Nov 02 2016

SpiceWorld 2016: Amid Growing Complexity, IT Pros Get Tools to Simplify Tech

Spiceworks unveiled a host of new cloud-based tools to help IT professionals manage networks and IT environments.

Technology is not getting any simpler for IT professionals, especially those at small to medium-sized businesses. Increased adoption of virtualization and mobile devices are making IT environments more complex than ever before.

Spiceworks, the online community and resource center for IT professionals, wants to make life simpler for IT pros, especially those who are in charge of managing networks and researching new products. The company used the opening keynote of the SpiceWorld 2016 IT Conference in Austin, Texas, to unveil a bevy of new cloud-based tools. The firm also wants to make its tools more personalized and intelligent as they are used in combination.

Speaking to a crowd of about 2,000, Spiceworks CEO Jay Hallberg said that as the firm has evolved over the last decade it has focused on a few simple questions. “How do we deal with a never-ending rise of complexity in the environments that you support?” he asked the audience. And he posed two other questions: How can Spiceworks participate in companies’ transition to the cloud, and how can the power of connections and community be harnessed to help IT pros do their jobs better?

Hallberg noted that every month about 5 million IT pros come to Spiceworks for a variety of reasons: To research products; get troubleshooting tips; communicate and collaborate with other IT workers; and take advantage of Spiceworks tools, device inventory and network monitoring software.

Tabrez Syed, Spiceworks’ vice president of products, told BizTech that the tools give IT pros access to the Spiceworks community, and they benefit from the input and feedback community members provide. “It’s like having a virtual bench of IT pros right by your side,” he said.

New Cloud-Based Tools

Historically, Spiceworks has given IT pros a single, locally-installed IT management application they can use to inventory network assets, manage their help desk environment, and troubleshoot network issues. However, the company now wants to integrate its community with cloud-based applications so that Spiceworks can access information from that community as they are monitoring their IT network environments and solving problems. Based on how the community and apps are used, Spiceworks claims that the apps will become more intelligent and responsive to IT pros’ needs.

Spiceworks launched numerous free, purpose-built applications for IT pros to inventory network assets, investigate connectivity issues, and spot internet outages.

“As an IT pro, you are playing multiple roles,” Syed notes, especially at SMBs, as IT workers and leaders are often managing security, networking and software issues in quick succession. Often, software packages that help IT pros with these kinds of issues require them to go through one step before taking the one they really want — for example, forcing them to take a hardware and software inventory before doing a network configuration.

The new cloud-based tools are designed to help IT pros solve simple problems without having to go through numerous steps. However, when used in tandem with each other they will become smarter, Syed says.

Here’s a quick rundown on a handful of the cloud-based apps Spiceworks unveiled, some of which are cloud versions of existing tools:

  • IP Scanner discovers the devices on organizations’ networks within a matter of minutes, including notebooks, desktop PCs, mobile devices, printers, and other IP-enabled devices. The application details each device’s hostname, IP address, MAC address, and operating system. The tool can be used to quickly map organizations’ IT infrastructure, find missing networked devices, or discover devices that shouldn’t be connected to their network.
  • Internet Outage Heatmap pinpoints geographically where an internet outage or service interruption exists and assigns colors to show various levels of latency in regions across the globe (green is positive, red is not). The heatmap, based on anonymized crowdsourced data from IT professionals in the Spiceworks community, identifies the scope and severity of an ISP outage by revealing if other organizations in a specified area are also experiencing outages. IT pros can filter the heatmap based on a specific ISP to track the connectivity of their organization’s internet provider in real time, or look at all ISPs to identify widespread connectivity issues affecting multiple providers in a geographic area.
  • Traceroute shows the internet connectivity path between a device and a specified endpoint, such as a server, application, cloud provider or internet service provider (ISP). IT pros can then troubleshoot latency issues and identify where a connection is slow or broken. While standard traceroute tools are often blocked by firewalls on the internet, Spiceworks claims that its tool uses a more advanced protocol to provide accurate and dependable results that allow IT pros to see the entire end-to-end connection path, identifying where the connectivity issues are within a matter of seconds.
  • Website Down Checker identifies if a website is generally unavailable or just unavailable on a specific network. IT pros can use the tool to quickly determine if issues exist on their network, such as a configuration issue, or if the website is down for everyone due to a problem outside of their control.
  • SSL Checker helps IT pros maintain secure web traffic to corporate websites. By quickly detecting common issues with Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certifications, they can ensure they’re supporting secure protocols, following the latest SSL/TLS best practices, and keeping their certificates up to date.
  • Connectivity Dashboard lets IT pros see whether users can connect to various mission-critical apps and what their connection speeds are. They can then determine if there is an issue with the ISP, application, or something else onsite.

Some of the tools, like SSL Checker and Connectivity Dashboard, are available today, while others like IP Scanner, the Internet Outage Heatmap and Traceroute are still in beta.

Benefits for IT Pros

Syed says that these tools are the “bread and butter” of Spiceworks’ operation and come into play often in IT environments. For example, IP Scanner would be used if one company is buying another and wants to get an accurate picture of all of the devices on its network. Or, if the company’s finance department needs to do an asset inventory as it is closing the books for the quarter.

SSL Checker lets businesses ensure that their IT environments are safe and functioning properly as more websites get encrypted, Syed notes. Businesses need simple ways of knowing if their SSL certificates are up to date.

The tools will also get smarter as they are used in concert with others, Syed says. For example, if an IT pro uses SSL Checker prior to doing a hardware inventory, the inventory should be able to flag all of the certificates on network devices that are no longer valid.

The tools will also get smarter thanks to crowdsourced user data in the Spiceworks community, he said.

The new tools focus heavily on networking, but Syed says eventually Spiceworks will build out similar cloud-based tools for all kinds of IT categories: cloud, security, software, hardware, virtualization, backup and storage, mobility and communication.

For SMB IT pros who wear many hats, these tools make their jobs easier and better, Syed says — and they deliver added value faster. They also come with built-in educational information and tools to more resources in the Spiceworks network. “You’re plugged in to the community,” he said.

Phil Goldstein

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