For the past decade or so we have begun to realize that computers are an indispensable necessity. They’re around us everywhere, starting from our comfortable households to rovers from other planets. Currently, it is not uncommon at all to have more than a few dozen of office computers and other IT equipment in the infrastructure of a small company that does nothing directly related to that specific area.
It should not surprise anyone that in case of business environments there has to be some streamlined inventory. Especially, when we consider that the network might have a total of several hundreds, if not thousands, of workstation computers, servers, portable devices, other office equipment such as printers, scanners, and other networking components.
Resource management, in its essence, when viewed from an IT perspective, is providing a method to gather and store all kinds of information about items in our infrastructure. Later on supporting means to further maintain the said inventory. Also, performing routine tasks based on the collected data such as generating reports, locating relevant information easily (like where is a specific memory module with the model number you’re looking for), auditing type of software installed on workstation computers, and more.
Our plan of action is going to be pretty straightforward; we analyze the IT inventorying needs and some general requisites when it comes to managing those assets. What’s more we’ll be presenting the client-sever model that is the underlying foundation on which most centralized management solutions are working. This is when OCS Inventory NG pops into the picture saving the day. Soon we will see why.
We will get to know more about OCS Inventory NG soon, for now it’s enough to realize that it’s an open source project. No matter how successful a company is, open source solutions are always appreciated by the IT staff and management. As long as the project is actively developed, it’s fairly popular, well documented, provides community support, and meets their needs. Among others, open source projects end up modular and flexible.
Inventorying requirements in the real world
One of the general requirements of an IT inventory is to be efficient and practical. The entire process should be seamless to the clients and requires limited (or none at all) user interaction. Once set up, it just needs to be automated to update the inventory database based on the latest changes without manually being required to do so. Thereafter, the collage of data gathered is ought to be organized and labeled the way we want.
Businesses everywhere have come to realize that process integration is the best method for querying, standardizing, and organizing information about the infrastructure. The age of hi-tech computing made this possible by speeding up routine tasks and saving up employee time, eliminating bureaucracy and unnecessary filing of papers that all lead to frustration and waste of resources. Implementing integrated processes can change the structure and behavior of an organization. But finding the correct integration often becomes a dilemma.
Feasible solution to avoid inevitable havoc
Drifting back to the case of IT department, the necessity of having an integrated and centralized solution to manage numerous systems and other hardware equipment becomes obvious. The higher the number of systems, the bigger the volume to be managed, the easier the situation can get out of control, thus leading to crisis. Everyone runs around in panic like headless zombies trying to figure out who can be held responsible and what’s there to do in order to avoid such scenarios.
Taking a rational approach soon enough can improve the stability of entire organizations. Chances are you already know this, but usually system administrators tend to dislike working with papers. Filling in forms, storing them purely for archiving needs, and then when they least expect it, finding relevant information. A system like that won’t make anyone happy.
A centralized repository in some shape or form of a database gives almost instant access to results whenever such a query happens. Its actual state of always being up-to-date and reflecting the actual state of the infrastructure can be guaranteed by implementing updating mechanism.
Later on, once the database is in healthy state and the process is integrated, tried and proven, it won’t make any significant difference between managing dozens of computers or thousands. A well-designed integrated process is future proof and scalable. This way it won’t become a setback if and when the company decides to expand.
Streamlining software auditing and license management
As mentioned earlier, it is important to understand that auditing workstation machines cannot be neglected. In certain environments, the users or employees have limited access and work within a sort of enclosed program area and they can do little to nothing outside of their specialization. But there are situations when the employees are supposed to have administrative access and full permissions. It is for the good of both the user and company to monitor and pay attention to what happens within each and every computer.
Having an up to par auditing mechanism can integrate the system of license management as well. The persons responsible for this can track the total amount of licenses used and owned by the company, can calculate balance, notify when this number is about to run out, and so forth. It isn’t all that uncommon to automate the purchasing of licenses either.
The license management process description varies from firm to firm, but usually it’s something similar to the following: user requests for a license, supervisor agrees, and the request arrives to the relevant IT staff. After this step, the license request gets analyzed and based on the result it is either handed out or ordered/acquired if necessary.
If the process is not automated, all this would involve paperwork. And soon you will see frustrated employees running back-and-forth through departments asking who else needs to sign this paper. The process of automating and printing the end result is elegant and takes no trouble. The responsible department can then store the printed document for archiving purposes, if required. But the key of the process lies in integration. Inventorying can help here too.
More uses of an integrated IT inventory solution
The count of office consumables can also be tracked and maintained. This is a trickier process because it cannot be made unattended totally. Unless by installing some sort of sensor to track the count of printer cartridges inside an office furniture or the warehouse. However, you can update this field each time the said item gets restocked.
A centralized method for consumables means the responsible parties can get notified before running out of stock. Once again, this step eliminates unexpected scenarios and unnecessary tasks.
The beauty of centralized management solutions in the IT world is that if it is done right, they can open doors to numerous other activities as well. For example, in case of workstation PCs, the integrated process can be expanded into providing remote administration and similar other activities to be carried out remotely on the client machine.
Package deployment and execution of scripts are just few distinctive examples. Think of it like, license is granted, the package is deployed, and the script is run to ensure proper registration of the application, if required. System administrators can usually help fixing common issues of employees via remote execution of scripts. Surely there are other means to administer the machines, but we’re focusing on all-in-one integrated solutions.
Another possibility is integrating the help-desk and ticketing system within the centralized inventory’s management control panel as well. This way when an employee asks for help or reports a hardware issue, the system administrator can take a look at what’s inside that system (hardware specifications, software installed, and so on.).Therefore, the system administrator gets to know the situation beforehand and thus use the right tools to troubleshoot the said issue.
Gathering relevant inventory information
We can conclude that in order to have a complete inventory on top of which we can build and implement other IT-related and administrative tasks, we need at least the following:
- Collecting relevant hardware information in case of workstation computers
- Manufacturer, serial number, model number of every component
- When applicable,some of the following: revision number, size, speed, memory, type, description, designation, connection port, interface, slot number, driver, MAC and IP address, and so on
- Collecting installed software/OS (licensing) information
- Operating system: Name, version, and registration information
- Application name, publisher, version, location
- Custom-queries from the Windows registry (if applicable)
- Collecting information about networking equipment and office peripherals
- Manufacturer, serial number, model, type of component, and so on
- MAC and IP address
- When applicable: revision number, firmware, total uptime, and so on