Asset Management: Basic Steps Towards Best Practices
By Eddie Rabinovitch, UniNews online Network Management Correspondent
Managing computing and networking assets is one of the most problematic issues of modern networks. According to the Gartner Group [http://www.gartner.com] the annual cost to support a LAN-attached PC averages about $11,900 for hardware, software, maintenance, administration, and end-user operations. For a distributed environment with 5,000 LAN-attached PCs this will amount to annual cost of $59.5 million. By setting up procedures and techniques, and using products as implemented by best practices, savings of up to 26% can be achieved. Gartner Group attributes 11% of the savings to corporate IS activities and policies implementation, and additional 15% to asset management products. With some elementary school math we can see that for a distributed environment with 5,000 LAN-attached PCs annual savings should add up to $15.5 million.
Knowing your assets is the first step in the right direction. An additional phenomenon, introduced by decentralized open systems, is the fact that a large portion of these assets go unaccounted. Gartner Group, for example, estimates that without asset management systems, up to 40% of accounting records for IT assets could have misstatements. That would not only impact their manageability but also have afinancialconsequences on accuracy of depreciation, amortization, and tax calculations.
Asset management should begin with capturing, recording and keeping up-to-date (preferably electronically) the information on hardware and software inventories. Obviously, this data should be modified with any move/add/change of hardware/software. Keeping manual records is a labor intensive and costly alternative that is impractical in any reasonably sized environment. On the other hand, automating data collection will increase accuracy of information yielding more informed decisions.
Software distribution is another area where automation will considerably reduce labor expenses. Distributing and installing software for thousands of workstations in a dispersed geographical area can be an expensive logistical nightmare. An effective electronic software metering and distribution tool not only distributes and installs software but also complements this process with capacity checking, auditing and management reports. Automating this function reduces the amount of labor required to plan and accomplish software installations, and provides the tools necessary to better track and manage installations.
Critical to the implementation of an effective asset management program is the ability to manage IT assets at the enterprise level. This task is achievable only with a global IT inventory, which tracks hardware and software acquisitions, changes and disposals, throughout all of the organization's networks, platforms and protocols.
Critical to the implementation of an effective asset management program is the ability to manage IT assets at the enterprise level. This task is achievable only with a global IT inventory, which tracks hardware and software acquisitions, changes and disposals, throughout all of the organization's networks, platforms and protocols. Also important is the ability to use this information to leverage existing systems management tools for cost effective procurement. This global view of IT resources and planned purchases results in the elimination of redundant purchases and the ability to combine purchase requests to negotiate volume discounts.
An effective asset management system should provide complete life cycle coverage, starting with the user request for procurement and continuing until the asset is disposed of. Through automation of the business processes, an asset management tool can save time and effort by eliminating the paperwork required for user requests and acquisitions. The system should be flexible enough to fit an organization's existing internal processes, taking into account workflow, approval requirements, and any other organization-dependent procedures.
In the distributed computing environment, it is often difficult to keep track of the tremendous number of IT assets and virtually impossible to maintain an up-to-date value for these frequently changing resources. In order to accomplish these tasks, an asset management product should incorporate financial and contractual information to enable you to view the IT assets, not only as productivity tools, but also as business investments. With a thorough solution, information will be readilyavailable on user requests, purchase orders, contractual and legal commitments, vendors and suppliers, financial reports, payment and depreciation schedules and much more.
Automated IT inventory tools that can easily integrate with other enterprise business applications, such as SAP, BAAN, and other accounting packages or in-house applications, will definitely have an added value. By providing an electronic interface between the IT inventory and financial applications, the chance for duplicate entries and inaccurate information is minimized. The impact on company's bottom line can be significant.
An efficient asset management system should include products with fully documented, open APIs. A truly open product will integrate easily with third party tools. This feature allows a company to preserve the investments in existing solutions and add new, enhanced applications as they become available. In today's complex distributed environment, easy integration is critical since no single vendor should expect to have the best solution in every area of asset, systems and network management. With the ability to mix and match tools according to organization-specific needs, you are able to develop an enterprise management solution which allows you to manage your distributed computing resources as a complete system.
The key to implementing an effective asset management solution is the availability of an enterprise IT inventory to each systems management application. With easy access to system configurations, you can identify and resolve user problems more quickly, easily check that workstations targeted for software distribution meet the prerequisites, efficiently track and manage IT asset values and service contracts, and much more.
An asset management product should evolve as organizational needs change. With the rapid pace of technology, it is important to find a solution that is readily adaptable to new platforms, protocols or other innovations. This portability is critical to prevent an organization from being tied to equipment that is quickly becoming obsolete and also to ensure a consistent work environment when new solutions, standards or technologies are implemented.
Do Not Forget the Standards
Organizations that adhere to corporate IT standards will usually have significantly lower cost for end user support. Today's standards extend beyond technology: they also address issues of configuration, management, and support of technology. Among others, benefits of implementing enterprise-wide standards include:
- improved availability due to faster resolution of common problems;
- reduced acquisition processing costs;
- reduced costs for support and training, because fewer systems are being supported.
Standardization will also help to decrease support costs associated with areas such as:
- vendor liaison;
- introduction of new/upgraded products;
- product review;
- installs, moves and changes;
- service and preventive maintenance.
Vendor tools and products play a key role in helping enterprises deploy asset management strategies. Such products are necessary for effective asset management and automation of key functions and can greatly enhance an enterprise's efforts to control IT costs.
For the PCs, a comprehensive list of asset management solutions can be found from MainControl Inc. [http://www.maincontrol.com] which presents a modular product for Systems Management running across o MVS, OS/2, NT. MainControl's products can integrate with and complement some of the most popular SNMP managers: i.e., HP OpenView, SunNet Manager, NetView for AIX, etc. Specifically, they target areas of systems and desktop management: i.e., Configuration Management, Asset Management, Software Distribution, Helpdesk/Problem Management, Change Management, Data Transfer Management, and User Administration. And since the offerings are modular one can go with any combination of these modules, and supplement with additional products and tools.
One of the characteristic Asset Management features is integration of its functionality not only with technical but also financial data (e.g., SAP, General Ledger, BAAN, etc.). So when a request for a new software package comes in, the system will check if a hardware upgrade will be required or will generate an approval request to the manager or check the licensing agreement, generate order forms to go to the supplier, etc.
And What About the LANs?
The new trend of migrating from shared to switched networks empowered network managers to cost effectively maximize network scalability and performance for their workgroups, data centers and desktops. Unfortunately, it made monitoring and managing networks difficult and more complex. In switched environments, where the number of LAN segments is significantly higher than in collapsed backbone networks, remote monitoring (RMON: see the April 11, 1997 issue of UniNews [http://www.uniforum.org/web/pubs/uninews/970411/feature2.html]) becomes much more complex, which obviously increases the management task. With this increased number of segments and the variety of systems within the network, the best way to optimize cost and performance is to have different levels of RMON in different areas of the network - thereby distributing the monitoring and management task. To address these requirements 3Com Corp. [http://www.3com.com] has developed distributed RMON (dRMON). dRMON offers users options for collecting RMON data across their network. It is a cooperative solution built on industry standards that allows affordable, full-time, enterprise-wide network monitoring for all segments and devices in both switched and shared environments. dRMON enables full RMON on all segments of switched and shared networks and includes:
- RMON agents embedded on the network interface card (NIC) driver;
- RMON and RMON2 probes, to supplement the embedded RMON agents;
- additional SmartAgents functionality for increased automated management.
This collection provides network managers with the required tools to monitor and manage today's complex networks. Additionally, dRMON spreads the RMON data collection work load across multiple devices in order to keep costs at a minimum. It also greatly improves scalability for large networks. Since the RMON groups do not have to be downloaded onto all the end stations on the switch: the granularity is not by switch but rather by port. For example a desktop connected to Port 1 can be monitored via full RMON on the NIC, while a desktop on Port 2 is monitored via the RMON groups available from the switch itself, which allows for full RMON collection, regardless whether it comes from the switch or the NIC. This approach distributes the workload across the broadcast domain with each end station looking at its own data. Because the NIC only tracks data that is destined for or originates from itself, there is no performance penalty in either the switch or the end station. All the RMON collection will be transparent to the end user. dRMON leverages the available unused MIPS on the end station to collect the RMON data not collected on the switch. An additional key feature that helps network managers maximize automated network management is enabling embedded agents to take actions on events. By allowing the device to manage itself as much as possible, the burden on the network manager and the management station is minimized. Automated network management is crucial in complex networks where the network management station would get swamped by the amount of data coming in from all devices.
Today's client/server environment is much more heterogeneous, distributed and dynamic than the mainframe centric computing of the past. The complexities of distributed computing networks have introduced additional problems that, if left unmanaged, can cause a sharp increase in IT budget requirements. In order to control the accelerating costs of tracking and managing IT assets and to earn an acceptable return on investment, it is critical to adopt an enterprise approach to managing the distributed computing environment. In addition, it is important to implement open, flexible solutions that adjust to an organization's unique business processes and can easily incorporate new technologies and management applications.
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