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.
Sleep Easy with DSS SAM
If you have recurring nightmares about which non-IT approved applications your employees are running, then DSS SAM will provide more comfort than counting sheep. Within 30 minutes of launching the server, configuring the console, installing the clients and turning on analyses, I knew everything about the applications running on the endpoints on my network. Add to that the enormous amount of information BES itself collected, stored and analyzed, and it is easy to see that this is a powerful and helpful solution for any IT function ranging from endpoint configuration management to technical support.
Leaving the BES Console behind and relying almost exclusively on the DSS SAM Web application, I fired up FireFox 3.0 with the Flash plug-in installed and browsed over to the server. The first time I did this, a helpful Overview page appeared that guided me through connecting to a data source. I then set up Computer Groups so I could sort and filter analyses and reports.
Browsing to the Software Catalog tab enabled me to see the thousands of applications/publishers already added to the catalog, and I could easily add more with a few clicks. Then it was off to the Contracts tab to enter licensing parameters such as software title and version, cost per unit, license count, and license period. An interesting feature is that software licenses can be tracked by computer group, so you can administer licenses more closely-for example, to allow everyone in accounting to have an Excel license but only management in other departments. From here, thorough reporting that will help you measure license utilization can be located under the Contract Reports tab.
Reporting is a strong suit of the solution, and in some ways this is tightly integrated with the excellent Web GUI because you can always sort, print and export (CSV, PDF) anything on screen. I easily created a variety of users, such as “IT support” and “purchasing agents” and “auditor,” who automatically received privileges to different reports and functionality in the Web GUI. Accounts can be created as “administrator,” “view all,” “edit catalog,” “edit contracts,” and “edit groups.” This is important because different people involved with SAM will want to see different information based on what they need to know, and BigFix DSS SAM collects a huge amount of information, so being able to get to what you need right away is very powerful.
Overall, BigFix DSS SAM is a powerful addition to an existing BES deployment where software license management is an important responsibility of the IT department. In addition, in this day and age where saving some bucks on cutting licenses for unused apps, that’s money in the bank.
Pricing, bundled with BigFix Systems Lifecycle Management pack (patch management, power management, remote desktop for Windows, software distribution, software inventory, software usage monitoring, and asset discovery):
$20 per desktop
$52 per Windows server
$84 per Linux/Mac/Unix server
a la carte for $10 per endpoint
add-on to previous BigFix installation for $4 per endpoint
Matthew D. Sarrel is executive director of Sarrel Group, an IT test lab, editorial services and consulting firm in New York City.