Cloud

Integrating asset management as a hosted application: Is it feasible?

Asset management presents some challenges as a solution that can be implemented on the SaaS model. Here are the issues to consider.

By Oleg Sin

Software as a Service (SaaS) has become a common delivery model for many business applications, including:

  • Office and messaging software
  • Accounting
  • Service desk management
  • CRM
  • Virtualization
  • Content management

The SaaS model has successfully been implemented into all of the business applications above, and many others. However, IT Asset Management tools have yet to fully integrate into the SaaS model. With the rise of SaaS for business applications, the question is, what about Asset Management running in SaaS model? Is it feasible?

Some background on IT Asset Management

IT Asset Management (ITAM), a central part of any organization's strategy, collects detailed hardware and software inventory information. This information can then be used to make decisions about purchases, inventory, and redistribution. The way it's done is by using integrated software solutions specially designed to interact and work with all departments that are involved in the deployment, management, and expense reporting of IT assets-saving the organization time and money by eliminating unnecessary purchases and wasted resources.

Although ITAM is primarily responsible for managing the life cycle of IT assets within an organization, it is also responsible for developing and maintaining an organization's standards, policies, systems, processes, and measurements. As a result, organizations can better manage the IT Asset Portfolio in regards to cost, risk, IT governance, compliance, and business performance.

Business practices for ITAM are process-driven and developed through motivated and calculated improvements. The most successful ITAM platforms often involve everyone at some level of the organization, such as end users (educating on compliance), budget managers (asset rotation and procurement), IT service departments (providing information on warranties and validating SLAs), and finance (invoice reconciliation, updates for fixed asset inventories).

Considerations

The main challenge in integrating Asset Management as a hosted application is the network discovery, which is required for gathering detailed hardware and software inventory information from managed assets inside the corporate network (LAN).

There are two basic approaches for network discovery: agent and agentless.

The traditional approach involves installing agents on all computers from which data is needed. An agent is a software program that runs on a computer with the primary purpose of collecting information and pushing it over the network to the server.

In the agentless approach, data is collected from computers without installing additional agents. This is accomplished by obtaining data from the software that is already installed on the computer, including the operating system, as well as previously installed commercial products. Typical protocols for agentless network discovery and data collection are: CIFS, SSH, SNMP, WMI, and DTrace, to name a few.

Does this fit the SaaS model?

Apparently both approaches somehow or another actually compromise the pure SaaS model.

If the traditional agent-based approach is implemented, then not all the software and associated data are centrally hosted on the cloud since a SaaS vendor agent is installed on each managed computer. Furthermore, many other SNMP devices like printers and switches remain unreachable.

In order to use the agentless approach, the customer is required to open the relevant ports in a firewall between the SaaS vendor application servers and all of the customers' managed assets, which usually means all LAN segments. Thus, the agentless approach raises a security constraint.

The common practice by many asset management software vendors to work around this obstacle is to install another piece of software from a SaaS vendor on a node inside the customer network (LAN) to act as a network discovery gateway. This gateway, which is installed inside the network, can easily discover corporate assets, collect inventory information, and send the information over the network to the cloud server.

Some vendors with broad SaaS experience, are offering creative network discovery solutions with integrated capabilities, such as Remote Discovery Service (RDS), which performs discovery actions in remote networks, optimizes network communication with agents, and performs monitoring and integration tasks to gain access beyond the firewall network resources. Network monitoring as a hosted solution also faces similar obstacles, and it is usually handled with the same methods.

Final thoughts

Of course there are other aspects to consider when thinking about Asset Management as a hosted application, such as SLA, TCO, ROI, data security, and external integrations with other information systems like the Service Desk, accounting, or operations. Yet, these aspects are not unique to Asset Management and all should be taken into account and evaluated according to corporate acceptance of SaaS.

Unlike CRM or Service Desk applications, Asset Management cannot yet be implemented as a pure hosted solution because of its nature. However, with that said, the specific technical issues related to Asset Management currently have suitable solutions. A lot of organizations already manage their Asset Management in the cloud using one of the best-of-breed available solutions. Continuous technology improvements make this possible.

Oleg Sin is the Product Manager at SysAid Technologies, a global IT Service Desk company with all the essentials: help desk software, asset management, mobile device management, patch management, and more. SysAid is used by more than 100,000 organizations in 140 countries, spanning all industries and company sizes.

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