Asset management: Know what you want

It's not exciting, but asset management software can lead to something that is--IT cost savings. Gartner recently estimated that a single end-user system could cost you more than $41,000 during its lifecycle.

It's not exciting, but asset management software can lead to something that is--IT cost savings.

Gartner recently estimated that a single end-user system could cost you more than $41,000 during its lifecycle. The research firm also says you can reduce the lifecycle investment of each desktop machine by more than 37 percent by using asset management software. And according to asset management consultant Micropath, businesses routinely continue their investments in systems they either don't use or don't use enough. Micropath estimates this is the case for 27 percent of enterprise assets, which translates into big budget hits due to poor system management.

Asset management software can help you combat these problems and use your IT resources more strategically. You might even use these tools to standardize on a specific desktop feature set that you maintain automatically over time. Most asset management software uses a combination of console software and agent technology. The software agents, which are used in inventory, distribution, and monitoring processes, usually support a wide number of platforms. The Tivoli Management Framework offers support for a wide number of platforms.

None of the enterprise-level asset management software has a standardized price tag. Pricing is usually based on the number of platforms and capabilities you need. The latter revolve around three key areas:

Software monitoring.This capability usually includes software license usage reporting and trend reporting (time of day, week, or month and by whom). Monitoring can also let you share software that's licensed concurrently among users. You can also control which users have access to specific software.

Software distribution. This area is usually split into two parts: software packaging and physical deployment. Some software, such as MainControl's MC/Empower and Tivoli TME Software Distribution, provide both script-based packaging tools (included as part of the product) and the ability to check target systems and only deploy software that requires updating. Other programs only supply scripting capabilities.

Physical deployment capabilities vary by product. Some asset management software lets you replace operating systems on target machines, though others don't. Moreover, some applications can only deploy software to Windows-based clients, which doesn't help if your company uses Linux or Macintosh on the desktop. Installing or replacing operating systems remotely requires deployment mechanisms (that is, remote rebooting) and not all asset management software supports this. Some are limited to only deploying applications.

Asset management applications that support software distribution include HP's OpenView, Intel's LANDesk, MainControl's MC/EMpower, ON Technology's ON Command CCM, and Tivoli's TME Software Distribution (part of the Tivoli Management Framework).

Hardware and software inventory.This capability is handled in a variety of ways, too. Some asset management tools let you monitor hardware changes down to the individual component level (memory, disk drives), while others merely identify assets at a machine level. Complicating matters, however, is the fact that there's no real standard for automated hardware inventorying. Some machine BIOS information can automatically be detected, though other hardware manufacturers don't supply any machine-level mechanism to surface identifying information. To counter this challenge, be sure to look for asset management applications that support either Distributed Management Interface (DMI) or Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP). Using these standards lets you collect common information across all your assets, regardless of the hardware manufacturer. Applications that provide inventory capability include Intel's LANDesk or HP's OpenView.

Knowing what you want saves money
When it comes to managing your assets, of course, you can determine your needs by using some fairly low-tech methods. For starters, walk through your corporate offices and look to see how many systems are not being used. Alternatively, send a survey to department heads that asks them to identify the hardware and/or software they are actively using. Talk to your network administrators about how they are performing inventory, monitoring, and distribution tasks. Try to develop a potential cost/benefit analysis after doing a bit of research.

But asset management software is probably one of the most direct methods for maintaining your systems. It's highly probable that you can reduce corporate costs using this software, but the trick is knowing and paying for just the asset management functionality you need. Once you figure out what you need, managing your IT systems becomes that much easier.Asset management solutions range from those that assess Web application use to those that can administer your enterprise IT resources, including hardware and software inventory, software distribution, and software monitoring.

Asset Management Products
Product &
Software Distribution Capabilities* Software Monitoring** Inventory***
HP Openview Desktop Administrator Includes all; packaging via script Yes No component monitoring
Intel LANdesk Management Suite Includes all; in packaging, only sends updates Includes all No component monitoring
MainControl MC/EMpower Includes all; packaging via script and can check for updates N/A Includes all
ON Command CCM Includes all; packaging via script N/A N/A
Tivoli Management Framework Includes all; packaging via script and can check for updates N/A No component monitoring
* Software distribution includes: packaging, checking dependencies, software installation commit dates, rollback on failure, and reporting.
** Software monitoring includes usage, license, real-time tracking, and application access control.
*** Inventory includes component monitoring, change tracking, and alerts.