Lansweeper: The Network Admin’s Best Friend

by Thomas Shinder [Published on 17 Aug. 2009 / Last Updated on 17 Aug. 2009]

Product Review for Lansweeper’s freeware Network Inventory Tool, a powerful and effective solution to your inventory needs.

Product: Lansweeper

Product Homepage: click here

Demo: click here

Introduction

Things are tough all over. IT departments need to be able to do more with less. This is because the business of Information Technology is not getting the money it used to get. The entire business scene is going through stress and many IT shops are actually losing headcount. What does this mean? Well, essentially, it means that if you are one of the survivors, you are going to have to do the work of the people that were let go, and probably not get paid any more for it.

The current economical situation also means that you are not going to have the funds to pay for the tools you need to get things done faster. This can be a real headache if you are responsible for keeping track of the hardware and software on your network. Maybe you are already using an enterprise management console and your boss has come to you and said that the firm can not afford to continue paying the licensing for what you have been using. Maybe you have not even been using any management and reporting consoles, but the company is growing and you do not have time anymore to do manual or piecemeal audits.

What you need is a cost effective, yet powerful tool that can perform hardware and software inventory that is easy to install, configure and manage. This tool would ideally be one that you “set it and forget it”. This way, you do not have to constantly tweak and mess with it to make sure it does what you want it to do. You also do not want to pay confiscatory licensing fees, if for no other reasons than your boss said that there is no money for that.

If all this sounds like a description of what’s happening in your life now, then I have some good news for you. That good news can be summarized in one word: Lansweeper.

Lansweeper is a freeware network inventory tool that tracks your hardware and software environment and exposes the information you need in handy reports you can quickly print out and show the boss, letting him know things are running smoothly thanks to your mad management skills!

Did I say “freeware”? I sure did. The freeware version of the software gives you just about everything you need to bolster your job security plans.

Lansweeper has amazingly few software prerequisites. You need the following before you get started:

  • Windows 2003 or above to install the Lansweeper “server”. Note that you can install it on Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7, but for your production environment, it’s best to run the “server” on an actual server.
  • Internet Information Services 5 or above. IIS is needed since management is done through a powerful Web interface.
  • .NET framework 2.0 or above.
  • SQL Server or SQL Server Express. The database contains all the information gathered from the machines you’re tracking on the network

After the prerequisite software is installed, you are good to go. The installer asks a few simple questions about the database you would like to use and where the application files should be located, and that’s about it! Installation is a snap and there is no guesswork. It just works.

The next step in the process is to gather information from the clients. One management task I dread is adding another “agent” into my network mix. Agents, agents, agents! There are too many darned agents! I have got my managed anti-virus agent, my backup agent, my anti-spyware agent, my HIDS agent, my remote winsock agent, and probably a “secret agent”!

Lansweeper does not require you to install any agents on your managed systems. Instead, you configure Group Policy to have the clients run the lsclient.exe application during the start up using a script. Scanning takes place automatically without agent installation and once a quick scan is completed, the results are reported over the network to the Lansweeper server.

Now we can get to the good stuff. Once the information is fed into the Lansweeper database, you can get a taste of the comprehensive reporting Lansweeper enables.

What insight does Lansweeper give you? How about this:

  • Hardware scanning - Discover network hardware and get detailed reports for hardware inventory management. Use this information to determine which machines are candidates for Windows 7 upgrades or use this information to determine depreciation values.
  • Software scanning - Do you know what software is running on your network? Do you have a list of approved software? How about unapproved software? Lansweeper reports light-up your software inventory status so that you can find out who has been naughty or nice.
  • Alert reporting - Alerts let you know if something bad is happening. You need to know about them now, but you also need to keep track of them since alerts can give you knowledge about patterns that could help track down possible systemic issues. Lansweeper alert reporting brings that information to the surface.
  • Active Directory Users - Find out who has logged into the network and from which machines. You can even pin pictures of the users into your database.
  • Active Directory computer details - Discover detailed information about the OS keys and other software keys on the machines in your managed environment. You can even find and recover product keys!
  • License tracking - One of the least pleasurable aspects of your job is keeping track of product licenses. Let Lansweeper do the heavy lifting for you. License information is presented to you in a clear, concise and easy to digest report.
  • Wake On Lan (WOL) support - Energy efficiency is job one these days as electricity costs are going through the roof. You can use the integrated scripting support in Lansweeper to turn off computers at night and then use the WOL feature to turn them on the morning so that your users are happy and productive as soon as they arrive.

These are just a few of the most interesting (from my perspective) features included with Lansweeper. There are many more that I am sure you will like that I have not mentioned.

Another nice thing about Lansweeper is that it is imminently customizable. While there are plenty of default settings in the reports that will get you up and running in no time, for those of you who want to squeeze ever ounce of information out of the solution, Lansweeper will let you do that. Just click through the customization interface and you will have the subjects you are interested in right there in front of you. No need to dig into the code and try to wedge in your custom hack.

So, what does it look like? The figure below gives you a general picture of the console. Lansweeper uses a convenient tabbed interface, which is nice because the arrangement is logical and makes excellent use of the available screen real estate.


Figure 1

Need hardware information about a specific computer? Then check out Figure 2 below…


Figure 2

What about software? Check this out:


Figure 3

OK, those are nice examples of information you can get from individual computers, but what about reports that provide a more holistic view of what is happening on the network? How about this:


Figure 4

Right there you see important alert information. Just click the alert you are interested in to drill down and get more detailed information.

Remember that I mentioned the onerous task of keeping track of licenses? Lansweeper will do this for you and even tell you how many licenses you are missing and how much you need to spend to get into compliance:


Figure 5

Remember, all this functionality is free. You get all this intelligence gathering, information collection and reporting functionality for no cost. This is a freeware product that is ready to use as soon as you download Lansweeper, install the server, and configure Group Policy to run the lsclient.exe application at system start up.

But let us say that you have started using Lansweeper and you really like it. Maybe your boss said “hey kid, great job on saving us money by using Lansweeper for hardware and software inventory, here is two-hundred bucks to buy some software of your choice”. Maybe your first thought is “gee, two-hundred dollars, what could I possibly buy with that”?

In general, not much. But if you want to make Lansweeper even better, then for $199.99 you can upgrade to the Premium version. What does the premium version give you that you do not have in the freeware version? How about:

  • Active scanning so that you do not have to use the lsclient.exe
  • Active Directory computer and user details scanning, which gives you enhanced insight into what Active Directory users and computers are up to on the network
  • Scan multiple domains, and use alternate credentials for network scans, so that you can penetrate deeper into the hardware and software configuration and deployment on your network
  • Report Builder, which makes it possible for you to create, edit and export custom reports from a simple interface, and render them in a number of different formats
  • Remotely scan the network on a scheduled bases using the lstrigger feature
  • Remote screenshot, which allows you to take screenshots of desktop activity on monitored servers and workstations
  • Remote control, providing integrated support for VNC or RDP based remote control applications
  • LSrunase and supercrypt, which supports more powerful Runas capability and password encryption

As good as the freeware version is, the Premium version is even better.

Conclusion

I found Lansweeper to be easy to install, configure and manage. Unlike many network inventory tools that require a lot of ramp up time to figure out how they work and then get the network prepared for its roll out, I did not have to worry about any of that when working with Lansweeper.

After getting Lansweeper installed, I found the reports to be intuitive and it was very easy to configure custom settings. Best of all, I did not need to consult the documentation to get the core functionality working – something I really appreciate since I always try to make things work before resorting to the “fine manual”.

The fact that I did not have to install an agent was a real plus. That allowed me to get information more quickly since I did not have to qualify the software to make sure it was not going to break anything else on my network.

Overall, Lansweeper is the ideal low cost (no-cost) solution for small and midsized networks that need a robust hardware and software inventory tool. While advanced features, such as integrated support for Intel vPro technology is not included, it is likely that only enterprise networks are activating vPro at this time. Taking into account the cost, the ease of installation and configuration, and the value of the reporting facilities included in Lansweeper, I will give it 5 stars and heartily recommend this product to other network admins.

WindowsNetworking.com Rating 5/5

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