If you’ve ever said that or even thought it, then you know exactly how much fun taking inventory is. Or is not, rather. Every industry requires periodic asset inventory – that’s just a fact of life.
If you want to run any sort of organization you need to keep track of what you have and what you’re doing with it. The problem is that actually taking inventory ranges from a moderately unpleasant and time-consuming process to weeks of actual hell depending upon what you and your organization do. Fortunately, IT is a little different.
Why IT Asset Inventories Matter
Like any organization, IT needs to keep track of all of the physical assets it controls. However, that’s only the first part of the challenge: IT also needs to keep track of that status of the software used by all those assets as well. And unlike retail where inventory comes in, sits on a shelf and eventually goes out, IT assets change all the time and seldom do it in a predictable manner. Laptops get issued and decommissioned all the time. Servers get added and upgraded regularly. New wireless access points get added and the old ones are deprecated. And the software on all of these items can change with absolutely zero warning.
So why should you care as long as everything keeps working? Because there are massive risks to NOT regularly taking inventory of your IT assets. Retail fears ‘shrink’ where there are fewer items on the shelves than records indicate should be there. That represents a loss of money. If your organization has fewer laptops than you thought, then that represents a lot more problems than just the cost of those laptops; it amounts to a massive security risk. What was on those laptops? Company secrets? Personal information? Who has them now? Are they potential vectors for non-employees to access your network? Are they potential entry points for viruses or malware? You get the picture.
In addition to physical assets you also have the challenge of keeping the software on those assets up to date – and you can’t do that if you don’t know what that software is in the first place. Laptops, servers, routers, APs and even Internet of Things (IoT) devices that haven’t been updated with the latest security patches are catnip to hackers trying to gain access to your network. Even if the physical assets never leave your control you can run into issues with misconfigurations, unexpected devices connecting to incorrect places in the network and other headaches. Plus, good luck trying to keep track of when software licenses and service agreements are expiring. If you’re lucky the only consequence of failing to keep an asset inventory is a minor network issue caused by missing or outdated devices; if you’re not lucky you’re looking at expensive regulatory violations or leaked data.
Simple, Painless Asset Inventory
When inventory time comes around there are a few options for IT pros:
- Physically crawl around the server closet to manually count every device
- Run a network discovery scan and automatically generate a network inventory report
The advantage IT has over other types of organizations is that our assets actually talk to each other. Ideally, you should be able to push one button and get a complete inventory of everything attached to your network – but that’s the bare minimum required. A number of IT asset management software products will discover and map network assets, then create an inventory which automatically updates when a device is reconfigured or its status changes. These software products collect the manufacturer and model ID, the serial number, hardware or software and firmware versions, chassis ID, module inventory, and all relevant data about the device’s hardware such as power supplies or fans.
But that information is only as current as the latest discovery. Full-featured network monitoring products like WhatsUp Gold will also discover any new devices or applications added to the network and gather all the same information. If the device is a recognized type, then a user-specified configuration or role can be automatically applied immediately. Not only is all of this information added to the existing asset inventory record, but the entire network can also be regularly scanned in order to keep that record up to date. The result is a system that can provide an accurate and complete network inventory right down to software versions at the touch of a button.
That’s invaluable for people like Michael Roth, Senior Systems Engineer for the University of North Georgia. Michael and his team had to manually inventory more than 500 servers across two data centers, each running a variety of applications and together supporting a student population of 16,000 spread across five campuses. Everything had to be updated during semi-annual systems audits which lasted two or three weeks at a time. “Automating systems inventory for all five campuses with WhatsUp Gold generated a lot of excitement within our Systems Engineering team, all the way up to our university’s CISO and CIO, especially with upcoming IT audits,” said Michael Roth.
Similarly, Stefan Veldsman, Senior IT Operations Specialist for The University of Law in the UK needed a way to keep track of a growing student population of over 8000 students, all wanting to connect to the network. “With WhatsUp Gold, we can inventory assets and identify model numbers, serial numbers, warranty information and know what software is running on the University’s servers,” comments Stefan. “This is important because we need to ensure that only authorized software is installed.”
It’s also worth noting that all this information is useful for more than just producing reports for audits. Understanding what’s connected to your network makes it a lot easier to troubleshoot issues and having a record of changes can be invaluable. Just one example would be tracking configuration changes for routers and switches. These can be modified easily and for a variety of reasons, but most organizations require consistent configurations for regulatory compliance. As well, one of the first things intruders do is change router configurations to make it easier to access your network in the future. Reviewing multiple configuration archives side by side with highlighted discrepancies is an easy way to fix these issues before they can become expensive problems.
So next time you need an asset inventory don’t go crawling around in the server closet trying to write down serial numbers – it’s bad for the knees. Just use a product like WhatsUp Gold to generate an up-to-date inventory in less than a minute and keep your bosses happy. You can even claim it took you hours of careful perusal of your server rooms if you’d like – we won’t tell!