The Dream of Complete Asset Discovery

Analyst firm Gartner has recently been referring to six steps of Software Asset Management[i]: Discover, Inventory, Normalize, Reconcile, Optimize and Share. 

Over the next few weeks, our SAM experts at Snow will show how Snow’s SAM platform closely mirrors Gartner’s advice on SAM best practices. In part one, Eric Sarnbrink looks at ‘Discover’ and ‘Inventory.’ Imagine a world where all it took to discover every asset on the network, mobile or server, physical or virtual, was a single click. 

It’s a nice dream. And unfortunately, in my view, it will only ever be a dream. Why? Because the (ever-increasingly) diverse nature of devices on the network demands a suite of technologies to accurately identify and audit them and the software they host or consume. That’s why at Snow we have a layered approach to inventory, ensuring that customers have all the bases covered and have access to the technologies they need to provide visibility of all target devices, from mobile phones to laptops, servers in the datacenter to applications in the cloud. The foundation for Discovery is Snow Inventory, a true multi-platform audit solution for Windows, Mac OSX, Linux and Unix devices.  

Recently, with the launch of Snow Device Manager, Snow can now extend the inventory of physical devices to mobiles and tablets running Windows, iOS and Android. Snow Inventory is also responsible for tracking the use of cloud-based applications. The majority of larger Snow customer organizations already have at least one source of hardware and software inventory, usually more than one. 

To that end, Snow offers Snow Integration Connectors to collect and import data from third-party inventory solutions (like SCCM, Altiris, LANdesk, BMC, IBM etc.) as well as one with an open XML format that can integrate with home grown inventory solutions. In many cases, organizations choose to use a mix of technologies, including Snow Inventory and existing audit solutions. Snow Inventory is highly adaptable and can be implemented on the desktops to capture all usage on all applications and desktops automatically.

Or, for example, it could be implemented in a Terminal Server Citrix environment to capture all the usage information across physical servers and virtual environments. The combination of hardware inventory, software inventory and software metering that Snow Inventory provides delivers the ability to browse, discover and track all installed software. A significant benefit of the Snow approach is that all the inventory data – regardless of source – is subject to the same cleansing and normalization through Snow’s Software Recognition Service, ensuring consistency in software vendor and product naming as well as versions.  But more of this in parts two and three of this blog series. So we have the basics of Discover covered. 

But we’re not done yet. To ensure that no devices are missed from the network inventory, Snow License Manager uses Active Directory to compare inventoried computers with the computers active on the domain(s). Next, with the capabilities of Snow’s Virtualization Management Option and the Oracle Management Option, Snow monitors virtual assets and collects data on Oracle databases, options and management packs. When collecting data from a clustered Oracle database we identify all instances and connected servers, as well as identifying those servers that have not yet reported any inventory data. This might happen when a new instance is created to increase database performance, perhaps introduced without taking into consideration the potential impact on licensing. Virtual machines present a major challenge to successful Software Asset Management. 

They typically elude traditional Discovery methods, yet have some of the most complex (and expensive) software licensing terms. By connecting to both the physical hardware and the deployed virtualization technologies, Snow builds a comprehensive picture of both host and guest devices, determining the relationship between the two and identifying the physical resources allocated to virtual machines (often critical to accurate software licensing). 

This same method makes it possible to understand when virtual devices are ‘missing’ from the Discovery process, enabling administrators to take remedial action by deploying agents where necessary (using Snow Inventory or one of the supported third-party audit solutions). 

All of this is viewed and managed in the main Snow License Manager interface. Visibility of the SAP environment is provided by Snow Optimizer for SAP® Software, which automatically discovers all SAP systems and reports on them, both in the native SAP management interface as well as Snow License Manager. Completing the Discovery process, by providing visibility of all mobile assets, is a combination of Snow Device Manager and Snow License Manager. Snow Device Manager connects to the Microsoft Exchange server to discover all mobile devices connected, and inventories them. Mobile devices are also discovered in Snow License Manager through the devices’ remote (or indirect) usage. With a Snow Inventory agent deployed to the Citrix or Microsoft Remote Desktop Services environment, all mobile devices that consume software are automatically discovered and the software usage is automatically measured and presented in Snow License Manager. So there we have it.  An approach to network Discovery that meets Gartner’s requirements for effective Software Asset Management.  

Simple it isn’t. 

But miss any of the areas above and your SAM program is flawed. While the idea of a one-touch, one-technology approach to Discovery will likely remain a dream, the good news is that with the right SAM suite, you can collect all the data you need to conduct a successful Software Asset Management program. In the next installment of this blog series, we will look at the ‘Normalization’ stage - filtering out irrelevant records and determining the variances in publisher and product name. 

In the meantime, to learn more about Snow’s SAM platform, speak to one of our experts today.  

[i] Gartner. Focus Your SAM Tool RFP on Six Requirements for Best Results. 10 September 2015. Author Hank Marquis