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Software Vendor Audit Headaches The Cure is in having the Right Data

Delivering a leading-edge technology for IT inventory and discovery of software assets is a double-edged sword, and bit of a headache for marketing. This is something truly innovative, but because it isn’t just a new version of the status quo software asset management software, you have to educate the market -and fast.

True Value is on the Server Side

Our world is computer-driven, more so every day. Every time we spend money, write an email, make a phone call, update a social network, get on a plane – a server (or cluster of servers) somewhere executes a process, or logs something in a database, or fires off a message.  And servers are getting more numerous and more powerful all the time.  Virtualization (making one computer function like 2 or more computers) and clustering (making a group of computers work on the same task) are also influencing the way we deal with data. All this has knock-on effects in terms of how software is licensed, among other things.

For multinational organizations, software budgets are massive. An often-overlooked fact is that over 70% of a large company’s software budget is spent on software used by the servers, not desktops, laptops or tablets. It’s the server side of the equation – the datacenters – that cost the most.

Every software vendor is different in how they license their product. If your server is virtualized, for example, this has significant impact on licensing fees – it can massively increase costs, or decrease them, depending on management, configuration and the software package involved. (For more on this, see my colleague Donnie Hamlett’s excellent blog “The cores! The cores!...”).

The market for enterprise software is mature. Microsoft is the de facto standard for desktop productivity; Oracle for databases; IBM for various operational and analytical applications; VMware for virtualization; and so on. We all have agreements with one or more of these vendors. How are they going to continue to increase revenues?

They are going to check on us to make sure that our license agreements meet our needs. I’m not saying the word audit, because that sounds quite mean...

So how do you know that you are in “compliance” – another slightly scary word that brings to mind images of getting rapped on the knuckles – if you have tens of thousands of desktops, laptops, mobile phones, and servers spread across the world? If you have moved operations to the cloud, what is going on there?  Are you in compliance? You might think you are, but well-meaning staff may have brought in their own laptops (BYOD – d for device, not b for beer), moved servers around, virtualized some of them, put some in a cluster, or even taken them out of commission, without mentioning it.

Software Asset Management (SAM) and IT operations professionals have to deal with these issues. How do they know what is happening across an estate of , say, 80,000 computers – 10,000 of which are servers which  could be physical or virtual and reside practically anywhere in the world. In fact, servers can even move from one datacenter to another dynamically (without manual intervention) if they are virtual. What tools are they using to get an accurate IT inventory?

There are a number of tools available, many provided by the vendors themselves.  Some (not all) of the problems with these tools are:

  •        They typically focus on operational matters, not considering  impacts on software licensing
  •        They usually have to be manually installed on each computer
  •       They often don’t account for virtualization/clustering

The reason it is important to derive more value than the traditional data sources is that you will be able to get more data, and look for specific items in that data. For instance, Google connects to servers, identifies web pages and examines the words on the pages.  The tools that people currently have for SAM are equivalent to a search engine which identifies web servers, identifies the pages – but does NOT go to a word level of detail. A webmaster may find it useful to know what pages are on what servers – but for someone trying to get information, words are critical. Without the words, unless you’re focused on the operation of the website, you can’t make use of the search engine.  Similar to this approach, we have found it critical with IT inventory and discovery to index absolutely everything in your IT system (physical servers, virtual servers, cluster software installed, the configuration of that software, etc.). However, the main things you probably want to know are:

  •         Am I in compliance?
  •         Is there any way I can reconfigure my IT estate to save money?

This is the focus that IT inventory and discovery should bring to the data gathered to give you the answers to these two questions.   Like Google, you can slice and dice your results according to different technologies or configurations you want to examine. You can even forecast the outcomes of various re-configurations or changes to license contracts.

SAM and IT Asset managers live in a never-ending cycle of fire-fighting – responding to audit after audit in sequence, gathering that specific data followed by this specific data – to the point where they cannot consider changes (even simple ones).  This means they could be missing out on significant savings on server software spend. Chances are that if you’re just running your own scripts to try to manually figure out what licenses you need for the software you have deployed, the vendors will not accept these results and want to come into your organization and have a look for themselves.

 This is where the deployment of an advanced discovery platform can deliver complete, continual and accurate visibility of highly complex physical, virtual and cloud environments.

This means that if you get audited (sorry, I had to say it), the data on your software deployment - provided by a IT inventory and discovery platform recognized and accredited by the big guys such as Microsoft, Oracle and VMware - will get you results that are as good as (if not better than) having the vendors themselves send in their own troops to investigate.

From a technical perspective, go with a solution that is agentless.  This means that it runs from a single server on your network and does not need agents or other software to be manually installed on all of your machines. This is a huge benefit – unless you want to spend months racking up frequent flyer miles!

A powerful IT inventory and discovery solution can bring rapid clarity and value to organizations with massive IT systems to manage. The cost of using such a solution to figure out what you have in the datacenter (and your entire IT estate) becomes  easy to justify – customer Return on Investment is typically near immediate (measured in months, not years) and represents significant multiples of the solution. More importantly, once you are past the urgency of audits and compliance, you can move on to more lofty issues, like cost optimization and carbon footprint analysis. The technology is there, limited only by the imagination.

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