This content is part of the Essential Guide: Cut data center sprawl to improve IT capacity

Data center asset management yields big ticket savings

Data center operators can use tools already in place to create IT asset management strategies that yield millions in savings.

A large medical institution in California didn't have a solid grip on its IT holdings last year, with hardware scattered about and software that didn't match up well with the hardware.

The medical institution received a recommendation to reduce hardware and software in the data center, do more virtualization and move some workloads to the cloud as part of an IT asset management strategy.

The total savings were pegged at $3 million over three years.

"They pushed back on the number and we validated it," said David Brisbois, senior manager of assessment and technology deployment services at Softchoice, a Toronto-headquartered technology consultancy, which conducted the assessment.

Data center asset management helps organizations tackle all kinds of questions:

  • Are we using all the licenses we have?
  • Are we using servers we didn't know we had?
  • Are we paying to maintain hardware we don't have?

For the medical institution that Softchoice worked with, the bulk of the savings came from reduced software license fees and also from its ability to cut hardware and maintenance costs, Brisbois said. The company also purchased cloud services from Microsoft Azure through its existing licenses that weren't being used. Moving workloads to cloud services, for which it already paid, helped reduce excess costs.

Asset management a sprawling problem

The story of this one medical institution's IT asset management problems can resonate with plenty of other enterprises.

"Assets are scattered everywhere and you are paying for things everywhere, so it is hard to find the absolute," Brisbois said. "[Enterprises] are now understanding [that] there are multiple pieces of data to compile to make sure about everything. It was easy when it was all on-prem."

Assets are scattered everywhere and you are paying for things everywhere, so it is hard to find the absolute ... It was easy when it was all on-prem.
David Brisboissenior manager of assessment and technology deployment services, Softchoice

The process to get a handle on IT assets started with an agent that monitored usage for 30 days. The team then offered recommendations for change.

The healthcare provider continues its data center asset monitoring through Softchoice.

The latest trend in data center asset management is to focus on consumption, Brisbois said. With a handle on consumption of IT resources, organizations can bring in standardization, rationalization and negotiation to save money.

IT compliance comes from within

Without data center asset management software, organizations rely on a homegrown system or something as simple as an Excel spreadsheet.

"A software product doesn't deliver compliance, it just facilitates proper use of a standard," said David Norfolk, an automated systems analyst at Bloor Research International Ltd., based in London.

Even simplistic IT asset management can easily get out of control, Norfolk said. Data center asset management software can also connect to an enterprise's help desk to help identify unreliable assets and verify what's reported in a help desk ticket.

"When you are told that 'nothing has changed,' your asset management tool might tell you that this is wrong, and where it's wrong," Norfolk said.

Brisbois combines technology that clients already have running with an extractor that sits in the clients' environment.

Some of the most common tools to collect data for IT asset management include Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager, tools from Snow Products, Symantec Asset Management Suite powered by Altiris, LANDesk Software's IT Asset Management Suite and tools from Flexera Software LLC.

Softchoice has also developed its own custom scripting to run against users' virtualized VMware and storage area network environments, and sometimes uses Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit to understand SQL environments.

IT asset management as a service

The next step for IT pros will be broader adoption of asset management as a service (AMaaS), which provides an ongoing view into asset use.

RF Code is looking to offer AMaaS to colocation customers, such as CenturyLink. The company is in the "earliest stages of field testing," according to Richard Jenkins, vice president of marketing and business development at RF Code, based in Austin, Texas.

RF Code expects to work with colocation providers, as several customers have expressed how important it is to have visibility of colocated assets.

Even without AMaaS in place, it is good practice to perform application portfolio management and equipment management, according to Kathy Repage, colocation product manager at CenturyLink.

Many of CenturyLink's customers are Fortune 500 companies that use their own data center asset management systems to track equipment. Knowing the equipment and the applications that run on the equipment is part of good IT lifecycle management, she said.

AMaaS "means different things to different people," according to Geoff Moore, chief technology officer at Red Solutions in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Red Solutions, for example, provides "different flavors of service for different people and different assets."

Windsor Business Solutions Pty Ltd., a property management company in Australia, offers it as essentially a call center service, where users can call in to get a work order created and the call center handles the rest. That's much different than many of the companies in North America or Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The most common uses for AMaaS is where users have remote operations with a small team of IT pros that are dedicated to specific tasks, and don't have the time or expertise to look after the 'housekeeping' of the data center, Moore said.

Another common use is to help gain an understanding about what's happening that may not be obvious -- things such as footfall, client/staff behavior and usage patterns -- but it is too expensive or difficult to put IT pros on-site to investigate.

"In both circumstances, what's needed is to gather information, communicate the information to a place where the necessary resources to do what's needed are available and make the right decisions," Moore said. "Then, you communicate the results to the appropriate people so that things get done."

Robert Gates covers data centers, data center strategies, server technologies, converged and hyperconverged infrastructure and open source operating systems for SearchDataCenter. Follow him on Twitter @RBGatesTT.

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