BigFix SAM Tool Lets Enterprises Track Software Use

BigFix's DSS software asset management product is a powerful way to let IT administrators manage the buying, deploying and license utilization of enterprise software, a crucial task in tight economic times. There's a lot to like about BigFix DSS, once IT administrators get past the clunky installation process.

How many different software packages, licenses, versions and installation locations are there within your enterprise? If you can even start to answer, then chances are you're ahead of the game.

Various studies have shown that companies spend roughly 40 percent of their IT budgets on software, and about 30 percent of that is wasted because of over-licensing, which translates to about 12 percent of total IT budgets. Right now, it's probably pretty safe to say that if you can save 12 percent of your total IT budget, you may save some jobs and earn some accolades.

Software asset management, or SAM, while not exactly the sexiest IT discipline, is drawing more attention these days, given that it's the intersection between budgeting, support and security. SAM's goal is to manage and optimize purchase, deployment, maintenance and license utilization of enterprise software. SAM tools can be used to enforce compliance with security policy and reduce software licensing and support costs by accurately measuring application utilization. SAM tools typically involve a central management console and database, coupled with a client agent that reports on software inventory.

BigFix DSS SAM is built on the widely deployed BigFix Discovery 7 unified management platform. It is essentially a series of new modules and reports for BigFix Enterprise Server. The solution continuously tracks detailed information on all system and application software installed on servers, desktops, laptops and virtual machines. Powerful analytic tools track license utilization, costs and compliance with licensing terms and conditions.

Acknowledging that it would be difficult to build a test bed large enough to get the full enterprise DSS SAM experience (think 10,000-plus workstations), I built a small test bed consisting of two physical Ubuntu 8.04 machines, each running five Windows XP Pro SP3s and one Windows Server 2003 EE under VMware Workstation 6. This still allowed me ample opportunity to experience the product's many strengths and single weakness.

The single weakness is the installation process. As is fitting to a product with "enterprise" in the name, the effort required to prepare for, install and configure BES (BigFix Enterprise Suite) and DSS SAM is considerable. If you already have BES installed, that gets you halfway there, but for those shops not already running BES, the installation was arduous enough to make me wonder if it's worth it.

Installation required me to actually read multiple sets of instructions to obtain granular configuration steps and settings (meaning "open this program, click this menu, click this tab, click this link and enter this value," which I think is asking a bit much). The bright note in the startup process was the DSS SAM User's Guide QuickStart, which clearly and concisely listed 10 steps to familiarize myself with the interface and let me start analyzing software assets.

The installation woes quickly became a thing of the past once I familiarized myself with BES Console and DSS SAM. Combined, they provide essential information for patch management, application monitoring (black and white list), troubleshooting and overall inventory. The depth and breadth of information that DSS SAM puts at your fingertips may itself become the most valuable asset within your IT organization.