Tools Track More Assets
Whether its the Chief Financial Officer looking for numbers for an upcoming budget or the Business Software Association checking a companys software license compliance, two bread-and-butter inventory tracking toolsAsset-Metrix Inc.s AssetMetrix 2.0 and Tally Systems Corp.s TS.Census 2.0can help IT managers keep an accurate account of what they have and where. These upgrades take different approaches to tracking systems, although both were highly effective in eWeek Labs tests.Based on our testing, we believe AssetMetrixs service model would be the better choice for smaller companies or sites with small numbers of machines because it is simple to set up and gathers nearly every piece of hardware and software information that managers are likely to need, with a minimal impact on IT resources. Specifically, to quickly gather inventory information, managers wont need to do much more than send an explanatory e-mail to staff. In tests, we had the client up and running within minutes. However, AssetMetrix tracks only Windows-based PC systems, and company officials said AssetMetrix currently has no plans to support other platforms. Large enterprises that have machines in several offices spread over a large geographic area will find TS.Census client/server-based software a better option because it captures more machine and software details and provides much better control over reporting on inventory information. AssetMetrix 2.0 The AssetMetrix hosted service, which costs $1.25 per month per inventoried device for a one-year subscription, is simple and convenient to use because most tasks are done via e-mail. Version 2.0 uses a pair of agents to overcome one of the biggest inventory obstacles: machines that arent connected to the network. These new agentsLAN AssetAgent and Diskette AssetAgentcan collect inventory information about systems that have only internal e-mail access or arent connected at all. We deployed the LAN AssetAgent to machines that didnt have outside e-mail access, and Diskette Asset- Agent to machines that were not connected to the network. Both agents worked well in tests and gathered a full range of data. However, Diskette AssetAgent depends on a series of manual steps to get inventory information from the machine to the database hosted by AssetMetrix. LAN AssetAgent is much simpler to use because it is initiated via a log-in script and requires no other intervention on the users part. The AssetMetrix 2.0 service includes an impressive array of new reports and recognizes far more software titles than the previous version did. In addition, it extends that recognition to handheld devices that dock with inventoried PCs. AssetMetrix recognized everything except the oldest software titles on the test PCs. IT managers can be confident that they are tracking all but the most esoteric software titles. The service, however, isnt as accommodating for custom software, which is likely to be a drawback for large enterprise users. Most of the reports fall in the "analyst" category and show IT managers and CFOs the lay of the land with regard to PC equipment. For example, we could tag equipment as leased, which then allowed us to issue reports that would prevent IT staff from disposing of equipment that didnt belong to us. Technicians can log in to AssetMetrix 2.0 from a Web browser connected to the Internet and enter information about the change in status or equipment of a managed asset. This information can then be used by help desk personnel, who can access AssetMetrix via a new quick search facility in Version 2.0. TS.Census 2.0 Tally Systems is one of the grand dames of IT inventory, and TS.Census 2.0s ability to track Unix and Linux systems in addition to Windows-based systems is a big step forward for IT managers. For the first time, Tally Systems users will likely be able to track all their common IT assets from a single console. This one-source tracking means IT managers will have more flexibility when using Tallys systems with help desk systems that are linked with TS.Census to provide up-to-date configuration data. This can significantly reduce support costs. We installed TS.Census 2.0, which shipped in April, on a Dell Computer Corp. PowerEdge 6300 four-way server. This was far more horsepower than the package actually needed to manage our 60-node test network of PCs, Linux boxes and the Sun Fire 280R server. TS.Census, which costs $21 per managed computer, can work with numerous varieties of Unix but supports only fairly recent versions of Linux and Unix. We encountered no trouble testing it with Red Hat Linux 7.0 and Solaris 8.0. IT managers will need a dedicated server at each location to support TS.Census, which can use either Microsoft Corp.s SQL Server (7.0 or 2000) or Oracle Corp.s Oracle 8.0 database to track inventory data. In addition, each geographic region should include a TS.Census collection server, which, as the name implies, gathers inventory data from a group of servers before sending it to the central database. Once set up with a routine schedule, TS.Census consistently provides a large amount of data. After installing the central components, we burrowed methodically through the voluminous user guide to complete the plethora of procedures necessary to make TS.Census perform its inventory magic. Although setup was complex, we could control who had access to what data; when, how and how much information would be collected; and how reports would be presented. We got the client up and running with little effort and were impressed with the amount and accuracy of the information that TS.Census collected about the Unix and Linux systems. We got the basics, such as processor type and the amount of system memory and disk space, and TS.Census was also able to collect information about the components installed in our systems. For example, it recognized the DVD drive installed in our Sun server and in the Red Hat system that was running on the Intel Corp. platform. We could also see SCSI and IDE data and myriad details about the manufacturer, serial number, model and version of much of the hardware and software in our Sun system. This probably has as much to do with Tally Systems persnickety attention to detail as it does the fact that this information is stored more consistently on Sun systems than in Windows machines running on a much wider array of hardware. The TS.Census client also collected a fair amount of information about the standard applications we had installed on our machines. For example, we could see path information that showed where the application was stored. However, TS.Census didnt do as well at facilitating the recognition of nonstandard applications. Unlike the agent for Windows, the Unix agent cant be trained to recognize custom applications. This capability is being considered for a future version of the product, according to Tally officials. Senior Analyst Cameron Sturdevant can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Version 2.0 of AssetMetrixs namesake service can inventory systems even if they arent connected to the Internet, and we were impressed with the numerous new inventory reports that let us analyze the gathered data. TS.Census 2.0, Tally Systems enterprise-class software, can now enumerate Unix and Linux systems and did a good job of tracking our Unix-based Sun Microsystems Inc. Sun Fire 280R server as well as systems based on Red Hat Inc.s Red Hat Linux.