Spiceworks 4.1: It’s Everything IT

Everything IT_Spiceworks

Less than two months after releasing Spiceworks 4.0 we’ve released Spiceworks 4.1.  That would be our 16th release in three years (and I’m not counting the 20+ community releases).  Summer vacation?  What’s that?

Spiceworks 4.1 included 183 fixes, changes and new features, 159 of which we’ve documented in our 4.1 release notes. If you’ve used Spiceworks for a while you know that one of the reasons we can move so quickly between releases is we’ve “crowdsourced” product management.  More simply, users tell us what to build and vote on what they think is most useful with a Digg-like voting system (though we use chili peppers… natch).

Introducing Spiceworks HTML Emails… via Twitter and Ustream

One of the features they’ve been asking for a while is HTML help desk emails.  In other words, they didn’t like our plain text, circa-1975, looks-like-they-came-from-a-dot-matrix-printer emails that our help desk application would send out to their users with ticket updates.  You know, the “your ticket has been received and is being processed” sort.  So, we spruced it up AND we let users edit the html to their hearts content.  With this change our nearly 750,000 IT pros can now tweak the email with their logo, colors, messages, etc. to look like the polished… and individual IT pros that they are.

To give you an inside peek at how our feedback loop goes, watch minutes 54:00 to 58:27 in this Ustream recording of a recent SpiceCorps LA meeting. They’re talking about their desire for HTML emails in  Spiceworks.  Jeff Keen, a SpiceWorker, is watching the Ustream and tweets Justin Dorfman, the SpiceCorps LA pioneer, with some good news: HTML emails are in 4.1.  Standing ovation ensues.

Twitter_stream_helpdeskhtml

Real-time Feedback With SpiceCorps LA

Introducing “It’s Everything IT”

You’ll notice a little change to our logo with this release as well: we’ve changed the tagline from “The IT Network” to “It’s Everything IT”.  Why is that?  Because our users said it first.  Spiceworks is still an “IT Network” that connects SMB IT Pros to each other and to experts in technology companies.  However, our users don’t routinely refer to Spiceworks as such.

Increasingly, SpiceHeads will talk to each other and to their IT peers about how Spiceworks is a tool and community for Everything IT.  And with each product and community release we get one step closer to becoming the home for everything IT for the world’s SMB IT pros.  We first incorporated this phrase into our website a couple of months ago with “Manage Everything IT for Free” and now we’ve moved it into the logo itself so it’ll have a nice home in the app, community, and website.

Some critics will say that’s silly because we don’t have every feature or piece of information that someone needs to do their job.  True.  However, I thought this recent tweet from @timshady sums it up nicely:

Spiceworks_better_than_google_for_IT_searches

When people find Spiceworks more useful for finding IT answers than Google that’s pretty exciting.  It speaks volumes to how powerful a professional community with common interests can be.  We’re certainly not ‘all the way there’ yet but we have a great roadmap of product and community features driven by our users… and every release we get closer.

Spiceworks… It’s (becoming) Everything IT.  Join us.

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Managed Services for the Masses

65000 IT Service Providers Use SpiceworksStrike up the Depeche Mode — Spiceworks is bringing Managed Services to the Masses.  Yesterday we announced that over 65,000 Managed Service Providers (MSPs) and IT Service Providers (a distinction I’ll get into later) around the world are using Spiceworks to manage client networks.  That means that nearly 10% of the 700,000 IT pros that use Spiceworks are using it in some form to provide Managed Services to the world’s SMBs — simplifying IT for them and making money for the IT consultant.  How cool is that?

Growing to 65,000 MSPs and IT Service Providers

65,000 is a pretty staggering number.  It’s understandable that industry insiders and pundits have a hard time believing it.  After all, traditional software companies struggle to get their total customer base into the 100’s, let alone the 1,000’s.  Of course Spiceworks isn’t a traditional software company.  Our free software model (think Google … but for IT network management) has been covered by the New York Times and many others since we we launched three years ago.  IT pros in accounting firms, schools, manufacturing plants, you name it, downloaded Spiceworks and joined the Spiceworks SMB IT community.  After all there was nothing stopping them — no 30 day trial periods, no hidden device limits and no pesky sales people asking them to pay up.

It’s no wonder that a lot of 1, 2, or 10 person IT Service Providers from A&W Consulting in Chicago to Ziyaad in Dubai downloaded it as well and used it to remotely inventory, monitor and report on their clients networks and provide remote help desk services.  We just weren’t counting them.  Over time a lot of our advertisers kept asking us “how much of the channel do you have using your product?”  That seemed like an important question to answer!  Fortunately, our users create profiles that tell us what industry they are in so were able to quickly query it and find out.  Like ‘the industry’ would eventually be, we were stunned at the answer: 65,000.  Organizations had compiled directories of the VAR 500 and MSP 250… not the MSP 65,000.

What is an MSP?

Some people have questioned if there could even possibly be 65,000 MSPs in the world.  Apparently there is some secret definition of an MSP that limits it to an elite market of several thousand. Really? Suspicious, I looked up “MSP Definition” on Google and took the first result from PCMag.com:

  • Management Service Provider: An organization that manages a customer’s computer systems and networks which are either located on the customer’s premises or at a third-part datacenter.  MSPs offer a variety of service levels from just notifying the customer if a problem occurs to making all necessary repairs itself.  MSPs may also be a source for hardware and staff for its customers.

That’s pretty straightforward.  It seems like something any reasonably competent IT professional (as in one person) could do.  But there is one big catch — can they afford the software that let’s them be an MSP?

Building Your Business… for Free.

Historically, all MSP software vendors charge some combination of a startup fee and $1-$20/managed device/month.  Those costs add up.  Suppose someone wants to manage 50 devices at their client, a small accounting firm.  That’s 50 x $10/month = $500/month.  Now, suppose the client is willing to pay $1,000 per month for the service.  That’s $500 in profit.  But suppose times are tight and the client clamps down and will only pay $800/month.  That’s $300 in profit… and the squeeze is on.  Multiply that across 10 clients and you can see how it’s difficult to clear $3,000/month running yourself ragged doing so.

Spiceworks is FreeWhat if you took the cost of the software out?  Suddenly $800/month doesn’t look so bad.  Even at $501 he’s $1 better off than the original $500 profit at $1,000.  How does this play out in real life?  I’ll never forget the call I got a couple of years ago.  An Iraq War veteran who had just returned called me up asking if he could use our software to start an IT business in rural Indiana.  He loved our software but he was certain he would have to pay to use it in a commercial situation.  Nope. $0. Go ahead and get as many customers as you can.  He was ecstatic and so was I: someone just became an MSP who couldn’t have done so previously.

Free Expands the MSP Market.

See, this is where we think the MSP market got it wrong over the past decade.  It’s not that complicated, it has just been made complicated and expensive. Why constrain the market to the fat cat enterprises and uber-sophisticated MSPs?  Open up the market to the “long tail” of 15 million small- and medium-businesses and the world’s 5 million SMB IT pros.  By taking away the barrier to entry Spiceworks has done exactly this.  We’ve given them a community and forum to figure out how to become an MSP, to be a better service provider, and find new clients.

As our users point out, we have plenty of features we can add to help MSPs & IT service providers (stay tuned!).  Given our track record in listening and evolving quickly (15 product releases in 3 years) though we should be able to continue to develop in a way that brings Managed Services to the Masses!

What do you think?  Let us know here or in this Spiceworks Community discussion.

Tragedy Of The Commons and Online Communities

In 1968 Garrett Hardin proposed the concept of the Tragedy of the Commons in an article in the journal Science. The basic concept is as follows. Let’s imagine back to the early days of man where a group of cattle-herders lived in a village. They shared a common pasture to graze their cattle. However a conflict quickly emerged. Each individual herder is motivated to profit from the common area for the benefit of his own herd. He has little incentive to ensure there is pasture left for his neighbor’s herd. When every herder behaves in this way the pasture fails for every herder. However, if the herders worked together a healthy pasture could benefit all of them greatly.Pasture

This concept plays it out today in the use of natural resources such as fisheries and forests. Unfettered logging and fishing without renewal quickly exhausts the resource for everyone. At first thought you’d imagine that this behavioral pattern repeats itself in online communities as well. Everyone wants to profit from the wisdom of others to their own advantage. Logically this would portend the failure of communities as each individual works from their own self-interest.

What we find is that behavior that emerges can be different and enriching for all humans. Take Wikipedia for example. Sure there is a steady stream of vandals and self-promoters attempting to reduce the value of the site but as a whole we’ve  produced an amazing resource that has enriched all our lives. The dynamic of a core group of editors supplemented by an army of ad-hoc contributors has successfully produced a large and vital storehouse of collective knowledge.

In the Spiceworks Community I find a similar culture at work. Users take time out of their day to share the lessons they’ve learned with others. Whether it is an answer to a technical problem or advice on dealing with a difficult boss the sense of camaraderie is inspiring. As with any community it has it’s share of difficulties and challenges, but the interactions and knowledge being exchanged is producing a resource that is valuable for SMB IT pros everywhere now and in the future.

I will leave it to those smarter than myself to figure out why this works. My personal belief is that it is the power of human connections. For eg: When I post a question to a problem that has me stumped and someone answers it I find myself appreciative of the help that has been given so freely and without motive. But there are countless others who’ve read and benefited from the same post and even without participating have formed a similar appreciation for the person and community. This sense of connectedness manifests itself when the arises when I have the opportunity to pay it forward to another member of the community.

Step IT Up with Spiceworks Pepper Levels.

15-peppersOver the past 15 months the Spiceworks IT community has really taken off.  It hit ‘critical mass’ when we passed 250,000 users in January 2008 and activity in the community shifted from primarily Spiceworks support to a much broader discussion about IT in small- and medium-businesses.   Since then usage has exploded as we’ve grown past 650,000 IT pros using Spiceworks.  Here are a few stats on where the Spiceworks community is today:

  • 36,000 IT topics with over 137,000 posts.
  • 13,000 IT products rated, with over 3,500 reviews completed by 2,250 reviewers
  • 400 discussion groups created by technology, industry, or location
  • 383 shared reports by 270 authors
  • 103 Spicelists (crowdsourced lists) created with 3,151 items, 11,662 contributors and 39,475 votes
  • 63 plugins by 35 authors have been downloaded over 20,000 times

All of this community generated content is, or is becoming, available directly in the Spiceworks IT Desktop application, meaning it’s embedded in a Spiceworks IT pros daily workflow.  That’s powerful stuff.

So powerful and so important we decided it was time to recognize our users contributions to the community with points and levels.  When it came time to name the levels the choice was obvious:  peppers!  From mellow pimiento to so-hot-it-could-kill-you pure capsaicin (8,000 times hotter than Tabasco) sauce, Spiceheads now get credit for all of their posts, votes, answers, reveiws, referrals, how-tos, plugins and reports that make the Spiceworks Community what it is. 

The initial reaction is positive… or shall I say ‘spicy’! While we had great participation before Spiceheads are already diving in and adding more content, reviews and more.  Just this morning there have been six new whitepaper reviews… and we haven’t even notified everyone of the new changes yet.  It looks like our top pepper is Talon63 who is a frightfully hot Ghost Chili.  I’ve found some Habaneros and Datils … and I’m coming in at Poblano.

My  Spiceworks Pepper Level:  A Fairly Mellow Poblano

Jay Hallberg's Spiceworks Level: Poblano

The levels are still a work in progress (note the ‘beta’ tag) but hopefully a fun way to recognize everyone’s contributions.

Of course what fun would this be without sharing one’s status with the rest of the world?  That’s why we created Spiceworks website badges.  In our Spread Spiceworks group we’ve long had assets for spreading the word about Spiceworks but now everyone can share their Spiceworks contributions on their blog or website.  We don’t have the pepper level in their yet but I’d suspect that’s coming soon.

Jay Hallberg's Spiceworks Website Badge

My Spiceworks Website Badge

In last night’s community update we also expanded the placement of the “What are you doing?” box.  Previously this was only in the community but now you’ll see it on every page (on the right hand side) in the application itself.  This is our Twitter-like update that lets IT pros drop in 140 character updates on what they are doing.  This lets other Spiceworks users see what’s happening on the Spiceworks IT Network to spark an idea of something they should be doing, offer some help, or simply have some fun.  

We’ll be adding a lot more to these features over the next few months as we make IT ‘more social’ and in turn make social networks ‘more professional’… and weave it all in to the workflow in Spiceworks.  It’s all part of a vision for creating a Social Business Application for IT.

The Cathedral and the Bazaar Revisited

Cathedral and the BazaarIt’s been over 10 years since Eric Raymond wrote his essay on software development models in The Cathedral and the Bazaar. According to him the cathedral model is a traditional development model where developers work for long periods in isolation before finally releasing the software to the user community. Users typically have only a cursory understanding of what’s being worked on or how it’s going to work. The bazaar model in contrast is noisy and chaotic but open for everyone to see. Users can watch and participate in the debates taking place. He argues that the bazaar model provides compelling advantages over the cathedral model. In his essay he proposes that the community oriented development of the bazaar model helps produce software that efficiently solves user problems and has fewer defects. I recently re-read his essay and was struck by how mainstream his points have become in the Web 2.0 world. I’ll go over some of his points and highlight how Spiceworks (and other companies) have adopted them.

Treating your users as co-developers is your least-hassle route to rapid code improvement and effective debugging.

Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow

Alpha and beta releases are now a part of almost every Web 2.0 development process today. We couldn’t release a major upgrade without the help of our users. With over half a million users Spiceworks has been installed in networks of every conceivable (and inconceivable!) configuration. It would be impossible for us to even attempt to approximate the diversity of environments in our test lab. One of our releases last year was tested in over 3,500 networks with over half-million devices. The feedback and bug reports from our users is a critical component of our release process. No software can be free of defects but our users help us get closer.

The next best thing to having good ideas is to recognize good ideas from your users. Sometimes, the latter is better.

We’d love to take credit for all the innovation at Spiceworks. But in reality it’s the result of listening to our users. The first forum we created in the community was the Feature Request forum . Users vote up the features they’d like to see in the product and in every release we do our best to implement the most requested ones. Working with users is just a normal part of our development cycle. For the 4.0 release we’ve been working with over 500 users in the 4.0 group even before we wrote a single line of code. Users have been reviewing our mockups of the network map, UI changes, and steering us in the right direction. As we get closer to the release thousands of users will join us in testing the product.

Release early. Release Often. And listen to your customers.

We release over 5 versions of Spiceworks a year. This means that we’re in a tight continuous improvement cycle with our users. Between our regular webinar series, product adviser conference calls,  and on the road events we’re always getting feedback from our users.

Any tool should be useful in the expected way, but a truly great tool lends itself to uses you never expected.

We’re always amazed by the stories we hear from users on how they’ve put Spiceworks to work for them. One of the most interesting stories I’ve heard was from the IT manager of a police department in Michigan who set up an instance of Spiceworks to track evidence. When a detective working on a case checks out evidence a ticket is created and when it is returned the ticket is closed. The help desk now gives the department a way to accurately track evidence. I doubt we’ll ever see Spiceworks on a CSI episode but it shows us the usefulness of a tool can far exceed the imagination that conceived it.

Beyond Software Development

The community oriented approach transcends the software development process. Adapting the lessons we learned from developing software we conducted our first buyer’s club for backup solutions. During the 8 weeks of the club, users collaborated with each other and vendors as they evaluated their needs, options, and available solutions. Vendors even presented their solutions at a town-hall style meeting called the Vendor Smack-Down. (Did I mention that we try to keep things fun!)

The growth of social networks like twitter further integrates the bazaar model into every day life. In the past we consulted our social networks before significant decisions but the hyper-connected world of today is enabling us to work cooperatively on almost everything. Apps like aardvark can power your search by tapping into the knowledge quotient of your social network. The way we work will continue to evolve in the coming years and users of social business applications like Spiceworks will be at the leading edge of productivity and efficiency.

SpiceWorld Boston: Taking IT on the Road

Back in December I said that we wanted to hold a series of “SpiceCamps” — regional one-day, hands-on, Spiceworks training sessions — around the world in 2009.  The SpiceHeads that came to Spiceworld Austin 2008 loved that they got to meet each other, interact with Spiceworkers, and hone their IT and Spiceworks skills.  So we figured why not take the “show on the road” so to speak,  so people could more easily get together (we understand getting to Austin isn’t always the easiest or cheapest thing to do!).  We changed the name to SpiceWorld to keep it in the SpiceWorld brand and decided to head with our user’s help to Boston, Las Vegas, Orlando and London in 2009, plus have our annual 2-day conference in Austin, October 22-23.

What better place to start than Boston?!  We simply had to bring the “Free IT Revolution” to the home of the American Revolution.  More pragmatically, two of our SuperSpiceHead’s, MrFuggles and Normg88, are based in the area, insisted we come… and gave us a TON of help in setting up and recruiting attendees.  Who could ask for more?

We put two of the co-founders, Greg and Francis (the smart ones), plus Tabrez (the really smart guy), and Jen (the one who gets stuff done), on a Boston-bound plane and we had Michelle (the one that keeps the community organized) hop in a car and drive on down to the swanky Holiday Inn in Somerville (cuz that’s how we roll!).

55 Spiceheads converged on the Holiday Inn last Friday.  Most were from the immediate area but plenty drove down from Maine, up from NYC, and even flew in from Michigan and North Carolina.  Since it was our ‘beta’ run of SpiceWorld on-the-road we discounted the event to $195.  That’s still a good chunk of change but even more valuable is an IT pro’s time.  It blew us away that 55 so-busy-I-can’t-see-straight IT pros would take off an entire day (plus travel time) to be with us.

 

SpiceWorld Boston 2009

SpiceWorld Boston 2009

The day was fantastic both for us and our users.  Greg, Francis and Tabrez worked through all of the major feature areas on Spiceworks.  It’s always interesting to see to what degree users aren’t using all of the features — no matter how hard we try to make things easy there is always more to do to simplify the experience.  The vast majority of attendees were pretty new to Spiceworks and just learning about all of the features… and starting to grok how much power there is in Spiceworks.  Interacting with our community at events like SpiceWorld just help us get that much closer to our goal of simplifying “Everything IT.”

 

Show everyone that you are Spice Certified!

Show everyone that you are Spice Certified!

The day wrapped up with a preview of Spiceworks 4.0 (followed by a standing ovation) and every attendee got their spiffy Spiceworks certification and a Spiceworks stocking cap (there are still some snowy days left in this season I’m sure).  Not bad for $195.

Next stop: Vegas baby!

Spiceworks 3.6: Even Snappier!

spiceworks 3.6Just a little over a month after we released Spiceworks 3.5, we released Spiceworks 3.6 this week.  The Spiceworks 3.6 reviews from our users are very positive and as always we appreciate the feedback!

Why did we release 3.6 so quickly after 3.5?  Quite simply we had over 50 improvements and bug fixes we wanted to get out.  Most importantly we saw that on larger networks our new Timeline feature started to slow down.  We tend to design our features for networks with fewer than 500 devices and we test them a lot here at Spiceworks for networks with 50-100 devices.  We then rely on thousands of beta testers around the world to throw Spiceworks into the “IT Wild” and hammer it in as many permutations and situations as possible.  With Spiceworks 3.5 we had our biggest and best beta test to date.

As you can imagine even a couple thousand beta testers aren’t going to cover every scenario and situation that you’ll see with 600,000 unique SMBs.   Sure enough we saw that the Timeline started to slow down on larger networks.  It’s a bit like having Facebook update you on 1,000 friends — even that might tire Facebook’s servers!  We dug into it and with our users help sped it up big time.  The first comment after the update: “I was waiting for speed improvement as we have 1,000 devices and it was slow to search and load but now it is so fast.  I can’t believe it.  :-)” — DarkMasterHalo1. 

We love the feedback from our users but we also love the usage.  After all, all the great comment in the world don’t count like great usage.  This week we blew it out with our highest usage levels ever.  It’s great to see performance enhancements translate directly into increased usage.  You can expect to see a lot of performance enhancements in Spiceworks 4.0 (targeted for June) along with some killer features (in our and our user’s humble opinion…).  It’s hard to believe we’re only two months into 2009 and we already have two releases out the door.  

 

The Next Wave – Changing How We Work!

sba-example1Well its official – Web 2.0 is dead.  Ok, not really dead, but the wave has crested.  At least that’s what the industry insiders are saying.  From TechCrunch, to CNET, to Sand Hill Road – the consensus seems to be that the 2nd wave of the internet has reached its peak and is waning.   Now this isn’t necessarily bad – it just means this wave of innovation is maturing.  In fact, we’ll probably see some profitable companies emerge from all the hype – and that’s a good thing in these tough economic times.

But the funny thing about our industry … as soon as one wave appears to be cresting, everyone starts looking for the next one.   Why?  Because these innovation waves tend to dramatically transform the business landscape.   New companies emerge based on the new technology or approach – old companies often disappear.  In the process, lots of market value gets redistributed.  It’s the Innovators Dilemma playing out time and time again.

So what’s next?  What will be the next big wave of innovation that drives the next generation of breakout companies?  Where will it play out and who will it impact?  We believe the next wave of the internet will driven by Social Business Applications.  It will play out in the Enterprise and these applications will fundamentally change the way we work at work.  Let me explain.

It’s hard to remember life before the Internet, but the 1st wave fundamentally changed the way we find and access information.  Before the Internet we were tied to print media – magazines, newspapers, catalogs & product brochures.  A simple innovation called the browser changed all that.  Now – any information you need, anywhere in the world, is just one click away.  This transformed the media and commerce landscape.  A new set of companies emerged; Google & Yahoo -changed how we find and access information; eBay and Amazon -changed how we shop for and buy products.

The 2nd wave of the Internet, aka Web 2.0, dramatically changed the way we interact.  Building on innovations from the 1st wave, it added social networking and user generated content to fundamentally change the way we share information.  Now – with just a few keystrokes we can connect with friends next door – or around the world.  We can easily share experiences in the form of photos, videos, and real-time updates.  We can now tap a network of individuals much larger than we ever could in the physical world.  Of course this wave has launched its own set of companies;  Facebook & LinkedIn have changed the way we connect and interact;  Flickr and YouTube have changed how we share information.   Twitter may change how we get our news.  All of them helped make the web interactive.

These  first two waves share something in common – they materially played out in the consumer market.  While we’ve seen some of the technology bleed over into the Enterprise and change how applications are built and delivered (i.e. Salesforce.com and SaaS business models), they have made no fundamental change in how we work – how we do our day-to-day job.  Until now.

There is a new class of application emerging that combines the innovations from the first two waves to fundamentally change how we work.  No, I’m not talking about using Facebook or LinkedIn to network and find a new next job.  I’m talking about actually changing how we do our jobs every day.  Be it accounting or sales, customer support or IT – these applications will leverage the collective knowledge and expertise of a professional community to make every user of that application smarter, more efficient.

What was once a solo endeavor – reconciling quarterly revenue or trouble shooting network bandwidth – will now become a social and collaborative process.   The more people that use the application – the smarter and more powerful it becomes.  As the user base grows, so does the value of the application to its users.  It’s the classic network effect – applied to how we do our jobs everyday.

How will you recognize these Social Business Applications when you see them?  They have three important characteristics:

  1. They’re domain specific and centered on vertical application areas like finance, sales or information technology.
  2. They automate workflows of a major job function, like accounting, sales automation, or network management.
  3. And they bring social (professional) interactions directly into those automated workflows – making the expertise of the community available when and where you need it to do your job.

Spiceworks has built the first Social Business Application for IT Professionals … but it didn’t start out that way.  When we started Spiceworks 3 years ago our goal was more modest – to simplify everything IT.  We did that by automating the key workflows IT Pros used every day.  Inventory, monitoring, reporting and problem tracking – all integrated into one seamless easy to use interface.    To make sure we stayed close to our users and built the features they wanted, we let them suggest, discuss and vote on new features in a Digg-like fashion – directly from within the application.

smbs-ww1This simple little addition exploded.  Not only were our users discussing new features for Spiceworks, but they were sharing best practices and advice about how to do their job.  Everything from how to troubleshoot network problems, to which products and services worked best together.  What had started as a simple product feature had mushroomed into a key component of our application – collaborative expertise right in the workflow.  Today there are more than half-a-million IT professionals around the world using Spiceworks to do their job and hundreds more join our network every day.  In three short years Spiceworks has grown to become the largest and fastest growing business application in the world.

Spiceworks might be the first of this new generation of Social Business Applications, but it won’t be the last.  You’ll see more of these in the future – in lots of other industries.  The next wave of the Internet has just begun, and it will change forever how work gets done at work.

Spiceworks 3.5: Ready for bigger networks… and still free!

spiceworks_3-5_medallionLast night we quietly released the Spiceworks IT Desktop version 3.5 on our website.  Why quietly?  When you have over 500,000 users you have to start thinking about server load a lot more than when you only had 50,000 users!  We’ll ramp up notifications on 3.5 to our users over the next few days.

So, what’s the deal on 3.5?   First, we have raised our recommended ‘limit’ from 250 to 500 devices.  This means over 100,000 additional SMBs and departments and locations of larger organizations around the world can use Spiceworks.  Second, we added lots of features for more sophisticated networks and IT teams such as a network bandwidth analyzer, Nagios integration and custom SQL reports. Welcome to the IT Revolution folks!  

spiceworks-supports-500-devicesHow did we get here?  Since we launched the Spiceworks IT Desktop in July 2006 we have seen a steady stream of users with more than 250 devices use Spiceworks.  After all, we never said they couldn’t, we simply suggested that if they did it might be “a little slow”.  We also said we wouldn’t explicitly focus on features for them as we were focused on companies with fewer than 250 network devices.

Well, over time we saw companies politely ignore our suggestion and they told us that it worked just fine.  Fast forward 2 1/2 years and we now have over 20,000 organizations with more than 250 devices using Spiceworks.  These range from 300 person law firms to multi-location manufacturers to branch locations of Fortune 500 companies.  Over time they started asking for more features and we listened.  Spiceworks 3.5 represents the first release of many to come that will start to address the needs of IT teams that manage more sophisticated networks of 50 to 500 devices.  Here are some of the highlights in Spiceworks 3.5:

  • First, we added features just to handle more devices.  Users can now customize the order of a network scan and to skip a scan range or device.  With custom groups you can look at network assets by department or locations. Performance improvements now let users work through the thousands of help desk tickets that larger organizations can generate.  

    Create and Track Custom Groups

    Create and Track Custom Groups

  • Second, we added the Network Bandwidth Analzyer to track bandwidth usage for network devices.  The graphs include incoming and outgoing traffic for devices over time.  This allows IT pros to identify network bottlenecks.  It’s not the Network Map we talked about at SpiceWorld 2008 but it’s a step in that direction.  (BTW, stay tuned for more info on the Network Map… the #1 feature request from the Spiceworks comunity.)  

    Spiceworks 3.5 Network Bandwidth Analyzer -- See Traffic In & Out of Your Network Routers

    Spiceworks 3.5 Network Bandwidth Analyzer -- See Traffic In & Out of Your Network Routers

  • Third, we continued down our path of integrating with common and useful IT tools by adding External Alert Processing.  Yeah, we call that EAP and have a TLA like everyone else.  Instead, we’ll call it Nagios Integration.   It’s a simple way to take any email alert, such as those from Nagios, point it at Spiceworks, and get those converted to Spiceworks alerts.  This allows an IT pro to get all of their alerts into the Spiceworks IT Desktop workflow.  Of course they can then create tickets from these and manage the work to go resolve those alerts when that becomes necessary.  It’s set up for Nagio “out of the sky” (we aren’t out-of-the-box you know…) but it’s pretty straightforward to customize.  You’ll see a lot more from us in this area in 2009.  

    See Nagios Alerts in the Spiceworks IT DEsktop

    See Nagios Alerts in the Spiceworks IT DEsktop

  • Fourth, we beefed up reporting with Custom SQL Reporting, Graphs & Widget Creation.  Users can now hit their local Spiceworks database with SQL to create the exact report they want if the current drag-and-drop the fields approach doesn’t cut it for them.  What’s more, they can create graphs AND export these as widgets for inclusion on their Spiceworks dashboard(s).  Of course the widgets can be shared with the Spiceworks community which will keep pushing the ‘crowdsourcing of IT’.  We have probably received at least one question per day over the past couple of years re: SQL access… and here it is.    

    Create and Display Customer SQL Reports with Spiceworks 3.5

    Create and Display Customer SQL Reports with Spiceworks 3.5

There are quite a few other features and bug fixes (Greg told me 990 this morning!) in there as well.  Most aren’t obvious but they should all add up to a more stable, easy, and productive experience!

Spiceworks 3.5 was in beta for over two months and five releases… with over 2,000 testers!  Without question it was our most thorough beta test to date.  Did we catch everything?  No way.  It’s simply not possible, even with 2,000 testers, to recreate the complexity that exists in millions of SMB IT networks.  We know that we’ll hear of more issues post GA and we’ll aim to get a patch out within a month or two.  The great thing about having the best users in the world is they aren’t afraid to find the remaining issues and tell us about it!  

Finally, in case you were wondering, Spiceworks 3.5 is still free!  I’m sure most people thought that we’d charge for the version to work on larger networks.  As we said before, Spiceworks is free and will always be free.  No catches, tricks, or hidden upsells.  We’re able to make the model work thanks to really great sponsors — technology companies who want to reach the world’s SMB’s.  As you might imagine, getting the companies with 250-500 employees is pretty exciting to them and we’re thrilled to have our sponsors on board for the Spiceworks 3.5 launch.  

Happy New Year’s folks! Enjoy!

Bringing IT Together! SpiceWorld, SpiceCamps & more.

SpiceWorldSpiceWorld 2008, our first annual user conference, wrapped up over a month ago … and we’re still catching up and planning the follow-up and more!

So, how was it?  In our humble opinion, a raging success.  We brought over 150 users, partners, advertisers and employees together for 40 hours of fun, learning, and 100% SMB IT camaraderie.  People trekked from the other side of Austin, from the corners of Texas, across the US, and even from Sweden to talk about all things SMB and Spiceworks-oriented.  It was a fantastic experience for our employees to meet our users face-to-face, hear what they liked and didn’t, hang out, and even throw down a little Guitar Hero axe-work!

Ingvar (r) travelled from Stockholm to attend SpiceWorld

Scott Abel(l), CEO, and Ingvar(r) who travelled from Stockholm to attend SpiceWorld

Not the Location for Your Average IT Confernce

South Austin's Alamo Drafthouse: Not the Location for Your Average IT Conference

Most importantly, the attendees loved it.  We averaged about 4.5 out of 5 points on all of our survey questions and everyone (100%!) said they would return next year.  In fact, they asked for special rights to pre-buy their tickets.  We’re finalizing plans for SpiceWorld 2009 and they’ll definitely get first dibs! 

Our sponsors (Microsoft, CDW, Concentric, ServerBeach, LifeSize) all commented on the quality of the attendees AND the interactions with the attendees.  Every conversation was substantive, honest, and productive.  Unlike most events they weren’t just looking for their swag and moving on.

"Spice Heads" Meet with SpiceWorld Sponsors

"Spice Heads" Meet with SpiceWorld Sponsors

The attendees all agreed that they’d like to get together in more ways, more often, in more places as they have so much to learn and share from each other.  So, we are excited to announce that we are really going to expand our event offerings in 2009:

  • SpiceWorld.  We will hold our annual ‘global’ user conference in Austin in October.  Dates and location are getting finalized and we’ll announce this to our users in February.  Over 143 people have already joined the SpiceWorld 2009 group and will get early notifications.  If you haven’t, sign up now to be first in on the news!
  • SpiceCamp. 4-5 times next year we’ll have a regional one-day ‘camp’ where 50-100 users can meetup with each other and 3-4 Spiceworks employees for hands-on Spiceworks best practices, support questions and customizations.  Users will bring their computers and Spiceworks implementations and go at it!  We haven’t picked all of them yet but we’re pretty certain we’ll hit popular & easy travel destinations like Las Vegas, Orlando, Boston, New York, London and at least one other location in the UK.  We’re still taking votes and input and we’ll scale as fast as we can!
  • SpiceCorps. This is another idea from our Spice Heads (the most popular term they’ve decided to call themselves).  It’s basically a local user group, appropriately spiced up of course!  We’re still hammering out the details but expect a ‘beta’ launch of the SpiceCorps in January in Boston, Orlando, Denver, London and Manchester, UK.  After that I expect we’ll crank out at least 5 per month… so by the end of the 2009 we could have at least 60 local SpiceCorps around the world.

You’d think that something as big as SpiceWorks could be incredibly impersonal.  However, when you take 500,000 people who all have SMB IT and all its challenges and rewards in common and bring them together online it turns out they also want to get together offline.  Stay tuned for more news on how Spiceworks is Bringing IT Together!