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It’s also a mature, fully functional ticket-based help desk application with remote control support for RDP, VNC vPro and LogMeIn. (Sadly, integration with my beloved Teamviewer is sorely lacking.) The depth of information it gathers is amazing; very near that of the better commercial offerings I have played with. What is more is that it offers basic LOM functionality such as working with Intel’s vPro, and wake on LAN (WOL). Sadly, it will not (out of the box) work with my APC UPSes or PDUs, something I consider a lamentable oversight. There are some threads in the Spiceworks forums about people trying to get this to work, but as with every other bit of network management software I’ve encountered, true LOM integration seems to be an afterthought at best.

Of interest to me with Spiceworks is that it integrates with other software packages to expand upon its already impressive capabilities. In particular, it integrates with Nagios; which is unreservedly one of the best open source applications ever developed. No matter what hardware, software (or quite possibly wetware) you need monitored, Nagios has a plugin for it. Nagios can check on everything you run, and even take corrective measures if something goes wrong. The integration of Nagios into Spiceworks has very neatly provided SMEs with a cheap and functional “war room” application of the kind that five years ago only the big guys could afford.

What makes Spiceworks unique though is not its technical capabilities. It’s that these seem to be almost an afterthought to the real purpose of the application - you. You, me, the sysadmin down the street. They want more bodies for the social networking side of this application - that's where the real value lies. Additional functionality can always be added to Spiceworks by interoperating with other applications. Creating a community of sysadmins sharing knowledge and information is what takes the real time. Can’t remember where the firmware cross-compatibility barrier was on the old Adaptec 2410s? Ask in the forums, your answer will be there quicker than Googling it. Need a plug-in to perform some network monitoring or management task? Chances are it already exists, or someone can knock you together one. Something like one million “Spiceheads” are always looking to “get spicy” and “max out their Spicemeter”. (It makes me wince too, but these are the actual terms in use.)

You can run your network from this thing. If you took the time to properly set it up with all of your equipment, it would be the application you have open in the foreground 80 per cent of the time. You could get lost in social interaction with other sysadmins. Not blathering aimlessly as though it was Twitter, but some sort of creepy work-focused groupthink that is what makes this application so very different.

As I said at the beginning of this article, I don’t do social networking. So for me it is the technical capabilities of Spiceworks that truly impress. Yet I need look no farther than the nearest Facebook or World Of Warcraft addict to realise that there is a huge chunk of the population for whom social networking is a powerful lure. Spiceworks is where social network actually becomes useful. It is where social networking contains information and tools to get your job done more efficiently; something you can use at work without any form of guilt whatsoever. It may simultaneously be the most brilliant and most terrifying application I have ever seen.

From a technical standpoint, Spiceworks is so very near perfect for SME desktop and network management that I think Microsoft and others need to be seriously afraid. Microsoft’s SME contender is the pathetic System Center Essentials (SCE), something that is handily surpassed by much lesser free programs than Spiceworks.

I’d go so far as to say that if Microsoft was looking for 'that something', this is it. It ticks all the boxes: 'cloud', 'social networking' and 'actually useful'. Someone should be at this very minute knocking on the doors of the folks who own Spiceworks and making them an offer they can’t refuse. After all, Spiceworks manages to continue to develop this excellent application funded entirely by either advertising or a $20 a month ad-free subscription. They’ve got to be doing something right. Once I find, (or write) a plug-in to get Spiceworks integrating with Webmin, I will have found my new desktop management application. ®

Gartner critical capabilities for enterprise endpoint backup

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