The lack of agents also precludes keeping in constant contact with systems, so real-time monitoring isn't an option. Nevertheless, you can configure Spiceworks to scan the network at regular intervals ranging from daily to as often every 30 minutes. You can also choose from among three different scan speeds. While slower scans obviously take longer, they use fewer system resources, which can be helpful if you're running Spiceworks on a client system and want to also use the system for other tasks.
Spiceworks also helps you sift through lots of network information with a built-in report generator. You can choose from a handful of pre-defined reports (i.e. find systems with low disk space or find all printers) or design your own report by using any of the roughly two-dozen parameters. The software lets you save reports as either Excel or PDF files. It also lets you define network monitors to notify you in case of certain network events, such as when a system's running low on disk space, its anti-virus definitions aren't up to date, or a particular application has been installed or removed.
Would You Like Ads with That?
These days whenever a product is available for free it's usually a safe bet that some sort of advertising is subsidizing it, and that's certainly the case with Spiceworks. Simply put, the company offers its product at no charge since it plans to earn revenue from another source specifically, the Google Adwords text advertisements that occupy the right-hand side of every Spiceworks page. SpiceWorks actually makes no mention of this on their site, so you don't know about it until you've installed the software.
As is typical of Adwords, the ads embedded into Spiceworks are context-sensitive and are based on the information Google has gleaned from the page data (you'll likely see an ad for ink or toner when looking at the printer page, for example), so they change from page to page. (In at least one case, however, the ads were bizarrely irrelevant, all having to do with apartment rentals and florists in Harrisburg, Penn.)
In any event, the Google ads don't dominate the page and are no more intrusive than they'd be on any Web site. Although some business owners may not be entirely comfortable with ads being generated from their network information, most people shouldn't find the ads overly distracting, and some may even find them useful. (The company says that it has no plans for a paid version of the software that's not supported by ads.)
As far as your network data is concerned, Spiceworks says that it's all stored on a local database, as are all the account credentials you provide (the latter in encrypted form) and none of it is uploaded to Spiceworks or any third-party.
The Bottom Line
Spiceworks seems to have successfully applied a new business model to an old problem with a product that's free, capable, and easy to use. The product does have a few rough edges (after all, it's still in beta), and it won't give you the bells and whistles of a conventional network management application, but if you're looking for a way to take stock of your network with a minimal time (and no financial) investment, Spiceworks is the way to go.
This article was first published on WinPlanet.