Network asset management software

Network asset management software acts as a watchdog and can help save staff time, downtime, and money -- and thwart security disasters before they happen. David Jacobs explains how it can be of service to your organization in this tip.

High upfront cost often discourages companies from using network asset management software. But savings in network...

management staff time, hardware and software costs, reduction of security risks and reduction of user downtime offset its initial cost, making network asset management software something you might want to consider.

Network asset management software products are available from a variety of vendors. They typically consist of an embedded software agent installed on each client workstation plus a management application that collects, organizes and displays information from each workstation.

Network asset management products collect information on users, hardware and software. For each workstation, the software records asset tag number, when the unit was purchased and the user to whom it is assigned. It also records the user's name, organizational unit, e-mail address and phone number.

These products collect information on virtually every aspect of a workstation's hardware and software configuration. They collect model number, CPU type and revision level, BIOS, firmware revision levels, amount of memory, hard drive vendor and size of hard drive, network interface type and network vendor. They also collect the number of I/O slots, how many are in use and what is plugged into the slots. Software information includes revision level of the operating system and the name and revision level of each installed application.

The management application enables network management staff to sort the collected information on virtually any of the types of collected information. You can find all the candidates for hardware upgrades by sorting to find the units with the slowest CPUs or the smallest amount of memory. When a firmware update becomes available, you can sort on firmware revision levels to find all of the candidates for the upgrade.

Network asset management packages also automate the work of distributing and updating applications. You specify which clients are to be updated and when, and the package takes care of distributing and installing the upgrade.

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For applications where each client has a separate license key, this information is recorded. Maintenance information is also recorded, providing a convenient way to keep track of when contracts must be renewed.

In addition to recording the current state of each client, the products track and record changes to hardware configuration and installed software along with the date the change was made, the client configuration before the change and the configuration afterward. When a user reports a problem, you can check to see if there were any changes to his workstation just before the problem began.

Some network asset software products include additional capabilities such as the ability to track application use. They record how often each application is used and for how long. If a user rarely or never uses a licensed application, you may be able to save on license costs by removing the application from his workstation.

Some of the products also are able to monitor and control Web use. They track and record which URLs each user accesses and the amount of time spent displaying each one. They are able to limit which URLs are accessible and make some unavailable.

Network managers can configure alerts to signal configuration changes or signs of potential trouble. Alerts can signal when someone shuts off anti-virus software, installs an application or visits an off limits URL. Alerts can prevent user downtime by signaling when available space on a hard drive drops below a certain point or when CPU utilization rises above a preset level.

All of these capabilities result in cost savings. When you are informed about a security problem in a particular version of a software package, you will know immediately which of your clients is running that version. You can minimize virus outbreaks because you will be notified immediately if a user tries to install potentially dangerous software or visit a dangerous Website. You can prevent downtime because you will be notified when a user is about to run out of disk space or a system is becoming overloaded.

While the initial cost of network asset management software can appear to be high, it will pay of in time savings for network management staff and for the user community and by savings in hardware and software costs.

David B. Jacobs has more than twenty years of networking industry experience. He has managed leading-edge software development projects and consulted to Fortune 500 companies as well as software start-ups.
Knowing what applications are installed enables you to prevent some types of security risk before they happen. You can be signaled immediately if a user tries to install a potentially dangerous application. You can also prevent users from violating license agreements by installing the same copy of an application on multiple clients.
This was last published in January 2006

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