Quicker Inventory

By Cameron Sturdevant  |  Posted 2001-06-25

Quicker Inventory

Using a clever mix of technology and proven expertise, both Tally Systems Corp.s WebCensus and AssetMetrix Inc.s namesake product proved to be advanced software and hardware inventory managers during head-to-head tests conducted at eWeek Labs.

But look out: both products require a large amount of risky "click yes to enable download" activity.

Tallys WebCensus service, introduced earlier this month, uses e-mail to deliver an asset management agent to the target desktop. Users click on a URL, answer a couple of questions, wait about 3 minutes and then return to their normal routine.

We were able to inventory machines at eWeek Labs installations across the country and in Canada quickly and easily, then simply log in to a Web site to obtain various reports about the systems.

AssetMetrix, which has been available since February, uses the same model; e-mail delivers the inventory agent while reports are viewed on a personalized AssetMetrix Web site. However, in tests, AssetMetrix was far more difficult to use with both Lotus Development Corp.s Notes and Microsoft Corp.s Outlook mail systems. We got the service working after considerable effort, but until AssetMetrix works out the e-mail kinks, WebCensus is the better choice.

Tallys WebCensus is priced at $3 to $15 per PC, depending on the length of the subscription—one-month to one-year plans are available. AssetMetrix is priced at $15 per user (regardless of the users number of PCs) for a one-year subscription. Restricted versions of the AssetMetrix service are available at lower prices but were not considered in this review.

Despite their shortcomings, both products herald an important trend in the MSP (managed service provider) space by offering asset management as a project-based service rather than a life cycle-based product purchase. The MSP approach would make a lot of sense for branch offices that must perform license compliance checks and get information quickly about newly acquired assets.

However, enterprise IT managers should stay with their roster of in-house asset management tools. Although the products we tested will complement on-premises asset managers, neither has the heavy-lifting power to handle thousands of machines nor the sophistication to handle tough problems such as equipment depreciation or the addition, movement, modification or retirement of machines.

In addition, although, as subscribers, we "owned" our inventory data, neither product provides any way to integrate ongoing asset information with help desk systems.



Although built on the same model as WebCensus, AssetMetrix has a long way to go in the ease-of-use and completeness-of-execution departments. It took several attempts to get the AssetMetrix agent to work on machines that use Notes and Outlook. Although the agent attempted to send e-mail messages containing the results of its scans, it couldnt do so until we reinstalled the client mail systems.

We were also underwhelmed by the inventory information gathered by the product. Although AssetMetrix is much speedier than WebCensus, the software relies on rudimentary and sometimes misleading file identifiers when taking inventory.

In addition, the product missed several peripheral components, including a Universal Serial Bus mouse.

To its credit, once AssetMetrix was working, the reports were far more interesting and concentrated more useful information onto one page than the reports provided by Tally. We could run reports that showed CPUs by age or by time-zone location. We were also able to compare inventory information over time, something we couldnt do in WebCensus.

EWeek Labs

// Executive Summary: AssetMetrix Service">

EWeek Labs // Executive Summary: AssetMetrix Service


Although its reporting features are better overall than those in WebCensus, AssetMetrixs namesake subscription-based inventory management service for PC hardware and software is not quite ready for prime time.

SHORT-TERM BUSINESS IMPACT // AssetMetrix is a down-and-dirty inventory tool that should make short-term projects, such as quick checks of the installed base before a version migration, much easier.

LONG-TERM BUSINESS IMPACT // Services dont yet have the horsepower to supplant in-house inventory tools, but it may not be long until they do, which will take much of the sting out of maintaining accurate inventories—but at a higher price than traditional systems.

Fast data collection; many interesting reports; can compare inventory information over time.

Tricky configuration on the client; relies on easily outdated file recognition.

AssetMetrix Inc., Ottawa; (613) 244-0235; www.assetmetrix.com



WebCensus employs software and hardware recognition technology the company has developed over several years. Using a finely tuned combination of file characteristics, including size, name and date, WebCensus identified a wide range of software packages on the test systems. The product also did a good job of gathering configuration information, including IP address and user account information, along with system hardware data.

Nevertheless, it became clear during tests that Tally still has a long way to go before WebCensus can be considered a polished service offering. We encountered several interface problems during tests that IT managers should take into account before considering the product—especially at organizations where the staff has little IT training.

We had to click "yes" to two different screens to approve the download and operation of the WebCensus agent. After the agent did what it was supposed to do, the final screen concluded with an ambiguous message about "continuing" that left us waiting for the inventory process to continue before we realized it was done.

Both WebCensus and AssetMetrix made it difficult to use the right report. After opening a flurry of report windows from the Web site (it was common during tests to have as many as eight windows open at the same time), we had to hopscotch between panes to piece together the information we needed.

Furthermore, it was often difficult to tell—using either product—exactly what information went with which PC.

EWeek Labs

// Executive Summary: WebCensus Service">

EWeek Labs // Executive Summary: WebCensus Service


Like AssetMetrix, WebCensus is based on a subscription model, and within its limits, Tallys PC hardware and software inventory management service excels. The product gathers accurate information quickly and then makes reports available via the Web.

SHORT-TERM BUSINESS IMPACT // WebCensus is a good choice for quick inventory projects, such as license compliance checks, or for snapshots of branch-office inventory.

LONG-TERM BUSINESS IMPACT // Tally has products such as NetCensus that should be used for permanent, life cycle asset management. WebCensus isnt adequate for large, ongoing inventory management needs.

Accurate results; worked on all test systems the first time through.

Confusing interface left some users idling at machines; cluttered reporting.

Tally Systems Corp., Hanover, N.H.; (800) 262-3877; www.tallysys.com

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