 7 looks like a winner, said Hickey. He noted that it provides a real-time edge to support duties by automatically refreshing when a support ticket comes in. The modern UI, better scanning and in-depth breakdowns of support issues also get the nod.
Spiceworks' new MDM capabilities may also help make mobility the norm at National Specialty Alloys, said Hickey. "We really like the fact that it was built into Spiceworks, and it's easy to manage," he said.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.
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