IT asset discovery and inventory is foundational to virtually all other forms of hardware and software asset management. Without an understanding of what equipment is on the network, and how it is configured, very little asset management value will ever be realized. If discovery and inventory are implemented successfully, the resulting IT asset register will be a mine of highly valuable data, and will support many profoundly beneficial IT asset management disciplines.
Despite their obvious utility, IT asset discovery and inventory processes must be light touch and easy to configure. If discovery is intrusive, or if it triggers excessive change control, the value of initiatives dependent on the register of IT assets will be undermined. Agentless implementations with minimal network impact are far more likely to succeed. Discovery processes must also honor credential requirements for remote access. These credentials must be of the minimum level to get the job done but not any higher, and they must be used in ways that introduce no additional vulnerabilities into an organization’s network.
Today’s IT assets extend from mobile devices through workstation and data center assets to public cloud systems. Effective discovery solutions need to cover all the options using a single, coherent model. Discovery processes need also to handle devices and resources outside the corporate network; increased workforce mobility means that any solution bound to LAN segments will be seeing a smaller and smaller fraction of an organizations total assets. Furthermore, many organizations will have some unique inventory requirements; these may be as simple as extracting a particular key value from a device, or even supporting an entirely novel inventory API. A modern discovery solution must be able to support such evolving requirements easily.
Rarely are IT initiatives undertaken with the luxury of time. An automated discovery exercise cannot take weeks to complete, it should be possible to scan even the largest networks in a time frame measured in days. However, the phrase “you don’t know, what you don’t know” is never more applicable than in the world of discovery. Any sensible discovery technology will be able to reconcile its findings with other sources of IT asset information in order to accurately report how far the discovery has progressed. Demonstrable accuracy, coupled with a clear path to resolving anomalous information is the hallmark of quality discovery solutions.
One of the more powerful features of high-quality discovery solutions is the ability to completely normalize the information gathered from the discovered IT assets. Manufacturer Names, Software Names, processor and network details are a few examples of information that can vary significantly within a network. Normalizing to a consistent representation makes reporting meaningful, and reduces the effort required when using the data for other functions. The effectiveness, certainly of software normalization, depends to a large extent on the quality of source signatures. These will include traditional package names and also software tags, digital product identifiers, and other registration information. Heuristic pattern matching will ensure very high levels of software recognition.
In addition, many data points that have value inside an asset register are simply not discoverable; warranty expiration, software release, and end-of-life dates can provide a valuable insight into the status of assets on the network, but can only be obtained from external sources. It is not only external data that can enrich discovered information. Internal acquisition information such as purchase orders, shipping notices, and barcode scanning completes the view most organizations want of their assets, and enables the kind of financial analysis that executives crave of IT. Robust discovery makes enriching discovered data with these external information sources easy.
While configuring discovery processes must be easy, using the information gathered must be equally so. Invariably other IT processes, such as service management, license management, and asset tracking will use an IT asset register. Integrating the right information at the right time with these operational and financial systems must be trivial to accomplish and reliable once set up. It must also be possible to mine the data in ad-hoc ways to satisfy the unpredictable data requests that are an everyday occurrence for IT professionals. This requirement demands the kind of Business Intelligence functionality traditionally found in high-end business tools.