I’ve always known that Spiceworks existed, and that they did something related to Help Desk solutions and product reviews, but it didn’t quite gel for me until I was invited to the Spiceworks conference called SpiceWorld. I visit a fair number of conferences in my travels, and this was definitely one of the more nerdy (in a good way) and fun events of the bunch. There’s a whole ecosystem of spicy pepper memes and dinosaur references that I had to get caught up on just to stay afloat during conversations with conference goers.
I also presented a session to folks on networking and virtualization with a mindset towards admins who wear many hats and manage an environment of 1-5 ESXi hosts, which was a lot of fun. It takes a lot of critical thinking and creativity to manage an environment by yourself and on a small budget.
The Spiceworks team also invited me to try out their Network Monitor software, which is in beta. Like almost all things related to Spiceworks, it’s free to use and has embedded ads because that’s their business model. The software is intended for a small footprint of servers and switches, and offers a modest set of features and alerts for being free to use. I’ve had the software running in my home lab for the past month-ish and wanted to give a quick review of the product.
The setup is laughably easy. Find a supported Windows box somewhere, or deploy a VM, and open the installer. I deployed a Windows 2012 64-bit VM with 2 vCPUs and 4 GB of RAM.
You’ll get a window like the one below. Click the Install button and then wait a minute.
Here’s the following screen. Yup, you’re done. The software is installed. Feel free to imagine that you missed a step. Hint: you didn’t.
There’s now a little desktop icon for the Network Monitor in case you want to run the system tray icon, which lets you toggle the service, toggle notifications, or grab logs. I’d advise running it and then make sure to enable notifications if you want the tool to email you with alerts.
Navigate your web browser to FQDN:8080 and you’ll see a login screen. Enter your Spiceworks creds to get logged in.
By default, the box running the Network Monitor software will be added to the dashboard. My box is called Spiceworks. I spent a few minutes adding a variety of servers and my core switch. It’s super simple – just click the Add New Device button on the right, and enter the name and credentials. You use AD creds for servers, and SNMP creds for switches.
A list of servers and network devices appear in the upper half of the dashboard. The lower half has room for watching 3 specific devices in more detail. Pick whichever device you want here, and then use the config wheely-thing to adjust which metrics are being monitored. For example, I swapped out a few metrics on my SQL box with various disks for my databases and logs.
Monitoring Metrics, Services, and Processes
If you click on a device, such as my SQL server in the graphic below, you can drill down deeper into all the metrics, processes, and services. I’ve performed a simple query on my services with the name SQL in them. We can see that all of my services are running except for the MSSQLServerADHelper100 service, which is stopped. I can toggle a service from here, or switch to the processes list to stop a process, and it will use the AD creds to perform the activity (assuming it has the permissions to do so). A nice time saver.
Alerts are controlled in two ways: you can edit monitors on a specific device, or use the global alerts threshold. Below are the alerts configured to trigger for my View-CS (connection server) in the lab.
I’ve also pulled up the global alerts, which has a handy slider bar at the top and on/off toggles for each email alert. If you hover your mouse over any specific monitor, it will state the specific condition value that must be satisfied to trigger.
I must admit that I’m rather impressed with this tool. It’s very simple to install and operationalize and it just works. It doesn’t seem to be meant for any significant scale, but if you’re looking to monitor a handful of devices or a home lab, I think it’s a good fit. I’d like to see a bit more data become available from a historical perspective, mainly to see how intense my backups are on the network and how much wiggle room remains until I need to pivot. I suppose, however, that I could just be happy with the fact that my backups aren’t triggering alerts, and thus I’m OK.
If you want to take the beta for a spin, here’s the Spiceworks download page.
Also, if you’re around for the next SpiceWorld, I’d highly suggest going. It was a blast!