SpiceWorld: All Things Spicy

I was recently invited to attend SpiceWorld Austin (paid for by SpiceWorks), a gathering of administrators, companies, and IT managers involved with SpiceWorks. SpiceWorks provides help desk, inventory, and now system monitoring for the small and medium business/enterprise (SMB/E). The SMB/E space until now seemed underserved by major vendors in the virtualization space. SpiceWorks provides a means to serve the SMB/E space using a somewhat different approach.

The SpiceWorks platform is free to those who wish to install locally, but there is a charge if you wish to host the tools within the SpiceWorks cloud. This is a new endeavor from SpiceWorks. So, how does it make money, and why is there such a community around SpiceWorks?

SpiceWorks makes money by offering, within its application, advertisement space for products of interest to the SMB/E. This is a $600B business currently. Yes, I was a little shocked by that number as well. Sales of ad space are not making the company $600B, but SpiceWorks users are collectively buying $600B worth of services from vendors who advertise within the tools and the community site they use. This is the real meat of SpiceWorld: it is a gathering of SpiceWorks community members, offering a chance to meet, to commiserate, and to help solve each others’ problems, as well as to leverage the entire community to talk with vendors who advertise on the site.

The crux of SpiceWorks is the community. This is a vibrant community of individual systems administrators and small administrator groups working within the SMB/E space. Granted, within the community there are some who work in bigger organizations as well, as this is ultimately a community of people who help each other solve problems. There are ways to import information from trouble tickets into the forum, so you can ask other administrators for help with problems. The system is designed to facilitate communication among peers—systems administrators—while providing usable resources.

Virtualization is fairly big in small organizations, which are using vSphere, KVM, Xen, and Hyper-V. These organizations are too small to compete with the big companies for top talent, yet the community as a whole does compete: it actively pulls you in, whether you are interested in tackling small-scale problems or wish to apply larger-scale solutions stepped down for these environments.

The SMB/E also has different problems than the larger enterprises. Their limited budgets force them to do things we would not normally consider. During one early-morning conversation, we discussed several issues:

  • Are they thinking about GPUs? The answer was “not really.” This was not on anyone’s mind, even if they had some form of virtual desktop. This was based on cost and knowledge of the solution. It just did not apply to them, or they had no visibility into what NVIDIA is doing within the virtual environment.
  • How do you handle upgrades? For Hyper-V, KVM, and Xen platforms, this is not a huge issue: they just add another host and license it (or, since Hyper-V is “free,” they pay only for the licenses for the VMs they will run). Yet for vSphere, they have serious licensing concerns. One SMB just stood up multiple vSphere Essentials clusters, managing them using two different vCenter servers. In the enterprise, if we had two different vCenter servers, we would federate them together. Federation is outside their cost budgets. But they need a solution to this problem, as managing a single environment using two distinct management interfaces is a bit clumsy. Perhaps vCenter Standard works with Essentials Plus versions of ESXi? I do not know, but is it worth a test by VMware?
  • Networking questions and discussions came up often. This is a group of folks who need SDN but have simpler problems with just getting sane wiring in place.

Many of the vendors at the show, with the exception of Veeam, VMware, Microsoft, and several other common faces within the virtualization world, were geared toward the SMB/E environments, providing backup tools, mobile tools, and SaaS for business solutions. There was quite a bit of interest there—lots of booth discussions going on throughout the conference.

SpiceWorks, its community, and its method of marketing to SMB/Es offer a unique approach, one worth watching. It is a community worth participating in. And above all, SpiceWorld provides a chance to discuss problems with others: perhaps you to can get a solution to your problem, or help others find solutions to theirs.

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