Networks are getting larger and larger every day. Between company mergers and normal expansion some corporate environments are getting down right massive. With more computers in a system you have to contend with larger levels of interaction to make sure that all of those computers are running well, configured properly, and are actually physically in your building. Add to that the overhead associated with making sure that all the software in your environment is accurately accounted for, licensed, and approved through company policy and you’ve got an administrative headache that would make even the most efficient multi-tasker go off the deep end. With the increase in complexity we have seen an increase in “Asset management and tracking” software availability. These packages range from the complex (and expensive) to the relatively simple (and often completely free).
One of the packages that falls into the later category is Lansweeper. Lansweeper is a hardware and software inventory package that can be installed on any Windows machine that is also running Microsoft SQL Server or SQL Express. It has the ability to scan and display hardware information, software information, windows information, user information, configuration information, and any custom registry locations that you desire. They have two packages, one of them is an advertisement free fully functional freeware version and the other is a paid “Pro” version with certain added features (such as active scanning and Active Directory integration). Due to the current economic environment I chose to install the freeware version on my system to do some asset tracking.
How it works
The Lansweeper “server” is composed of three basic components; the database (which stores the collected information), the “GUI console” (which is used to modify the server settings), the web console (which is where you can view the information and run custom actions).
The Lansweeper “server” is installed on a machine that’s running either SQL 2000/2005 or SQL Express and Internet Information Services (IIS). According to my sources the original Lansweeper console was exceedingly difficult to install for the uninitiated (it was described as “witchcraft” if I remember correctly) but the newest installer is a breeze. It creates the database instance for you, sets up the web console in IIS, and installs the GUI console.
Once the server is installed you can start scanning your network assets. In the free version a client program is run (not installed) on the computers to be scanned into inventory while the paid version allows for active scanning from the server. The client program (lsclient.exe) is automatically placed in the Lansweeper folder when you install the server. This client program initiates a scan of all the areas of interest and reports back to the server.
What it does
Once you’ve initiated your scans and the server has received all of the data you can start to browse through the plethora of information that’s now been made available. From the web console you can easily view this data by category. The available categories are the Digital dashboard, Software reports, Hardware reports, Server reports, General reports, License compliance, and OS license compliance. It’s pretty self explanatory as to what these do.
You can also open your domain and drill down to individual machines to check specific information about that machine. From the “computer level” screen you can run custom actions that you configure with the GUI console (such as initiating a VNC connection, or running an application via PSexec).
One of the handiest features of Lansweeper is the “License Compliance” feature. To set this up you can supply the amount of licenses you own for a given software package and the per license price in the GUI console. This information is then compared to how many versions of that particular product Lansweeper finds during it’s scanning process. If you go over the stated limit you’re told how many licenses you need.
What’s the verdict?
Overall Lansweeper is a great product. It’s extremely easy to install and equally easy to use. Some of the features can take a little getting used to, but these issues are a matter of figuring out what info is where. One of the biggest extra advantages of the product is the support forum. At the Lansweeper support forum you can ask questions, make suggestions, and even view other people’s “custom actions” that they’ve created. The best part about the support forum is that it’s directly managed by the developer so when Lansweeper responds, you’re talking to the guy who writes the program. This is a big help when you’re having a weird issue or making a feature request because you don’t have to wait for the question/suggestion to move it’s way up the support chain. I’ve tried other free products (such as Spiceworks) and could never get them to work quite right. A lot of the other products on the market rely on a “clientless” scanning method that can sometimes run into network issues that can make a scan take forever or outright fail.
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