Sum of the parts
Asset management tools help you make the most of what you have ' and deliver compliance reports, too
- By David Essex
- Jun 15, 2007
Information technology asset management software has been around for years. A close cousin of network management, it started as a way to 'discover' and inventory hardware and software assets to better manage them. But in recent years, ITAM has evolved into the baseline data-gathering tool for much more sophisticated new methods of wringing every last dollar from investments.
ITAM is no longer just about knowing what your assets are. Corporations and government agencies increasingly use it as the foundation of a complete life cycle strategy, and ITAM vendors claim prominent customers at all levels of government.
Federal agencies also are interested in using the software to manage and document security mandates, such as the Federal Information Security Management Act, and procurement and budgetary directives such as Capital Planning and Investment Control and the Office of Management and Budget's Exhibit 300 submissions for documenting business cases to justify IT expenditures.
'They're really forcing people to look at not just what we've got but how are we using it and at the life cycle of the IT investment,' said David Yachnin, enterprise strategist at CA, an ITAM vendor. 'The driving forces behind IT asset management are not just cost reduction but compliance. You literally have to spell out what you're going to get, and then you have to track that.'
Some agencies use ITAM to create the required reports, occasionally feeding asset data into separate portfolio management tools to prepare and track business cases and IT investments. ITAM also underpins the help desks of many federal agencies, vendors say, providing the up-to-date information technicians need to respond to incidents and change requests.
'It really is an area that crosses over between operational and financial,' said Tony Myers, senior product manager at BMC Software, one of the leading vendors in combining ITAM and service-desk functions.Specialties with a specialty
The ITAM market breaks down fairly neatly into two categories. The soup-to-nuts network management vendors ' such as BMC, CA, Hewlett-Packard and IBM's Tivoli division ' occupy what is sometimes called the framework level, with complex infrastructures that can take months to implement. They usually position their product suites as IT service management.
Niche vendors such as Express Metrix, Everdream and Centennial Software focus on discovering and inventorying assets, and tracking and managing software use for compliance with license terms ' the bread and butter of ITAM.
Howard Weiner, chief information officer at the Merchant Marine Academy, bought the Express Metrix suite to manage hardware inventory and software licenses, but he discovered an unexpected benefit: the ability to detect unapproved client software the midshipmen use to circumvent policies against adult and gambling Web sites.
Weiner can readily quote savings on the licensing of highly specialized ' and expensive ' ship-simulation software sold by small vendors who, he said, distrust concurrent licenses, which can save money for buyers.
'We've been able to demonstrate to anyone who wants to look exactly who has the software and how many instances of concurrent use there can be,' Weiner said.
Without concurrent use, the academy would have to deploy dedicated PCs with security dongles on wired networks to run the software rather than allowing it on the wireless-enabled laptop PCs issued to every student. The Express Metrix tools save the academy as much as $30,000 in each classroom every three to four years, he said.
The so-called best-of-breed niche vendors claim the solutions from framework vendors are too broad and generic to serve specific, department-level needs ' which their competitors deny, of course. Yet the high-level suites dominate the leading edge by meeting the current demand to tie ITAM to business processes, according to analyst firms, including Forrester Research, which clusters BMC, CA and HP in the vanguard. Forrester also breaks down the market by customer size, saying the niche vendors typically target midsize organizations, while the framework vendors sell mostly to large agencies.
A few vendors, including Belarc and Everdream, follow the software-as-a-service delivery model. Some framework vendors such as BMC offer this Web-based option, but SaaS tends to be favored by smaller organizations that can't afford to build and maintain internal ITAM.
Another flavor of ITAM resides in the enterprise resource planning systems primarily sold to governments by Lawson, Oracle and SAP. But ERP historically has focused on accounting, financials and closely related functions such as procurement, with a bias toward fixed assets including buildings and manufacturing equipment.
This is not a knock against ERP products so much as a recognition of their separate role, and most ITAM vendors tout close relationships and integrations with ERP systems. IT management disciplines 'just aren't worlds that they play in,' said Chris Aherne, BMC's managing director of federal sales and operations.
Vendors say the market has seen significant consolidation in the past two years, with IBM buying MRO Software, for example, HP acquiring Mercury Interactive and Peregrine Systems, and Novell getting Tally Systems. 'We're seeing fewer and fewer best-of-breed vendors,' said Jack Heine, research vice president at Gartner Group, a market analysis firm.
Customers are instead showing an increased preference for entire suites of asset management tools and closely related modules that let them standardize on a single ITAM platform, he added. These suites typically come with modules for change management, which help IT staffs analyze and track the effect of potential changes ' anything from honoring a user's request to install a single desktop application to installing a new business process.
Another popular option, configuration management, helps manage, automate and track changes in the configuration of client hardware ' desktops, notebooks and handhelds ' ensuring that enterprisewide policies are enforced through the proper security patches and operating system upgrades.
A few vendors address specific compliance needs of the federal market. One Altiris module, for example, helps produce reports for FISMA and National Institute of Standards and Technology security guidelines. 'The first step is an accurate and complete inventory,' said Brig Lambert, Altiris' federal civilian solutions manager.Closed shops
Industry standards aren't much help in getting a handle on an increasingly complex asset base, according to every vendor interviewed for this story. Efforts in the 1990s to standardize how hardware on a network reports itself were not successful, so each ITAM vendor does it differently.
The IT Infrastructure Library, a recent effort to standardize service-delivery processes, is not a true standard ' though it is widely supported among top-tier vendors. And even the core technology of ITIL, the configuration management database (CMDB), is not standardized. But an industry committee is working to change that.
'No one really has a true, fully functioning, fully featured CMDB today,' said Bill Piwonka, vice president of product management at Centennial Software, best known for its Discovery software delivered via other vendors including MRO, Numara and Symantec.
Rather, agencies can use a CMDB to centralize ' and effectively standardize ' asset reporting within the organization. To use the current buzz phrase, the CMDB is meant to be the 'single source of truth' about IT assets.
CMDB offerings usually come from only the large, framework vendors. 'It's really critical to everything we do,' said Greg Giles, manager of the product marketing team at Altiris, an ITAM vendor now owned by Symantec that has claimed full ITIL compliance since 2004. 'Everything Altiris does, basically, feeds the CMDB.'
Kris Barker, Express Metrix's chief executive officer and founder, said the standardization picture is somewhat different for software. The International Organization for Standardization has a draft standard for Software Asset Management (SAM), ISO 19770-2, that is 'an attempt to provide consistency in how software identifies itself,' Barker said. 'We're still quite a ways from that being pervasive enough to make a huge difference.'
An earlier version released last year standardized best practices for software life cycle management. Myers called SAM ' a very rough structure.'
Barker advised taking a holistic view. 'The whole ITIL process is much broader than what a particular product tends to focus on,' he said. 'Look at this as a tool within a software asset management process. A tool purchase is just one step along the way.'IT Asset Management Software
David Essex is a freelance technology writer based in Antrim, N.H.
|Vendor ||Representative Product ||Notes|
|Altiris (Symantec) |
|Service and Asset |
|Web-based architecture, repository and|
console; out-of-box ITIL processes, CMDB, 'snap-on' modules, discovery, inventory, usage monitoring, metering, service-desk support
|beITSmart ||Software as a service, discovery, compliance, change history and performance monitoring for Windows; requires client download|
|BMC Software |
|BMC Configuration Management ||Policy-based automation for provisioning, maintaining software configurations|
|Centennial Software |
|Centennial Discovery ||Automated discovery, inventory, configuration management, usage tracking, multiple platforms, optional portal, security adviser, dashboard, visualization modules|
|Unicenter Asset Intelligence ||Analytics add-on for Asset Management; helps identify problems, solutions|
|(Software as a service) ||Desktop/asset management; discovery, license compliance, software distribution, help desk, patch management, virus protection|
|Express Metrix |
|Express Software Manager |
|Automatic discovery, inventory, usage monitoring, auditing, metering, license compliance for Windows; Crystal and Web reports|
|MRO Software (IBM) |
|Maximo IT Service Management ||Automated discovery, Tivoli Service Desk, ITIL processes, CMDB, SLA support, alerts, work, procurement and change management, integration with MRO's non-IT asset tools|
|Novell ZENWorks |
|Automated discovery, inventory, license|
compliance, comprehensive Web reporting and trend analyses, multiplatform support
|Numara Software |
|Track-IT ||Automated discovery, license compliance, help desk, Crystal Reports, dashboards, customizable asset templates, workflow|
|Science Logic |
|EM7 ||Network appliance with automated discovery, configuration management, usage reports, help-desk ticketing, asset repository, contract/license management, workflow|