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Freeware Increases RJ Lee's Management Efficiency

Faced with rapid growth and increases in the amount and complexity of data and its IT operations, RJ Lee Group went looking for a way to simplify its computing infrastructure. The company ended up selecting Spiceworks as an alternative to adding staff or spending a lot of money on network and system management software.

"By moving to Spiceworks, we were able to manage our infrastructure more effectively without increasing our expenses," says Justin Davison, senior systems engineer at RJ Lee Group. In business since 1980, the company is an industrial forensics laboratory offering specialized materials characterization, forensic engineering and information management services. For example, it helped the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) develop a method to analyze asbestos.

The company's research-based services chew up a lot of IT resources. It has 30 Tbytes of data stored on a storage area network (SAN), and servers primarily running Microsoft's Windows operating system. The 300-person operation works mainly in Monroeville, Pa., but has spread its wings to more than half a dozen satellite locations, including New York and Quebec City.

The small IT staff oversees the dispersed computing infrastructure. Traditionally, this group relied on each component's (server, router) inherent management functions to ensure that its applications were up and its network connections were functioning well.

By 2008, that approach was proving to be inadequate. "Our applications and IT infrastructure were growing and becoming more dispersed," says Davison. Consequently, tasks such as determining what might be causing a slowdown on a network link were taking more time to complete. "We needed a tool that would automate some of our routine administrative tasks," he says.

There was no shortage of options available, but the company wanted to keeps its expenses as low as possible. Davison started searching on the Web for free management tools, and Spiceworks emerged as an intriguing option because of its all-encompassing nature. Although it began life in 2006 as a basic network inventory and scan tool, the offering has grown into a full-fledged help desk and IT support community with more than 1.5 million users. To stand out from the competition, it uses an advertising-based model: Customers do not pay for the product but are exposed to Google-like advertisements.

"Spiceworks is like a Swiss Army knife for system and network management," notes Davison. The product includes a series of modules that can be used autonomously or in conjunction with one another.

After making the decision to go with Spiceworks in the spring of 2008, RJ Lee had the product up and running in a few weeks. "Spiceworks includes an intuitive user interface, so the initial configuration was straightforward," he says.

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