I previously posted on License and Patch Management which is very closely related to asset management. The solution we chose for License and Patch Mangement, the KBOX 1000, also does asset management. Asset Management, in general, just means keeping track of all your assets. When we are talking about Asset Management in IT, we generally are talking about keeping track of all of “technology” assets. This would include computers, printers, monitors, switches, firewalls, and can also include software and licenses. I’m revisiting this topic slightly because I recently came across a link to a company that is providing Asset Management software in a SaaS model, SAManage.
As with many, though not all, asset management software, SAManage works using an “agent” installed on each PC it manages that reports to the server and tells the server about itself. It can tell the server things like what OS it is running, what BIOS it is using, what hardware it’s running on, and a listing of all currently installed hardware (among other things like disk usage). However, instead of reporting this all to a server located at your facility, in this case you set it up to report to the server at SAManage. You can then log into their site and view/manage all of your assets.
This solution struck me as even more interesting when I downloaded their “agent” to give it a try and see how well it worked. I noticed, when getting ready to install the agent, I had seen this agent before. They are using, at least on the agent side, some open source asset management software called OCS Inventory NG. This struck me as interesting since OCS Inventory NG was the other solution we were looking at besides KBOX. Ultimately, the patch management offered by KBOX is why we decided to go that route (though right now it doesn’t seem to be working that well).
In any case, I found the idea of Asset Management via a SaaS model rather intriguing. It looks like they provide all the basic functionality of being able to see all your installed software and associate that software with licenses. It appears they do some degree of patch management as they state they can alert you when a computer is missing a security patch. However, I do also see a few key things missing on their user interface. Mainly, the ability to manually enter assets. There are many assets we may like to track (like monitors) that would not be able to report themselves. If this tool can’t support manually adding those items, no you have to track these items some other way and using two different systems for the same purpose is almost never the correct answer. They also appear to have disabled the deployment option of OCS Inventory NG. In other words, in OCS Inventory NG, you can set up a “package” to run on given computers that will run a script or an executable. Commonly, this would be used to install software and is a very useful feature of this sort of software. This may not be a big deal for people that are already using something like SMS for this, but it’s a good feature does exist in almost every on-site Asset Management software and there is no reason it couldn’t work in a SaaS model either.
So, is SaaS a good model for Asset Management? Well, I think SAManage looks very promising, though I think it has a little ways to come before it’s really offering it’s full potential of value. Two of the main things I think SAManage could do to REALLY increase the value of their offering (beside re-enabling the deployment mechanism) would be to provide update notifications and security alert services. One reason we choose KBOX over OCS Inventory was because of the “patch management” so we would know when new versions of software are out. They provide this service for the standard Microsoft software, but also several other packages as well (though the list still needs a decent amount of expanding done). It wouldn’t be too difficult for a SaaS provider like SAManage to start going through the list of software all their clients use and do checks for the most recent version of that software and provide this information to their clients. It could be automated by scripting in a majority of cases. But having a list of the software I have installed and which packages have updates available would be very useful.
As for security alerts, the SaaS provider could probably do something similar to the update checks with security alerts. So instead of checking for updates they would check for known security issues with software using something like Secunia. So now, not only could you see if the software you have installed on your network has new versions, but also if there are known security vulnerabilities for the version of the software you have installed. If a SaaS provider such as SAManage could provide that data I think they would start seeing a large growth in interest to their services.
If you’re not ready to pay for services like this or an appliance based solution like KBOX but want to track your assets and don’t care as much about the patch management, I would definitely recommend taking a look at OCS Inventory NG as it is a very good tool. It was a very tough decision to choose between it and KBOX and I honestly sometimes still wonder if we made the right decision.