David Szpunar: Owner, Servant 42 and Servant Voice

David's Church Information Technology

April 9th, 2007 at 12:54 am

Hardware Inventory and Tickets: Tried and Trying

I’ve been looking for a good hardware inventory and helpdesk ticket solution. I got two suggestions, OCSInventory and ManageEngine OpManager. I also found a post by Jason Powell about switching to ManageEngine Service Desk Plus. I have a huge amount of respect for Jason and his team, so I’ve tried out the free trial of Service Desk Plus. Here are my thoughts so far after trying some, but not all, solutions:

Service Desk Plus is actually excellent! The free version only allows one administrator and 25 network devices to be tracked for inventory and ticket purchases. However, running with my desktop as the server, it was a bit on the slow side as far as responsiveness. I would need to test that it ran faster on a server, and also have that server available. I also think that while we may grow into it, it might be a bit too complex and high-end for our needs right now.

Most of the features really need multiple administrative users to take advantage of the full power, even if those users are just volunteers for us right now. I like the help desk with the user-created ticket submission interfaces via web or email. The ability to link logins to Active Directory, have a dedicated, fully-tracked helpdesk email conversation is awesome, along with the option to link requests with the hardware assigned to the submitting user (their workstation or laptop, for example) makes this a top-notch operation in my book. I also really like the software license and support agreement tracker, and the purchase order creation and generation tools for working with vendors! But the limited inventory items makes this hardware tie-in useless for our network in the free version. And free is all the money I have to spend at the moment. Plus the time required to enter details for our existing agreements and hardware we buy to create quotes is more than I have time for right now. Maybe down the road.

OpManager, also from ManageEngine, I haven’t tried yet, but it appears to either connect to or overlap some Service Desk functionality, and is limited to 20 nodes in the free version, also too few to be useful.

I have not tried OCSInventory yet, but I intend to when I find the time. I’ll report back then. I realize that an integrated helpdesk is a real key here, and I need to find out if OCSInventory does this–from my last visit to their site they may integrate with another package, but I’ll have to do some more research.

Currently, I’m trying out Spiceworks. Again. I’ve been using Spiceworks since it was early Beta months ago, and I was impressed with a lot of what it did at the time but it has been improving, and in its most recent incarnation has also added a helpdesk, more limited than Service Desk Plus to be sure, but a helpdesk nonetheless. Or at least a ticket system. Mark Bailey even mentioned Spiceworks with OpManager in his comment on my original post. I’ve had mixd results with Spiceworks; at Lakeview I haven’t really had any WMI issues with scanning the network, including Windows machines. On the other network I work on one day a week, I can’t get any of the Windows machines on the domain to work with WMI scanning, after extensive troubleshooting and some posts in the Spiceworks forums trying to resolve the issue. I ran out of time and haven’t revisited it at that office

But the new helpdesk features are simple, user-friendly, and do support email tickets. I don’t know if it tracks full email conversations, but my guess is not yet. It ties tickets to specific hardware, which is great, but I don’t see a huge focus on helpdesk statistics over time (unless I’m missing it) and it looks like most tickets are meant to be opened by the technician directly, after a problem is reported or discovered. No web-based submission interface for users For a one-man shop, this might work fine. I’m trying it out now, and we’ll see how fruitful it becomes. It does now support multiple technicians, and each tech can claim tickets that they are working on, and save public and/or private responses (does public mean it’s emailed to the owner of the affected equipment? I don’t know, I haven’t had time to play in enough detail yet). The newest version of Spiceworks also allows manual entry of assets that aren’t on the network or aren’t found via scanning, one of my prior complaints!

The search continues. But my original post on this topic is my top result people find on search engines, so it appears to be a popular topic others are working to solve. Anything I’ve missed? Are you successfully using these or better tools? Should I stay away from anything other than Track-It, which Jason has already warned me away from? Do Excel spreadsheets work fine for you and you wonder why this is so important, anyway? :-) Just wait ’til I start talking about network mapping and documentation!! It’s coming…

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    Hi, I’m one of the Spiceworks developers. I just wanted you to know that there is a web-based submission form for submitting tickets, and that Spiceworks can keep track of an email conversation through the new help desk tab once the SMTP and POP settings are properly set up.

    There is a wizard for setting it up the first time you visit the help desk, but if that has already showed up, you might try going to the help desk tab and clicking the Help link at the top right.

    Thanks for trying out Spiceworks.

    Grant Hutchins on April 9th, 2007
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    Hi Grant, thanks for the response! I admit I was a bit short on time at the end of my testing, and I did find the submission page today after your comment. I need to play with it a bit more before I’m sure if it is a good workflow for my situation, but it appears to have decent features! I don’t see an easy way to attach a ticket to an inventory item after the ticket is created.

    The issue I discovered today is that there is no interface for deleting or modifying tickets or their replies. So I’ve sent a couple of test tickets, through the web and through email, and now I can’t get rid of them. I’d also like to see some stats on tickets and how long they’re open before they’re closed (unless I missed that), which is not necessarily a major feature so I can see why it wasn’t a first priority.

    Also, there doesn’t appear to be a way to change the hardware item a ticket is attached to if it is incorrect, but I may have missed this if it was there (I didn’t have too much time to get in-depth today either). And it would be nice to attach multiple hardware items to one ticket. Why? I’m not sure, I can’t think of a reason at the moment. But it is night time and time to sleep soon, so maybe I’ll think of a reason later :-)

    I didn’t get a chance to play with the user submission web interface much, so I can’t tell if it associates the ticket with the computer the user is submitting from or not, which would be cool in the cases it could be detected by hostname, but like I said I have no idea one way or the other right now. There are more features that I’d expect for the help desk feature being so new, however, and the features that are there seem to be well done and have few bugs if any!

    David Szpunar on April 9th, 2007
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    Hi – I saw your post searching for hardware inventory and helpdesk solutions. You might want to try out NetSupport DNA and DNA helpdesk. There is a free trial on the web site: http://www.netsupportdna.com

    Jenni H on April 10th, 2007
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    I’m reviewing this kind of software now and I find quite a prevalent problem with them: they try to do too much.

    What I mean is that especially in the open source camp, there already are quite good solutions for the help desk (like OTRS) or network monitoring (like Nagios) so there’s no point in reinventing the wheel… badly.

    I for one already have a working help desk system and a working monitoring system and thinking about taking them away with some half working solutions (not to put the blame on the developers: is too hard to make everything well when you try to get too many eggs in your basket) “just” to get into the hardware inventory side is a no-go.

    I think that on the open source side the way to go is to focus on the inventory side and open APIs so the in-house technician can bind it with helpdesk, monitoring, etc. This, of course, doesn’t preclude the inventory software from delivering its own (or preferred third-party) help desk, inventory, etc. “plug-ins”, but not in a monolithic fashion.

    anonymous on March 23rd, 2008