IT inventory management is a process that seems to be taking an ever-growing place in modern organizations. Part of it is due to the sheer size and complexity of IT environments. The spreadsheet that was once the de-facto standard for keeping IT assets inventory information is no longer sufficient and a great variety of tools have seen the light that promises to make IT inventory management a breeze. Some of them even succeed.
Finding the best tool for one’s need appears to be next to impossible with each tool having an even broader feature set than the next. Today, we’ll try to help you see clearly through this maze of products as we review some of the best IT inventory management tools.
Before we get to reviewing the actual tools, we’ll briefly sidetrack and discuss IT inventory management. We’ll explain what it is—at least, from our point of view—and why it is something that every respectable organization needs. We’ll follow up by discussing IT inventory management tools, what they are and why they are useful. Then, we’ll go over some of the important features commonly found in these systems. And when we are all on the same page, we’ll go back to our main topic, the IT inventory management tools. We’ll briefly review some of the best ones and describe their most important features.
The What And The Why Of IT Inventory Management
The first question we’ll attempt to ask is simple: What is IT inventory management? The question is easier than its answer, though. Let’s start with the obvious. Inventory management is the process of keeping a list of every IT asset an organization owns. By IT asset, we are referring to servers, desktop computers, routers, switches, firewalls, load balancers, pretty much anything that connects to the network. But there is more to it. Along with the list of assets, the idea behind the process is to keep as much information as possible about these assets.
What information we keep is where the concept gets hazy. Basically, we want to keep as much information as possible. This includes the obvious such as the device’s brand, model, and serial number but it can also include advanced details such as a server’s internal configuration (amount of RAM, hard disk layout, interface cards, etc). It could also include information such as the equipment’s location and, in the case of a personal computer, who it is assigned to. Device configuration is another item that is regularly included in the IT inventory management process.
Another important part of IT inventory management that applies specifically to computers (servers, desktops, and laptops) is the software installed on each equipment. This is particularly important in larger organizations where software license management can be problematic to the number of devices
There are many reasons why organizations would have an IT inventory management process in place. The most basic reason is simply that it is obviously a good practice. If an organization chooses to follow ITIL practices, then it becomes mandatory. It could also be mandated by various regulatory frameworks or by local laws
Using Specialized Tools For IT Inventory Management
IT inventory management can be as simple as keeping a list of assets in a spreadsheet. However, automated IT inventory management tools can make the job much easier. These tools will typically provide some kind of a store where to put information about assets but they often do much more. One particularly useful feature of the best of these systems is the gathering of inventory data. Some systems will automatically discover devices and add them to their database. They will often connect to the devices to fetch more information about them. For instance, some systems will scan computers for installed software. This is way more practical than having to do it manually.
The Best Tools For IT Inventory Management
Enough theory. Let’s jump right in and have a look at some of the best tools for IT inventory management. You might be surprised that some of the tools on our list are not dedicated inventory management tools. They do, however, include an IT inventory management feature along with their primary function. Their main benefit is that they could end up being cheaper than purchasing separate tools to obtain the same functionality.
SolarWinds is the publisher of some of the very best network and system administration tools. The company has built a solid reputation for providing excellent network and systems management tools. Its flagship product, the Network Performance Monitor, is considered by many to be the best SNMP network monitoring tool. And to top it off, SolarWinds also makes a handful of free tools, each addressing a specific need of network administrator. The Advanced Subnet Calculator and the SolarWinds TFTP server are two examples of these free tools.
The SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor was designed to help administrators monitor servers, their operational parameters, their processes, and the applications that are running on them. It can easily scale from very small networks to large ones with hundreds of servers—both physical and virtual—spread over multiple sites. The tool can also monitor cloud-hosted services like those from Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.
The SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor’s IT inventory management feature automatically collects IT asset details, including system updates, server warranty information, hosted virtual machine details, removable media, processors, USB ports, memory, network interfaces, operating system and firmware updates, and software information, such as publisher, version, and installation dates. The tool can also quickly and accurately report on asset inventory with charts and tables. Its built-in reports show current asset usage along with the model number, last update dates, names of admins who installed the updates, total resources used, unused hardware, etc. You can even select a specific server and generate reports on all the software and hardware resources that are associated with it.
Prices for the SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor start at $2 995 and vary based on the number of components, nodes, and volumes monitored. A free 30-day trial version is available for download, should you want to try the product before purchasing it.
The SolarWinds Web Help Desk is advertised as an affordable help desk Ticketing and asset management software. Despite a somewhat misleading name, it is not a cloud-hosted system. Web-based refers to the fact that you don’t need any client software to access it and your help desk attendants only need a browser to gain full access to the system. Let’s have a look at some of the product’s most interesting features.
The SolarWinds Web Help Desk is also an IT asset management product that enables you to automatically discover your software and hardware assets and manage asset assignments, history, and associated service requests, all from its easy to use web console. Each inventoried asset is uniquely identified by and AssetID which can consist of an auto-incremented number, a bar code, or any text string. When using barcodes, you can search for assets using a barcode reader.
The SolarWinds Web Help Desk has excellent change management features. Change requests with automated approval workflows can be created with the tool. SLA management is just as good with timed notifications. It also integrates with Active Directory and LDAP as well as third-party asset management systems. Another feature that is quite useful is the automated conversion of emails to tickets which allows you to set up a help desk mailbox where any received email is automatically converted into a ticket.
Reporting and follow-ups are also some important features of this excellent software. Its built-in reports and dashboards let you track ticket status, technician performance, and customer support needs. There are also automated feedback surveys that you can have users complete upon ticket resolution, allowing you to remain on top of customer satisfaction and help desk performance.
The SolarWinds Web Help Desk is priced based on the number of help desk technicians you have. Prices start at $700 per technician, regardless of the number of end users. A free 14-day trial can be downloaded from SolarWinds. For more information, a guided tour and a live demo are also available from SolarWinds’ website.
3- Network Inventory Advisor
The Network Inventory Advisor is a dedicated network inventory software as you would have likely guessed from its name. The tool is said to be a good fit for any size of an organization, from small businesses to large enterprises. The core feature of this product is its ability to gather information about all hardware and software assets on a network.
The information that Network Inventory Advisor gathers includes software installations, software versions, licenses, and hardware details, making it an indispensable tool when preparing for an audit. One of the tool’s best feature is its ability to collect licensing information for more than 500 independent software vendors, including big names such as Microsoft, Adobe or Autodesk.
The Network Inventory Advisor offers agentless scanning of Windows, Macintosh, and Linux computers as well as SNMP-enabled network devices. Thanks to the option to create multiple network groups, it’s possible to gather scan data from multiple networks with just one installation of the software. Furthermore, you can also configure this tool to send alerts if and when it detects a change on the network.
Price-wise the Network Inventory Advisor is available in no less than eight licensing tiers for 25, 50, 100, 200, 300, 400, and 500 nodes plus an unlimited node tier at prices varying from $89 dollars for the 25-node version to $989 for the unlimited one. A small additional fee will provide you with lifetime product updates. For testing purposes, the 25-node version can be used for free for 15 days.
4- ManageEngine AssetExplorer
The ManageEngine AssetExplorer is a web-based IT asset management software that can help you monitor and manage assets in your network. It covers all phases of a device life cycle from planning phase to disposal. This tool provides you with a number of ways to ensure the complete discovery of all assets in your network. You can use the tool to manage software & hardware assets, ensure software license compliance and track purchase orders & contracts. The tool is very easy to install and works right out of the box.
The ManageEngine AssetExplorer scans and audits all workstations connected over LAN, WAN and VPN across your enterprise. It gives you complete ownership information about each asset along with its hardware and software inventory information and helps to get a clear picture of who owns what. It helps to keep up-to-date information about all your assets by periodically scanning the software, hardware and other ownership information. It can track and manage any workstation or network devices on your network such as Windows, Linux, Mac, Solaris, and AIX machines, printers, routers, switches etc.
The ManageEngine AssetManager is available in a free edition which is limited to 25 assets. There is also a professional edition which is available in several licensing tiers from 250 to 10 000 assets at prices varying from $995 to $11 995. You can also get a free, fully functional 30-day evaluation version that is limited to 250 assets.
5- Spiceworks Inventory Management
Regardless of whether you need to monitor critical devices, troubleshoot issues, rescue users, or manage your inventory Spiceworks has the right tool for you. Best of all, these tools are free. This is a community-based effort. The Spiceworks Inventory Management tool features automatic scanning, customizable alerts, software and hardware tracking, and much more. This product has been designed from scratch to integrate with other Spiceworks products. It is easy to use, and it takes just a few minutes the finish the initial scan thanks to pre-configured templates and out-of-the-box support for most networking devices. The tool is available as either a cloud-based service or an on-premise installation.
The Spiceworks Inventory Management tool can manage all your assets, all in one place. It will automatically discover detailed device information to help you troubleshoot user issues, stay ahead of potential device problems, and be ready for budget and audit talks about your devices. This tool can also automatically updates all your software. It will detect unwanted or troublesome software on your Windows and Mac workstations and servers. The tool also allows you to detect and inventory cloud services and generate reports.
Reporting is another strength of the Spiceworks Inventory Management tool. Whether you want data that’s easy to export or an easy-to-use reporting interface with built-in reports that you can schedule, you can quickly generate sleek, custom reports on all your network assets. Another feature we loved about this product is how you can schedule your inventory scans when you want them with the on-premise automated scanner. You can set the time and/or frequency you need to make sure everything is up-to-date while not slowing down your network at inopportune times.
Lansweeper’s tag line is simple yet very eloquent: “IT Asset Management Software That Finds & Manages All Assets Across Your Enterprise” The product is an agent-free network inventory software which boasts over 300 default network reports, integrated help desk, and the capability to scale to thousands of network assets.
The Lansweeper Deepscan engine will discover any and all assets in your network. You simply need to point it in the right direction and the tool will take it from there. And with over 15 years of development, there’s no environment or asset that the tool can’t handle. There are also some great advanced features to this tool such as automated software deployment, SNMP network management, active directory management, and license compliance monitoring.
Lansweeper will provide an unparalleled depth of information. As your single source of truthful information on hardware, software, and users, you can rely on a complete and up-to-date overview to lead and support all network-related tasks, projects, and decisions.
Lansweeper’s pricing is based on the number of managed assets. It is free for up to 100 assets. To manage more assets, you need a yearly subscription. The annual subscription prices start $495 for up to 500 assets and go up to $4 495 for up to 5 000 assets. Larger, custom-sized licenses are also available by contacting Lansweeper.
Open-AudIT is an application which claims to be able to tell you exactly what is on your network, how it is configured and when it changes. The tool will run on Windows and Linux systems. This product is essentially a database of information, that can be queried via a web interface. Data about the network is inserted via a Bash Script (for Linux hosts) or VBScript (for Windows machines). The entire application is written in PHP, bash and VBScript. It is an open-sourced product so making changes and customizing the product to better fit your needs is both quick and easy
Open-AudIT is available in three editions of increasing functionality: Community, Professional, and Enterprise. The Community edition is free and, as the name suggests, maintained by the community. The Professional edition includes additional modules that improve discovery, simplify administration and increase reporting ability. Its price varies from $249 for up to 100 nodes to $2 500 for 3 000 nodes. The Enterprise version adds even more functionality. Pricing is available by contacting Opmantek, the maker of Open-AudIT.