Sweep Your Problems Away
Want to get rid of your collection of spreadsheets and other inventorying hassles? Lansweeper might be the tool for you.
- By Jeffery Hicks
I'm betting that if you're a regular reader of Mr. Roboto you have more than a few computers to manage. I'm also betting your management tasks include asset control, inventory and licensing. If you work in a larger organization or enjoy a healthy budget, you likely use applications like Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) or later incarnations.
Otherwise, you probably have a few Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and maybe an Access database or two. This month, I'll show you how to sweep all that away with a free product that makes hardware and software inventorying a breeze and those spreadsheets a thing of the past.
Lansweeper 3.1 is a free, feature-rich application that inventories your network -- both hardware and software. You can also use its console to manage systems remotely: browsing administrative shares, rebooting, pinging and more. This is all accomplished without having to install anything on your servers or desktops. All you have to do is run a small inventory program from a user's log-on script. That's it.
To install Lansweeper, you need a SQL-flavored database. I used the free SQL Express 2005, but you can use anything from SQL Server 2000 or later. You also need a Web server running Internet Information Services 5 or higher, and a Windows 2003 server -- or later -- with .NET Framework version 2.0 or up. In my testing, I got by using Windows XP, but you'll likely want to use a server. You can use a single server for everything or divide up the roles, and set up is easy if you follow the documentation.
Once installed, add code to run lsclient.exe as part of a user's log-on script specifying the name of your Lansweeper server as a runtime parameter. The utility runs silently in the background gathering information from Windows Management Instrumentation and the registry and writing it to the database. The client program is supported on Windows 2000 and later operating systems. Again, nothing needs to be installed on the client.
Make a Clean Sweep
After you've pushed out the client, open the Lansweeper reporting Web site. You'll have a summary of all inventoried systems along with a number of alerts or warnings. You can configure these alerts and add your own. Clicking a link will take you to an associated list of computers, and you can drill down even further by clicking on a computer name link.
From here you have an information summary screen. There are other tabs you can access to reveal even more information, such as a specific hardware or software report. The Action tab offers a variety of management tasks such as Ping, Traceroute, Reboot, open computer management and launch a remote desktop session. As with just about everything else in Lansweeper, these are configurable and you can add your own actions.
More if You Need It
How do the Lansweeper makers get away with this? Well, there's a premium version you can upgrade to for what I think is still a ridiculously great bargain. With the upgrade, you get access to other tools, such as remote screen capture, a tool to remotely trigger an inventory scan, an encrypted Run-As substitute and much more. I have to say that the free version is pretty feature-complete for my needs, though.
One feature you may want that isn't available in the free version is an export feature called Report Explorer. Sure, you can print from the browser, but there's no way to export or create nice printed reports. Premium users receive the Report Explorer. Still, because all the data is in a SQL database, if you're handy with scripting or have other SQL reporting tools, you could roll your own reports.
But don't take my word for all this -- there's much more to the product that I don't have the space to discuss here. I encourage you to visit lansweeper.com to learn more. There's also an excellent interactive demo populated with real data that I think will convince you to at least give Lansweeper a chance in your network.
Jeffery Hicks is an IT veteran with over 25 years of experience, much of it spent as an IT infrastructure consultant specializing in Microsoft server technologies with an emphasis in automation and efficiency. He is a multi-year recipient of the Microsoft MVP Award in Windows PowerShell. He works today as an independent author, trainer and consultant. Jeff has written for numerous online sites and print publications, is a contributing editor at Petri.com, and a frequent speaker at technology conferences and user groups.