Maintaining an inventory of software and hardware in a business environment is no easy task, but one all systems administrators and IT managers should be actively involved in. In a previous post, I looked at the challenges of keeping an inventory of my environment to get a better idea of the licenses owned and the applications installed. This time I am looking at a particular solution to aid in managing inventory.
Why is inventory important?
Auditing your licenses not only helps you stay legal with the software you own, it can also help you provision better. If you know exactly how many copies of software you own and where they're being used, you may realize that you can repurpose rather than purchase additional licenses.
There are many options available when it comes to an inventory solution. A free application that allows the process to be managed via scripting may work for some organizations, whereas a full-fledged solution that can be scheduled and remain agentless is a good fit for others.
I first tried using Microsoft Excel to record all new licenses, but no matter how diligent I was going forward with that plan, it didn't help me find applications that were already installed or alert me to anything new showing up on the network.
Then, I discovered IQuate's iQNetScan. Let's look at some of the new features built in to the latest version of the application (6.2) and at the licensing costs.
iQNetScan: What does it do?
IQNetScan uses Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) calls to determine information on client computers. This allows the application to be agentless and unobtrusive to the user. The data is gathered and stored in either an Access or SQL database, which allows reporting on an environment to be relatively painless to the administrator. There is some work to be done upfront, but afterward, the management of the solution is very simple and straightforward.
The collected information is sorted a number of different ways to allow the administrator to see the applications found in the environment and the computers that they live on as well as a view of computers
When working with NetScan to manage licensing, you are able to enter the number of licenses owned and the cost per license. The application will then compute the surplus or shortage cost based on the information entered.
For example, I manage licenses for Microsoft applications using Eopen. This tells me how many licenses I have purchased. I can then enter this into NetScan and have it compared against the number of copies of an application actually installed in my environment. If I know the current cost of an application, Microsoft Office for example, I can enter the price and find out what it would cost me to add enough licenses if I am short or how much I can save on licensing going forward.
NetScan can be scheduled to run after hours or at nonpeak times to keep bandwidth usage low. The first scan performed will be the longest to run. When I ran the first scan on my environment, it took about 15 minutes to scan 60 computers or so. It is a good idea to perform a couple scans while IT staff and users are working to get a benchmark for the time needed to complete a scan.The scan results window, shown in Figure A, lists scans running on the network. Scans scheduled are shown in light blue.
Scan jobs configured in iQNetScan
Once computers have been scanned, you will see the status of a computer, which will indicate if the scan completed, failed, or partially completed. If the network is busy or the computer is shut down, scans may time out or partially complete depending on what information and services are available on a computer.The list of scanned computers will be shown in an inventory pane within the application, as shown in Figure B.
iQNetScan's inventory view
Using NetScan will allow the results of two scans to be compared and display changes between the scans. This can be useful if you suspect applications are being installed by users and want to track down when they were installed.
What reports are available?
IQNetScan will e-mail the results of a scan to a specified list of recipients if configured to do so. This will allow e-mail to be sent when scans complete or if applications are out of compliance. You may not want to turn on this feature during the initial configuration or if you plan to run a lot of scans.Reporting can also be performed from the interface and exported to a PDF. You can choose a report that displays a particular computer's inventory or one that is organized by application or by some other category of information. The reports are very user-friendly and will aid you in discussing licensing needs with management. Figure C shows the reporting interface.
iQNetScan's reporting capabilities
Aside from software and hardware auditing, NetScan can also audit your environment for files and alert you if it finds files that aren't authorized for use on the network. This used to be a separate application in previous releases, but it has been included in NetScan to provide more reporting capabilities and a simpler interface.
Another feature is financials. NetScan will help you manage the investment made in software and hardware based on the results of inventory data collected. After I have had more time to work with NetScan, I will likely revisit this feature and post about it at length.
What about pricing?
Licensing for the iQNetScan application begins at 100 seats and costs $35 per seat. Maintenance is calculated at a percentage of original license cost and is purchased annually. My organization purchased 100 seats for NetScan, and maintenance for subsequent years worked out to be about $6.30/seat.
The cost of the application sounds a bit steep, and it did for me as well, but I thought about what it would cost my organization if we had to rectify licensing issues and pay fines for noncompliance and decided it was worth it.
I like the iQNetScan product for inventory because it is relatively automated once scheduled, and it provides a good amount of information about an environment. Using the application is very straightforward and gets easier as you work with it. The initial setup and categorization of applications is a time- consuming process, but in the long run, it is very much worth the effort.
I would recommend NetScan for small IT shops or large shops with little staff because it allows the administrator to set it and forget it for the most part.
Derek Schauland has been tinkering with Windows systems since 1997. He has supported Windows NT 4, worked phone support for an ISP, and is currently the IT Manager for a manufacturing company in Wisconsin.