Spiceworks Introduces Free, Ad-Supported IT Management Software - InformationWeek

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Spiceworks Introduces Free, Ad-Supported IT Management Software

Now that Google has proved the viability of ad-supported online software and Microsoft is reluctantly following suit with Live service, it's possible companies will soon see more ad-supported applications like Spiceworks.

Ads have broken through the corporate firewall and IT may never be the same.

On Monday, a startup called Spiceworks released a beta version of its free, ad-supported IT management software for network administrators.

"After probably 20-plus years in this business, it struck us as kind of odd, maybe even a little perverse, that you should have to pay for technology to manage your technology," says Scott Abel, co-founder and CEO of Spiceworks.

Until it can ramp up its ad revenue, Spiceworks will pay its staff to manage its technology with $5 million in venture funding it received in June from Austin Ventures. Abel and co-founders Jay Hallberg, Greg Kattawar, and Francis Sullivan have worked previously for Apple, NeXT, and Tivoli.

Spiceworks is a Google Ad Sense partner. It serves online ads from Google advertisers in its browser-based application and splits the revenue with Google when its users click an ad link.

Administration workspace by Google

(click image for larger view)

Administration workspace by Google
"It's where software is headed," says Abel. "If you look in the consumer space, you've got lots of really good software—some free, some ad-supported, some subscription—all approaching free over the past three or four years. Even Microsoft has finally succumbed to this."

Indeed, now that Google has proved the viability of ad-supported online software in the consumer world and Microsoft is reluctantly following suit with Live service, it's possible companies will soon see more ad-supported enterprise applications.

One reason, Abel believes, the Spiceworks model will work is that admins using network management software represent an audience advertisers will pay a lot to reach. Even in a small company of 50 or 100 people, he explains, a single IT person has lots of buying power. "When he upgrades, whether it's two grand or three grand a machine, that's $150,000 that one person gets to decide how they spend," he says. "And advertisers are going to care a lot about that."

IT admins care too, according to VP of marketing Jay Hallberg. "The users really like the ads," he insists. "They said they're very useful, very targeted for me."

Will Ballard, VP and CTO of 35-person social media publishing company Pluck, has been using Spiceworks for two months, and while he's hardly effusive over the presence of ads, he says he isn't bothered by them. "Ads don't bug me a bit," he says, "particularly when the trade is free network management tools." However, as someone in the media business, he has to be tolerant of ads because "ultimately all my revenue depends on them too."

"The ads are not bad at all," says Lee Colvin, network administrator for nanoCoolers, a 20-person thermal management technology company. "They're actually targeted at whatever you're looking at on your network. If you have a Dell workstation or a Dell server, it usually gives you an ad for server software or a like workstation. And they're off to the side so you don't really notice them."

Abel sees network administrators at small- and medium-sized companies as likely Spiceworks users, a group he contends are frustrated by the fragmented set of administrative tools. The Spiceworks application represents an effort to simplify and centralize the three tasks that Abel claims admins spend most of their day doing: taking inventory, monitoring their network, and generating reports.

"We wanted to make managing the network for an IT professional in a small business as easy as managing music at iTunes," Abel says. "It's a high bar but I think we've taken a good crack at it."

Other companies make asset and network management applications such as Alloy Software, Numara Software, SolarWinds.Net, and Visionsoft Limited, but their software can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on the license and the number of nodes managed. Such costs, easily swallowed by large enterprises, can choke smaller (or simply cost-conscious) businesses. Abel says that Spiceworks competes against makeshift tracking tools like Excel and pads of paper at least as much as higher-end IT management apps.

With about 40 servers and 30 workstations, Ballard relies on Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) in the Pluck data center. "The biggest thing that I like about Spiceworks compared to [MOM] is how easy the discovery went and how much it let me see," he says, noting that Spiceworks proved particularly helpful in tracking down DNS errors on his network.

To manage nanoCoolers' network of almost 40 workstations and servers, Colvin considered a program called LANguard from GFI Software, but didn't like its reporting capabilities or its inability to add information to devices on the network. With Spiceworks, he says, "I can scan the network and see everything that's attached. I can also make notes as far as which computer goes where. No other Windows software really does that very well. Plus, it also recognizes my Linux servers, which is really cool."

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