Taking Inventory: Keeping on Top of Your IT Assets Is an Imperative. the Newest Products Can Ensure License Compliance While Helping with Budgeting, Software Updating, and Bug Fixing

Article excerpt

ALL SCHOOL DISTRICTS, whether small, 700-student Livingston Manor Central School District in New York, or Florida's Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the fourth-largest in the country, have at least one thing in common: the challenge of keeping track of their growing number of IT assets.

IT/software asset management (abbreviated IT/AM or IT/SAM) includes information about computer hardware--serial number, configuration, location--and software--license number, patch/update status, settings. In talks with schools and vendors, a primary reason for conducting asset management emerges: license tracking for compliance reporting.

"We have seen organizations that have, in the first year of implementing asset management, found 10 to 20 percent initial savings in licensing," says Jack Heine, research vice president at IT consultancy Gartner (www.gartner.com), and author of the December 2006 Gartner report, "How to Find Answers to IT and Software Asset Management Questions."

It's about more than licensing, of course. "Good asset management practices consist of basic inventory management," Heine says. "What's your migration plan--what needs to be replaced or upgraded, and when?

This allows for some precise budgeting. There are significant savings associated with good asset management." Some IT/SAM products even handle--or are part of suites that can handle--software update/patching, disk reimaging, and per-program access control.

Many schools use established IT/SAM products or modules from companies such as Altiris, BigFix, and Sitekeeper, or utilities provided from vendors such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Microsoft. But many others are using home-grown or modified solutions, even simply databases or spreadsheets.

Handling Your IT Load

The specs on the Lafayette School Corporation in Indiana are daunting: 8,000 students, 750 staff, 20 facilities, and, according to Kevin Little, the district's CTO and director of facilities, some 4,000 workstations, 350 notebooks, 130 servers, 80 telecom closets, and 8,000 data ports, plus numerous printers. Handling the entire IT administrative load, including deploying and provisioning about 1,000 computers each year, is a staff of four engineers and six techs.

"We had some automation software, but it was bits and pieces," says Little. "We decided to go with Altiris' (www.altiris.com) Inventory Solution." Little's department uses the product not only for asset management, but also for deployment, patch management, remote control, and desktop snapshots. "We bought the full Altiris enterprise bundle, which includes the Service and Asset Management Suite."

Using the Altiris IT/SAM tools, Little says, "we can see every piece of software installed on every computer in the district, and can also know about the hardware--what size drive, processor type, how much RAM, fragmentation, etc." He says reports generated by Altiris allow the district to demonstrate compliance with software licenses. "And the system provides proactive information, like when there's some kind of problem, so we can get information to our help desk or work order system before something fails." In addition to the Altiris suite, Little says, the district has asset tags installed on every computer, "and that tag information is also in the computer's BIOS, including 'where it is' location information."

Time savings is another advantage of IT/SAM. Tennessee's Scott County Schools has around 1,200 PCs and 15 servers in six locations--and "an IT department that's really an administrator, a secretary, and me as the network technician, plus a general-purpose technician full time," says Greg Bond, network administrator. "That's a lot of machines to keep up with. Our farthest school is about 30 minutes from our central office; it would take someone a full day per site to do a simple physical inventory. We needed a package that would let us get a good count of machines and keep track of licensing, to be sure we were legally compliant. …