Lansweeper is an automated inventory, reporting, and PC administration tool. It can—very quickly—give you complete reports on your company’s server hardware and installed software, as well as a quick overview of “problem areas,” such as unauthorized administrators or almost-full hard disks.
Every once in a while, an application precisely hits my sweet spot. Just before this past Christmas, Lansweeper did just that. Lansweeper is an automated inventory, reporting, and PC administration tool. It can—very quickly—give you complete reports on your company’s server hardware and installed software, as well as a quick overview of “problem areas,” such as unauthorized administrators or almost-full hard disks. Lansweeper offers rich reporting and license-compliance tools, and it's also a terrific gateway for troubleshooting. Let's take a quick look at this cool utility.
Installation is straightforward, but as with most robust, enterprise-ready software, a little preparation pays off. Because your technicians will use a web page for most of Lansweeper's administrative tasks, you'll need to install Microsoft IIS on the server. Next, you'll need to download and install Microsoft’s .NET Framework 2.0, and install and configure a back-end database to which Lansweeper will store your network information. The database can be SQL Server 2000 or later—or the free SQL Express Edition. (Lansweeper's PDF documentation includes detailed instructions for setting up SQL Express to support the product.)
Once you've taken care of the prerequisites, a standard installation wizard walks you through the rest of the setup process, including connecting to the back-end database, setting up an NT service that can scan the machines on the network, and configuring a website from which to administer Lansweeper. Note that the NT service needs to have local administrator access on each PC or server that you want to manage. You can simply use the Domain Administrator account for this task, but as I discuss in my article, “Adding a Global Group to the Local Administrator Group”, I don't recommend that approach as a good security practice. Instead, use a Group Policy to add a “Lansweeper” user to each PC's local Administrator group. The referenced article provides further details and step-by-step instructions.
Getting It Going
As each user logs on to the computer, a small scanning application is triggered to run via a Group Policy or a logon script if you don’t use Active Directory (AD). In my testing, this scan was entirely unobtrusive. It took only a few minutes to run and didn’t affect the PC’s performance. Lansweeper then sends these scans over the network to the back-end SQL Server database for safe keeping.
After Lansweeper scans just one PC, you can start viewing the reports through a web browser (at http://localhost/lansweeper32). Figure 1 shows the Digital dashboard that lets you jump to software, hardware, server, general, and license-compliance reports. This overview page—which contains three sections called High priority, Important, and Informational—help direct your attention to problems you need to address.
If you click the Hardware link, Lansweeper displays an overview report that shows the status of your domain's hardware. This page is completely configurable through a separate application that Lansweeper calls the GUI Console. The information on this page alerts your Help desk staff of problems such as computers that have less than 1GB of RAM, unauthorized software, missing antivirus protection, and so on.
Figure 2 shows the Action screen, which provides an overview of a specific, inventoried computer. This screen shows basic information about the system, but it also lets you perform basic troubleshooting steps called Custom Actions. Some of the built-in Custom Actions are Remote control, Event viewer, Ping, Traceroute, Delete old user profiles, Show open files, and Who’s logged on. Some Lansweeper customers have written their own Custom Actions and shared them with other users on the company's online forum.
The free version of Lansweeper is packed with useful features. But for only $150, the Premium edition adds AD integration and some useful add-on applications, such as a custom report builder, a report exporter, a remote screenshot utility, and a remote-control utility. There’s even a special RunAs application that permits encrypted passwords. With the Premium edition, you can also scan machines at any time. (The free version only scans PCs when the users log on.)
Upgrading to the Premium edition is easy: Simply replace the NT service with a new executable, and copy the other standalone applications to the Lansweeper folder under C:\Program Files. It’s that easy.
You'll find excellent product support at Lansweeper's well moderated online forum. A strong community of users help one another solve common problems. I even noticed Geert Moernaut, the creator of Lansweeper, personally answering questions.
Lansweeper is an inexpensive tool that simply works. While testing it, I tried to root out deficiencies in the software or in usability—to no avail. I recommend Lansweeper without reservation. Download the free version, and see if you agree.