On the right track

In a perfect world no one would ever lose the paperwork for their hardware leases or install unnecessary software programs, but enterprise computing infrastructures can morph in unusual ways. Asset management software can calm the nightmares and even cut costs.

In a perfect world no one would ever lose the paperwork for their hardware leases or install unnecessary software programs, but enterprise computing infrastructures can morph in ways that leave IT managers at a loss about just what technology they have. Asset management software can calm the nightmares and even cut costs.

If you’ve ever been in the terrifying position of having lost track of a piece of IT of vital importance at exactly the wrong time or been mystified by a system problem you thought had been solved, you’ll understand the need to know what you’ve got just as well as what you haven’t.

It was to combat the IT free-for-all that a set of processes, policies and technologies called asset management evolved. The task it had was to ensure the effective acquisition, deployment and disposal of IT assets.

US research company Gartner says businesses can see a per-asset cost reduction of 20% to 40% during the first year of an asset management plan, and an additional 6% to 8% annually over the next five years.

In a report released in June, Gartner determined that many companies don’t understand their hardware asset bases, leading to a loss of time, money and system performance.

According to Gartner, less than 25% of companies worldwide have an IT asset management program in place that can determine potential dangers. Without thorough knowledge of their systems, companies risk gathering incorrect information on hardware and software upgrades, overspending on upgrades or giving false information to application development groups.

Statistics recently gathered from Gartner clients indicated that 40% of their hardware assets were not tracked using any tools and only 10% are reconciled against a database community, the researcher says.

Poor hardware management can increase companies’ total cost of ownership by 7% to 10% annually, Gartner warns.

What’s more, companies which don’t have a grasp of their hardware resources often also have poor software management which can prove even more costly, the research firm says.

The costs of not knowing

Much of the difficulty in managing IT assets is just getting a handle on the hardware and software that’s owned or leased.

Plenty of auto-discovery tools exist that will let you find long-forgotten desktops and servers, from vendors such as Microsoft, Novell, Network Associates and Peregrine Systems. But in the category of IT asset management software, complex data repositories developed by at least a dozen vendors, Gartner doesn’t recommend any particular one.

Auckland University of Technology, which leases 90% of its $12 million worth of IT hardware, has developed an online database of its own using the open source database MySQL running on Linux. It started work on the database not long after it began leasing gear eight years ago.

AUT technical services manager Calum MacLeod says the tertiary institution has to know not only what it has but also where everything is, because at the end of the lease the equipment has to go back.

“Otherwise there are penalties. After the first lease we learned at our cost that we had to develop this asset management process. Therefore we’re pretty strict about managing it.”

AUT records information about who manages and who uses each networked asset as well as some that aren’t networked. AUT has assigned fixed IP addresses to all network devices and this information is passed to the DHCP server along with MAC (media access control) addresses. The IT department built a polling protocol into the database that pings devices to see whether they’re still active.

“This is how we track the management of the assets around the university, because we have our networks heavily sub-netted. We can track assets to a floor or particular office or classroom.”

AUT purchases about $600,000 worth of software each year. All programs purchased by various departments are delivered via the IT department, which records licence information. However, MacLeod admits some software manages to sneak in through the back door.

AUT uses Novell’s Zenworks to audit the software installed on all networked computers but hasn’t got to the point where it can capture the number of installed licences against the database of purchased software licences.

“That’s the plan. So we can say we can tell whether we have a difference between the number of licences purchased and the number of programs we have.”

Keeping a lid on change

The Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences employs 300 staff, many of which are scientists.

As IT managers know to their chagrin, technically savvy types are not averse to adding extra software and hardware to their machines, but the crown research institute exercises tight control over workstations and has a policy of not allowing extraneous software to creep in.

IGNS IT manager Graham Alderwick says in the PC environment the agency has a locked down desktop where nothing can be changed without administrator’s rights.

Not only must all specialist and scientific software come in via the IT department, but everything that comes into the organisation is given an ID number and placed in an Oracle asset management database where a history of all work carried out on IT equipment is also kept. The database has links to the IGNS financial system and software is audited every six months to ensure software compliance.

Alderwick says the main issue is keeping the database up to date, making sure that people follow procedure and details are entered.

Fletcher Challenge Forests’ manager of IT infrastructure Mark Wilkinson believes IT asset management is vital to ensure appropriate investments are made for new purchases, replacements and maintenance, along with the return on value from those investments.

“The cost of non-compliance in the area of software licensing can be both expensive from a direct cost perspective, as well as the potential loss of confidence in an organisation from the public disclosure of non-compliance.”

The bulk of FCF’s asset management task is automated using two audit applications that record both hardware and software installed throughout the organisation. These applications record current information on a daily basis and also offer a historical view of changes in the audit database.

Reporting from the database is used to monitor licence compliance and forecast equipment replacement for end-of-life assets. A software licence database is maintained externally through a preferred software supplier relationship. This supplier provides regular reports on licence purchases and overall licence ownership.

Wilkinson says ongoing IT asset management, including the cost of auditing software updates, time to analyse reports and enforcement, costs about $10,000 per annum.

One-off costs, including designing computing architecture so that it imposes restrictions on the unauthorised installation of software and the purchase of auditing software, are estimated at around $35,000.

Wilkinson says the cost of compliance is less than 1% of the overall IT budget, including hardware asset management.

Warranties and licensing

Stephen Lloyd-Jones, Australia/New Zealand general manager of IT asset management software company MRO Software, says the days when IT assets could be managed with an Excel spreadsheet are over.

Today, these assets are not simply tied to offices but to employees. And they have proliferated to include laptops, desktops and mobile devices, not to mention software, including all types of end user applications.

“Purpose-built IT asset management software will not only discover what software is sitting on what machine but reconcile it with what licences the organisation has.”

He says a client in Australia had set up purchasing so that people could requisition anything they wanted. However, by just buying PCs on an ad hoc basis they were paying 30% more than if they’d gone through the IT department and used the IT contract.

“The way you source things will have a big impact on IT asset management. Things like warranty tracking. How much stuff have you paid for to be repaired while it’s under warranty?”

Lloyd-Jones says whether the issue is warranty management, procurement or more efficient configuration of equipment to meet end user needs, the information that is gleaned can inform all of your planning, procurement and work management processes.


A question of discipline

Taming the beast

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