Spiceworks, the social business platform for IT professionals, has announced its intention to become the online marketplace for cloud services, as it continues to gain traction in the enterprise sector.

Speaking to Techworld at the recent SpiceWorld conference in London, Scott Abel, CEO of Spiceworks, said that three years ago 65-70 percent of Spiceworks users were from companies that had fewer than 100 employees. In the last 24 months, however, that has completely turned on its head, and now 75 percent of usage comes from companies with 100 employees or more.

Specifically the two fastest growing segments are companies with 500-1,000 employees and companies with 1,000 employees and above. As of last month there were 13,000 installations with more than 1,000 devices, implying that 60-65 percent of enterprises in the world use Spiceworks for something. 

Abel claims that the company has not actively pursued the enterprise market, attributing growing adoption within larger organisations to the economic climate. 

“As the economy got tough worldwide, people were willing to try things maybe they wouldn't in a regular economy, and they would download Spiceworks, they would install it, and when they looked at the functionality in the applications and the resources in the community, it did the job,” said Abel.

“One of the things when you have a free distribution model like us is that good enough is what gets you through the door, and being great is what keeps you inside. The nice thing is, when it works, they tell their friends, and when the economy turns they don't give it up.”

The shift is problematic in some ways, as Spiceworks tries to preserve the interests of its core SMB customer base amid growing pressure from enterprises for more 'power features'. Abel said that integrating overly complex and sophisticated features into the platform can end up alienating 'newbies'.

“I think the mistake traditional systems management vendors make is, over time, they complicate their products,” he said. “We try to look at everything through the lens of, what would help the IT guy remove work from his day?” 

At the same time, however, larger companies are becoming the dominant voice in terms of usage, and Spiceworks has been forced to introduce some more enterprise-focused features. In version 6.0, for example, Spiceworks finally came up with a way to auto-deploy and manage agents inside the network.

“The standard configuration is agentless – you install it in one machine and it goes out through protocols like WMI and gets all the data off every box it needs, so it's nice simple; but if you're a really experienced IT guy you want an agent on every box so you can get really detailed information in real time,” said Abel.

“It wasn't that we didn't know how to do it but it added complexity, so we resisted it forever. But eventually we just had too many big companies and we caved. Now you can say, I want this group of machines to have a real-time agent, and you get what you want. But it took 4 years of us saying no.” 

While adapting to its new enterprise user base has not been easy, Abel admits that it has opened up new opportunities from a vendor perspective. Traditionally, Spiceworks has been used as a marketing and sales platform for cloud vendors like LogMeIn to target SMBs, but with the growth of its enterprise user base, Abel sees a role for larger vendors.

“We get a lot of enterprise vendors come in; they see the marketshare and, depending on what the product is, we might say, we'd love to help you and take your money but we just don't think you're going to have a good result because the guy who sits in front of Spiceworks might not control that enterprise-class solution,” he said. 

“In a 250-person or 500-person company the IT Pro might decide some of the policies around implementing a cloud service, but the CFO and the controller are the ones who decide what features they need. I think in two or three years, we'll probably have some of those users in Spiceworks, because we're probably the best place to start researching cloud services.”

He added: “There's Amazon for every other product on the planet but you don't go there looking for cloud services. Two to three years from now that will probably be us, and so you'll go in there to look up NetSuite or Salesforce.”

In spite of these ambitions, however, Abel said that he would not consider building a separate enterprise version of Spiceworks, because he does not want to get into the business of software licensing. This would not only add complexity, as some of the platform is built on open source software, but would also give big customers the right to demand new features. 

Instead the company plans to expand its offering by integrating with third party services. Spiceworks already offers integrations with a cloud services such as Dropbox and Mozy through a number of APIs, but the company recently announced its deepest integration yet with mobile device management (MDM) firm Fiberlink

Fiberlink integrates with Spiceworks' inventory application, which IT pros use to identify all of the IP devices on their networks – including laptops, servers, desktops, switches and routers – and view this information via a browser interface. Fiberlink offers the same functionality for mobile phones and tablets. 

“This was like me taking my inventory app, ripping out the bottom, and getting Fiberlink to shove all its data underneath it,” said Abel. “You literally can see laptops, desktops, servers, and now there's a category for mobile. You click on it and you see all the phones, tablets, iOS, Android, whatever it is, and it looks just like the rest of Spiceworks.”

Spiceworks users get all Fiberlink's inventory and monitoring for free and pay £4 per device per month for additional MDM functionality, but they are not locked into the solution – they can opt for alternative offerings from the likes of Airwatch or MobileIron if they prefer. However, Abel sees this kind of deep integration as the future or Spiceworks.

The company is already exploring potential product categories for the next integration, including secure data containers for cloud storage platforms, mobile antivirus and identity management. All future integrations will be driven by customer demand, according to Spiceworks.

“Spiceworks from us is always going to be free, but we want to bring you all these best-in-class services as the world transforms itself, and try to use our market leverage to bring you a chunk of that for free, and bring you great pricing on the stuff you still have to pay for,” said Abel.

“We absolutely want to bring more services to our users in the same model.”