Automating SAM

Software asset management (SAM) and, more specifically, tools to automate the SAM process are enjoying a surge in popularity as organizations bump reducing software costs to the top of their IT budget priority list.

In fact, according to Forrester Research, 36% of companies cited reducing software costs as their top priority in 2006. And with license and maintenance fees making up nearly 60% of software budgets, it’s easy to understand why ensuring those expenditures are in line with true organizational needs has taken center stage.

“Most companies today are highly dependent on their IT infrastructure. If they don’t have good control of what they have out there, they’re at risk and the potential benefits back to the company can’t be maximized, said Allan Andersen, director of product management for CA’s BSO business unit.

“Software is one of the largest costs that companies have…therefore it needs to be managed just as well as all a corporation’s other expenditures. There are also a lot of risks and liabilities involved.

“You need to know what software is out there; what versions you have and if it is patched appropriately; that it’s secure and that nobody is over-using or under-using software either because you’re paying too much for that,” he added.

Hidden Costs

While over-utilization comes with its own set of risks and challenges (the Business Software Alliance (BSA) estimates that 25% of organizations have some form of non-compliance which can result in fines of up to $150,000 per infraction), under-utilization is actually a bigger sink hole for companies.

This is because uncertainty leads to companies often adopting a “better safe than sorry” mentality and purchasing licenses they don’t need.

Large organizations, for example, typically purchase large blocks of licenses for typical applications such as productivity software and smaller blocks for less-common applications such as desktop publishing, CAD and drawing software. However, few companies keep an accurate count of how many people are actually using the software and, as a result, tend to over-buy to ensure they are not in violation.

“That’s okay in some respects, but it’s not okay if it ends up costing a lot of money,” said Andersen.

Compounding the problem is the ongoing costs of maintaining those unneeded licenses, said Sam Sandusky, president and CEO of Big Sur Technologies, a Tampa, Fla.-based technology firm that manages enterprise-level licensing programs for a vendors including Novell, IBM, PatchLink, Messaging Architects, TimeSpring and Syncsort.

“Let’s say you think you need 500 copies of Microsoft Office, but you have 150 users who haven’t opened it in over a year. You don’t need to keep paying for that license,” he said.

Automating the Process

The ability to automatically reconcile licenses with usage is where SAM tools have the greatest impact. While manual processes can track inventory of the software installed on each machine, it’s nearly impossible to track usage in this manner; meaning companies will still pay license fees for software that is never or rarely used, or for uninstalled shelf-ware.

The latest batch of software audit tools do more than just track the number of users against the number of licenses, they can actually track the instances of usage to identify frequency of use and identify licenses that can be re-harvested and made available elsewhere in the organization.

Today’s SAM software offers improved accuracy and assurances that IT organizations can get a more complete picture of the asset that are on the network through continuous discovery of the environment, said CA’s Andersen.

The most common tools on the market manage discovery and inventory of software assets, either through a “signature scanning” process that inventories known applications, or through a more heuristic approach that identifies or discovers all the applications that are found on the network.

CA’s Unicenter Asset Management does both, creating a comprehensive solution that includes continuous discovery, automated inventory and detection, usage monitoring, configuration management and maintenance and common server infrastructure and application framework.

Another example is Zen Asset Management from Novell, which combines inventory data with purchase and license records to present a single, comprehensive “license view” for tracking, reconciliation and management.

“They load this up on the server and it goes out and pings every single desktop, every single server, every single product that can load software; it tells you everything you have. It gives you license counts, it shows you how often that license is being used. It shows you if someone isn’t using it. It will tell you how many times an application is being opened,” said Sandusky.

Still other tools tie in contractual and financial aspects of asset management, creating a process oriented system that’s best-suited for organizations that have achieved a higher level of maturity in IT and software asset management, said Andersen.

Yet, while the automation tools have matured, they remain limited by a company’s commitment to the software asset management process. Even the most advanced technology won’t achieve maximum return on investment (ROI) without proper planning.

“You have to think strategically about where you want to be, but you have to implement tactically … Formulate a plan, then start chopping it up bit by bit, said Andersen.

“You can try a big-bang approach, but it will require a lot of upfront investment and a lot of people dedicated to (the process). You run the risk of not showing value before someone else comes in and says ‘Why did we spend this million dollars when you haven’t show any benefits yet?’ That’s the worst thing that can happen.”