Hands off my assets: 6 asset management packages tested
Asset management Software reviews: Altiris Asset Management Suite AuditWizard MAXIMO Asset Tracker Microsoft Distribution and Asset Management Services Track-It Specifications How we tested Sample scenarios Editor's choice About RMIT Sure you know how many PCs are on your network, but can you say for sure how many have out-of-date licenses or pirate software?
Sure you know how many PCs are on your network, but can you say for sure how many have out-of-date licenses or pirate software? We look at asset tracking software that helps you do this and much more. Asset management software can be roughly divided into two areas. It can be a simple application that discovers assets attached to your network and creates an inventory of all these assets. Then there are applications that are part of a complete IT lifecycle management suite that address client, asset, and server management needs.
Asset management involves the whole lifecycle of an asset from the purchase up until the asset is retired or the lease has ended. And during this phase, asset management software should give you a clear picture of where cost savings can be made. The big word that all the vendors are associating with their asset management software is an improved return on investment. What they mean by this is that they can measure and help you reduce the total cost of ownership by monitoring all your assets including the software usage patterns and identifying where licences can be reclaimed or reallocated depending on what is happening.
For this review we looked at six asset management packages. Some of them were better suited for small- to medium-sized workplaces while others were ideal for large enterprises. All the software packages tested had some sort of inventory management. This means from a central repository, organisations will be easily able to find what they own and who is using or assigned a particular asset. Also where they are located, how much they are costing the company, and whether they are meeting their duties.
The inventory also links to other closely tied services like lease management, warranty, maintenance, and upgrades. Without these details, companies can't effectively measure how much their assets are costing them.
This is as far as we went in terms of this review. Some of the software packages offer a lot more functionality like the Altiris software which offers complete IT lifecycle management. Reviewing the Altiris package in its entirety was outside the scope of this review.
We didn't receive Computer Associates Unicenter, which is most suited to environments with more than 10,000 assets, nor IBMs Tivoli Configuration Manager, which again is more suited to large enterprises. We find that Unicenter competes mainly on the help desk side and Tivoli Configuration Manager on software deployment.
Asset management packages use Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), the registry, and .INI files to perform remote auditing.
For assets like PDAs, scanners, and projectors, which typically won't be discovered, they can be manually added as an asset into the database of the respective package. With that said there are some packages that will pick up these sorts of assets.
When to audit
Audits should be scheduled to run when it's most convenient but mainly during periods of light network traffic. Auditing can be scheduled to occur at a certain time of the day, month, or particular date.
Managing your leases is critical to your company's financials. The best way to manage leases is to have a system that notifies you when a lease is about to expire. The system should also monitor the usage of software. That way you will be able to reclaim licences or reallocate licences.
There are many complete lifecycle management packages out there that look after all your assets from the day they are purchased to when they are retired. This will enable you to better measure the total cost of ownership of your assets.
Asset Management Suite is part of a complete IT lifecycle management solution. Altiris offers client and mobile management, asset management, and server management. For this review we only looked at the asset management component.
Installing the asset management suite can be a time-consuming and complicated task. In most cases, you would get the vendor to install this product for you. Before you can install any applications you have to install all the relevant prerequisites like IIS and MCDE (SQL Server). If these are not installed, the installer will install them. You then have to install the Notification Server, which is the primary infrastructure for the Altiris solutions and provides a common Web console, Web reports, notification policies, and helpdesk. The package server is then installed. It distributes the Notification Server packages to different servers on the network where client PCs can then download these packages. The deployment is the last key component. It provides real time LAN deployment for all assets and it offers numerous methods of deployment, from logon scripts and e-mail to Web pages and a fully schedulable client. Altiris also provides native integration for Microsoft SMS and some companies use Altiris to extend their SMS infrastructure to more fully manage their enterprise.
Some of its key features are:
Inventory of desktops, servers, and handhelds
Tracking software application usage
Tracking fixed assets
Managing corporate contracts
Automatic alerts of critical usage information
Web reporting and data export
The Asset Management Suite features Web-based reporting. From any browser you will able to publish data into an executive style report. There are many built-in reports you can choose from, and you can also customise your reports by drilling down multiple levels of detail for each report. One handy report is where you can display a count of software installations compared to the actual usage.
The Asset Management Suite did a great job at discovering the assets on our network. It offered an extensive hardware and software inventory. However, it does more than this by offering service request and service level agreement management as well as contract management. It does all this by allowing you to build a database that tracks payments and service records for assets that are under contract. Then you can setup policies that will notify staff of leases that are running out or violating service level thresholds.
AuditWizard didn't take very long to install, in fact we were able to install the standard version of the software in less than a minute.
When the installation was complete we launched the Network Discovery feature. The AuditWizard recovered the names, domain/workgroup, and IP addresses of the assets connected to our network. In order to audit all your PCs, you have to start by building the network scanner using the ScannerWizard then you have to run the scanner using a login script. The ScannerWizard is essentially a profile that allows you to customise the scanner settings. With it you can interrogate the hardware or software or both.
This is where it got a little messy. We had to create a shareable folder on our server. (Note that you don't have to install the AuditWizard on a server, it will happily run on a standard PC.) From here we had to make sure that every PC that was going to be audited could see this folder on the server. We also had to write a one-line script that would invoke the network scanner from the client PCs.
On every reboot, the script would execute the network scanner and save a file in the shareable folder, which could be imported into the AuditWizard where the administrator could view the results of the audit. You can also run an audit manually using a floppy disk or via e-mail.
The AuditWizard uses a Windows Explorer-type interface that allows you to expand items and drill down levels. Some of the key features within the package are:
Automatic network discovery
Collects asset, user, hardware and software details
Identifies all Windows installed applications and collects all the serial numbers
Alert monitor (alerts the administrator of changes in the assets)
Reporting and data export options
Audits user Internet activity
The ReportWizard allowed us to quickly create user-defined reports. You can create tabular reports, pie charts and bar graphs. You can also export data so you can edit the data in another application.
AuditWizard can also audit Internet activity. This actually goes beyond asset management and moves more into PC monitoring and tracking. There are many other tools that just do this sort of thing and all we can say is that there are some moral and privacy issues surrounding the use of tracking packages to monitor what your employees are doing on the Internet.
The AuditWizard performed reasonably well. AuditWizard does a good job of interrogating hardware. It drills down quite deep but not deep enough to discover what driver versions the hardware is using. It does however discover software versions and it tells you whether they are registered or not.
The installation of MAXIMO only took a few minutes and we can't see too many people having problems installing it. The installer recognised that our server didn't have the latest Microsoft Data Access Components installed and installed it for us. It also installed SQL Server then the main components of the application.
After all this we were ready to deploy the client agents to all our PCs. There are a few ways you can do this, using a login script, via e-mail, or automatically over the network. We decided to deploy the client agents automatically over the network then we were ready to discover and interrogate our assets.
The user interface can become a little cluttered once a large number of assets are discovered, but generally it was quite easy to carry out simple tasks. Some of the key features of MAXIMO were:
Inventory of your hardware
Inventory of your software including where it is installed
Identifies all configuration changes made to a PC
Tracks software usage
Shares the data with other applications (exporting data)
Optional Web-based access
Reporting can be done from the Control Center. You can either run one of the built-in reports by simply generating a query or you can build custom designed reports. You can also export data for use in other applications.
MAXIMO doesn't interrogate hardware as well as some of the other packages. It identified the obvious hardware, but it didn't drill down as deep in some areas. It didn't list important information like the driver versions used by the respective hardware, which I'm sure any administrator would love to have on hand at all times.
As with software monitoring, MAXIMO can categorise audited data by usage and can also list where the application resides on a PC. Furthermore it can display the disk space usage by file type. From here you can, for example, list all the installations of an application and compare it to the number of licences purchased against the usage.
It's a little messy how it does all this, but you can still efficiently manage all your licences, reclaiming licences or reallocating licences depending on what is happening.
Systems Management Server is part of the Windows Server System. There are few main components to this software such as the software distribution component, which can deploy applications and patches. This is something that the other packages don't do. It can also create an inventory and it can track software usage. We primarily focused on this component.
Systems Management Server (SMS) requires the installation of SQL Server 7.0 SP3 or SQL Server 2000 SP3. These other requirements were not packaged in the CD installer. We had to source them ourselves. The installation can be quite difficult. We would recommend you have a Microsoft engineer come out and install SMS for you.
Some of the key features include:
Software distribution to targeted assets
Application usage monitoring
Patch deployment to managed assets
Bandwidth awareness (client network connections)
Checkpoint/restart (downloads to clients continue where they left off)
Location awareness (mobile users will always receive software updates from the nearest appropriate source)
Active Directory Discovery
Like all the other packages in this review SMS uses WMI to interrogate system hardware and the set of data that it collects is almost the same. SMS also integrates an inventory with software metering, which displays what's installed and what's being used.
SMS also helps you stay compliant. It's not as strong in this area compared to Altiris but it still does a good job at monitoring concurrent application usage. SMS can also reduce your costs by identifying applications that are not being used so you can discontinue support and even retire these unused applications.
SMS includes a fully extensible Web reporting engine, with over 120 pre-built reports. Reports can be customised or created, imported, and exported into other environments.
Microsoft Distribution and Asset Management Services
Track It! is sold in three flavours, Single User, Standard (which run on MS Access), and Enterprise (which is MS SQL/Oracle based). We only reviewed the Standard Edition. Track-It uses a set of integrated modules and add-ons designed to manage and control your IT assets. Modules include Help Desk, Purchasing, Inventory/Auditing, Library, Training, and a Graphics and Reporting module. Track-It is very strong in the help desk area allowing for users to log their own service requests and search the solutions database to review the progress on their request without having to tie up the support staff. Field technicians can also have access to all the Track-It modules by making use of the full Web based versions.
Setting up the inventory was fairly straightforward: we had to install client software on each of our clients. You can also use logon scripts and disks to audit assets.
Track-It also includes a suite of about 100 predefined reports and Crystal Reports 9.0 to allow report customisation or new report generation.
There are also a large number of other modules available:
Agent (Alert), which allows auto notification
Receive that allows Help Desk work orders to be submitted via free form e-mail
Sync that allows technicians with PDAs to open, edit, update, and close work orders and sync up to Track It using MS Outlook
Web provides you will Web access to all Track It modules
Self Service which allows end users to submit help desk work orders over the Web, check the status of their work orders, and interrogate Track It's knowledgebase
Self Service Plus uses SST technology to automatically generate a work order if a solution to a customer query is not found
Remote Control allows Track It help desk technicians to take over remote PCs to troubleshoot them
Deploy which allows you to distribute software to Windows-based PCs throughout your entire organisation
All the components that make up Track-It are tightly integrated which makes it more cost effective. From featuring a basic inventory for both hardware and software, Track-It also features a library, which can be used to monitor what assets have been borrowed out and when they are due back.
There is also a training component where you can set up courses whether they be in-house training or external as well as assign courses to users. Then there's a help desk module that tracks outstanding requests for services such problems and installations.
We evaluated all packages on an Acer Altos Server, which was equipped with two Pentium III 1GhH CPUs and 1GB of RAM running Windows 2000 Advanced Server. We had 30 workgroup PCs attached to our private network as well as three network printers. Our main aim of the testing was to see how easy each of the packages were to install. We also evaluated how easy it was to deploy client software onto our assets. Other tasks that were carried out include discovering of all our assets and interrogating both hardware and software focusing on how well software licenses can be managed and how well the package can produce reports.
Does the package work with a wide variety of hardware and software platforms?
Are additional modules available to expand the capabilities of the package to suit your needs?
Comparing features, price and the value each package can provide to the business.
What support is provided as standard and how much will ongoing support end up costing you?
The Altiris Asset Management Suite offers good scalability and is a part of an entire IT management solution. It can manage all your physical assets including PDAs but also the software licenses and contracts associated with all your assets. It does this in a way which is very easy to understand and it's backed up by excellent support offerings.
RMIT IT Test Labs is an independent testing institution based in Melbourne, Victoria, performing IT product testing for clients such as IBM, Coles-Myer, and a wide variety of government bodies. In the Labs' testing for T&B, they are in direct contact with the clients supplying products and the magazine is responsible for the full cost of the testing. The findings are the Labs' own--only the specifications of the products to be tested are provided by the magazine. For more information on RMIT, please contact the Lab Manager, Steven Turvey.