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Track down the right IT asset management system

Virtualization, rapid refreshes and shadow IT make it harder for IT departments to really know -- and properly license and support -- what they have. You need an IT asset management system to show you.

Is your organization under- or over-licensed; are you paying for maintenance against equipment that you don't have? Without rigorous asset and lifecycle management, IT teams aren't quite sure what devices reside in their dominion.

When IT managed physical, one-app-per-server environments, Quocirca conducted a research study that showed the average large company felt it was doing a good job if it knew to within 20% how many servers, storage systems and network items it had. The increase in virtualization is exacerbating issues in tracking the physical assets under the IT shop's control. When IT also has to monitor and manage items that creep in through shadow IT and bring your own device, then it becomes a mess.

Many organizations manually keep an IT asset log, such as in an Excel spreadsheet, with no automated means of knowing if what is documented actually exists. When hardware components suffer failures, the swap out or replacement is not always logged. IT equipment gets trashed -- but remains in the log.

Over time, this discrepancy between the log and reality grows, and only an expensive and time-consuming inventory audit can set things right again. Many IT organizations simply don't bother.

IT asset management system decisions

IT organizations need a completely automated means of knowing what devices operate in the data center and on the network.

The optimum IT asset management system hits three main areas:

  • Completeness. The tool should register any device that is attached to the network, even with an ad hoc connection, such as a smartphone or tablet. This comprehensive listing of network users helps IT teams to understand what is happening across the network and to apply suitable security to the organization's data.
  • Granularity. Two systems of the same product name often have differences inside. Granularity must apply to hardware and software, such as drivers and operating system version and patch level. For example, two servers of the same brand and model name could have varying amounts of installed memory, or a different make of hard disk drive. Gathering all this information in one system affords real value to IT asset management.
  • Reportability. You must be able to access asset data in a meaningful manner. The IT asset management system must provide reports that are not just based on products, but also cover maintenance schedules, capability for devices to take patches and updates and the health of the equipment and the components within it.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags promise more accurate physical inventories. However, RFID asset tracking requires regularly applying the tags, and installing RFID readers and automated reconciliation systems. Active RFID tags are too expensive to make economic sense for most data centers; passive RFID tag schemes still require a person to walk around the data center to swipe all the items with a reader.

Today's IT asset discovery systems are mature enough to pick up the vast majority of items on the network. Systems from BMC Software, CA Technologies, LANDesk and Dell, among others, use the simple network management protocol to identify servers and other IT assets on the network.

Data center infrastructure management (DCIM) vendors, such as Future Facilities, Nlyte and Emerson Network Power, provide asset discovery as part of overall software offerings. However, DCIM systems may not easily track endpoint devices: desktops, laptops and mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Many IT asset management tools still deal with the virtual and physical worlds separately, even though problems in the physical world can directly affect the virtual. For example, a storage array failure will degrade all the virtual workloads using that array. Even with full dynamic resource sharing in place, where virtual workloads can move from one physical domain onto another, physical asset failures will limit overall performance.

IT lifecycle management

The main role of systems management is to ensure that equipment operates well and is as available as possible, with any problems identified and fixed quickly. IT lifecycle management (ITLM) does that as well, but helps gauge the usefulness of the equipment to the workloads.

ITLM is predicated on having a suitable asset discovery, monitoring and management system in place. The form of database -- change management databases are common -- makes little difference, but ensure that the three aspects of completeness, granularity and reportability are fully covered by the system.

ITLM and IT asset management tools must identify the contextuality between physical and virtual assets. The tool should identify the root cause of any issue from the virtual workload to all the physical assets it is dependent upon, whether it includes a server, a storage device, networks or any of the other myriad physical assets involved in facilitating today's workloads.

ITLM is the nirvana for a business and for IT. It ensures that an optimized IT platform is always available to the business and is provided and managed at the best possible cost. Vendors such as ManageEngine and service companies such as Bell Microsystems offer ITLM capabilities. Some companies offer full secure end of life services in the cleansing, selling or destruction of old equipment.

With an understanding of what new equipment is available and the residual value of the existing equipment, an ITLM system can show when an asset should be cascaded down to running a different workload or retired completely.

Assets will be fully logged in a good ITLM system, leading to less over-licensing and over-maintenance charges. It will also ensure that if an audit is carried out by the likes of the Federation Against Software Theft, the business will not be subject to punitive fines for under-licensing its workloads.

About the author:
Clive Longbottom is the co-founder and service director of IT research and analysis firm Quocirca, based in the U.K. Longbottom has more than 15 years of experience in the field. With a background in chemical engineering, he's worked on automation, control of hazardous substances, document management and knowledge management projects.

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This was last published in July 2015

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How do you discover and manage IT assets today?
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We use a mix of autodiscovery and good old-fashioned sleuthing. I wish I could say that we used more autodiscovery, but we’re still trying to iron out some of the issues.
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@mcorum what issues come up? integration between systems? 
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We are using auto discovery for Network assets and an agent for PCs/Workstation etc., but we are looking for a new system. Has anybody done a comparison between the major players in this space?

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