Helpdesk Systems: Eventum

For the last two years, our IT helpdesk has been “powerered” by Zope’s ‘Tracker’ Product. I laughingly refer to it as ‘powered’ because it’s anything but. Right now, we’ve managed to create an ad-hoc system based around Tracker but at the same which tries to avoid it at every step, because Tracker is just plain nasty.

We’re trying to make things better, so for the past couple of weeks, we’ve been trying out a few different products, such as Footprints (good, fully-featured, very expensive) and Auscomp’s IT Commander (cheap, bizarre feature-set). We still haven’t had success finding something that’s suited to our needs, but we’re still looking.

Since I had nothing better to do all weekend, I went looking for other replacement candidates. I stumbled across eventum. Eventum is currently in use by the boys in MySQL AB to handle their technical support. I liked the look of the screenshots, so I installed it on a linux machine at home and tried it out. Here’s what I learned:

  • Very simple install Just unpack the .tar.gz file into a web-accessibly directory on a server with Apache and MySQL
  • Very fast It’s doing a lot, but seems to be pulling the data out pretty quick. And the server I’m running it on isn’t beefy.
  • Intuitive workflow No faffing about trying to figure out how to do certain things.
  • Powerful report generator Provides many different views of your data, which is useful for say, weekly summaries.
  • Multiple projects Create a different eventum tracker for different tasks (IT Helpdesk, Mail Server Upgrade Project etc.)
  • Role-based accounts Unlike ITCommander, these roles are actually useful and tied into your account, so you’re never confused as to what you can do.
  • Anonymous posting No need to sign in to report a problem.
  • Email integration Didn’t get this working at home (because.. well.. I really don’t have a mail server set up at home), but this is tied heavily into the issues. You have the option to notify the person who opened the issue at every change (and also change the list of people who get notified)
  • Time tracking Complete time-tracking integration for proper project management.
  • Phone call tracking There’s an option to update an issue with details of phone calls you’ve made/received regarding this issue. I really like this idea. No more (“Hey, did you ring John Doe about buying that software?”). This is also nicely tied into the time tracking system.
  • Easy to configure/tinker with It provides a powerful administration interface, but it’s also written in really simple PHP. I was able to get my head around the code in an hour or so.

Here are the things I didn’t get to configure and play with, but sounded really bloody nifty from the INSTALL file:

  • Reminder System The reminder system was designed with the objective as serving as a safe net for issues that need attention.
  • Heartbeat Monitor The heartbeat monitor is a feature designed for the administrator that wants to be alerted whenever a common problem in Eventum is detected, like the database server not being available anymore.
  • Command-line interface The Eventum command-line interface allows you to access most of the features of the web interface straight from your command shell. From a personal perspective, this means I can easily automate many things without having to write some custom web-scraping script.

Now, it’s not all roses. Here are the problems I’ve noticed:

  • Possible bugs When I go to close an issue, it will sometimes not budge, and look like it’s not done anything. But it has, it just hasn’t told me. Similarly, when I put in an anonymous issue, it didn’t move. I hit submit five or six times, then finally checked the issue list, and there were five or six anonymous issues. Although this COULD just be the fact that I’ve configured email integration without a working email setup. I’ll have to check this out.
  • Very developer-centric Out of the box, it looks as if it’s geared towards software developers rather than IT helpdesk. However, after an hour or so of changing options in the Admin interface, I managed to make it look and feel more like what we’d need.
  • Open source project As an open-source project, you’re pretty much on your own with very little documentation to guide you. Although there is an active eventum-users mailing list, which could be a pretty good source of support for.