Keep an accurate inventory of your hardware and software assets

Editor's Note: The Buyer's Guide summarizes vendor-submitted information. To find out about future Buyer's Guide topics or to learn how to include your product in an upcoming Buyer's Guide, go to http://www.winnetmag.com/buyersguide. To view previous Buyer's Guides on the Web, go to http://www.winnetmag.com/articles/index.cfm?departmentid=118.

An accurate inventory of current hardware and software assets is vital to the successful management of corporate networks. Without an inventory, an IT department severely limits its ability to prepare budgets, schedule hardware replacements or upgrades, plan application deployments or migrations, and track service contracts. Worse, an organization that doesn't keep an inventory might not own the correct number of software licenses. Buying excess licenses is a waste of money, and the penalties associated with pirating software are disastrous. Your best bet is to maintain an accurate accounting of all your company's software and hardware assets.

If all you had to do was count boxes in a warehouse to gather your company's hardware and software inventory, you wouldn't get nearly as agitated about migrating client workstations to a new OS or drawing the attention of the Business Software Alliance (BSA). But unless your network is small, asset and license management is a major task that invariably requires special tools.

This guide doesn't include large-framework applications such as Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS), Tivoli Systems' Tivoli TME, Computer Associates' (CA's) Unicenter, and Hewlett-Packard's HP OpenView. Although these products have inventory and license-management capabilities, their scope of functionality is much broader and beyond the focus of this Buyer's Guide. Several of the products listed in this guide are designed to integrate with framework applications to enhance their asset- and license-management capabilities. The remaining products in this guide can assist you with managing your software inventory.

The listed products have a core functionality built around the ability to perform hardware and software inventories. Several products also provide additional functionality, such as Change and Configuration Management (CCM), remote control, and software-usage metering. Such added features can help fill a need in your organization, but don't let that distract you from scrutinizing the product's core functionality. Accuracy, ease of deployment, ease of use, and scalability are the most crucial features of an asset-management product.

To perform an accurate software inventory, most asset-management applications compare the inventory data they collect with a database of known application characteristics. The quality of this database will determine the accuracy and usability of your inventory data. For example, an asset-management application might find the dfrgntfs.exe file on your Windows 2000 desktops. If the application simply extracts the dfrgntfs.exe resource data, it will likely report that your workstations are running an unlicensed version of Executive Software's Diskeeper. However, dfrgntfs.exe is the built-in defrag utility that Microsoft includes in Win2K. Look for vendors that provide frequent database updates so that you can accurately identify new applications. The product you choose should also let you manually update the vendor-supplied database to add applications that you want to recognize.

Scalability is essential, especially for dispersed networks. Look for products that can collect inventory data at multiple points. If you work for a large organization, you'll want the option to use a PC or server at each site as a collection point for inventory data. Then, you can schedule the remote machines to upload their data to that system during off-hours.

Finally, consider how easy a product is to deploy and use. Many products require agent software on every monitored node. Make certain the agent is well behaved and doesn't consume excessive resources on the client system or generate unwanted network traffic.