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February 6, 2009 • Vol.31 Issue 6
Page(s) 21 in print issue

Track Data Center Assets
Benefits Can Extend Well Beyond IT Department
Jump to first occurrence of: [AVOCENT]

Keeping up with IT assets housed within the data center and across the enterprise extends well beyond maintaining a basic catalog of a company’s hardware and software and attendant costs. In many enterprises, only a few employees actually have a handle on IT assets, but the benefits of tracking data center assets can often encompass the entire enterprise.

Asset tracking is usually done via software. Reporting functions within the software list the assets; where they reside; their cost and condition; and pertinent dates, such as the date a license is set to expire, says Orit Pennington, CFO at TPGTEX Label Solutions (www.tpgtex.com).

Begin With A List

To populate the software, IT personnel should start with a list of all the hardware and the licensed software housed inside and outside the enterprise and of relevant information such as heating and cooling costs. This is no small task, says Toby Martin, product manager at data asset-tracking software provider Avocent (www.avocent.com). Key asset information is found across multiple applications and departments, including the purchasing, finance, customer support, facilities, securities, accounting, and human resources departments, Martin says.

Key Points

Tracking systems give managers a comprehensive look at assets across the board, which helps them extend the life of IT assets and make intelligent planning decisions. These systems can also streamline an IT department’s workload and benefit payoff company-wide.

Expect to pull information from financial records, spreadsheets, word processing documents, PDFs, and the like. Extracting and aggregating this data is a gargantuan task, Martin says. Many organizations choose to simply start tracking as of a specific date. Historical information isn’t necessary for enterprises that don’t have the financial and staff wherewithal to gather historical information and that are willing to wait for the qualified data the tracking system will eventually return, Martin says.

Benefits Of Tracking

The data-tracking system gives IT managers a bird’s-eye view of assets across the board. The information can help them examine many IT processes, says Tony Thomas, product manager for Numara Software (www.numarasoftware.com). The comprehensive list is helpful when troubleshooting IT problems. The frame of reference helps managers project how long it will take to correct problems based on past problem-solving efforts. Managers can also use the information to secure the infrastructure when they uncover unauthorized devices.

Thomas says the asset list also reduces the risk of expensive penalties for breach of software license agreements because it can notify the IT department when the agreements are coming due.

And here’s an often-overlooked perk: Keeping track of and listing power costs, cooling costs, and hardware and software costs helps IT managers make a firm case for the corporate value of the hardware and software they’ve chosen to implement, Martin says.

The system also helps managers make intelligent planning decisions, Martin adds. “You can’t budget and plan if you don’t know what you already have,” he explains.

Asset tracking can also help extend the life of those systems, which is vital in today’s economy, he adds.

“A server life cycle is historically three to four years, but now everyone is looking to squeeze some additional money out of these things,” Martin says. “So you can know your support costs and know what the configuration looks like and apply best practices around that.”

One drawback to asset management and tracking: It has to be done properly, Pennington says. “If the preparation is not done well, most of the information will be inaccurate and useless,” he says.

An Asset-Tracking Roadmap

To make asset tracking easier, Avocent refers customers to its Koala model. The model serves as a roadmap for IT to follow.

The first letter, K, stands for key costs, Martin says. To fully track costs, IT managers will need to bring in costs they may not have considered: maintenance, lease returns, and cooling costs, for example.

“We have many customers lease a lot of their assets. If they return [assets] with different hardware or configurations, they violate terms of lease. And those penalties can be significant,” Martin says. “You’ll need to track those penalties.”

The second letter signifies ownership. Assign the financial cost for a particular product to its proper department or subsidiary. “We [hear] departments say, ‘Just buy me a server and let the data center pay for it,’” Martin says. “But you’ll have to know [where] budget costs will come from.”

The first A in the Koala model stands for accountability. “Who is responsible for supporting this stuff as people come and go and assets, like servers, sit there without people knowing who’s supposed to be working on them?” Martin asks. The asset management software should include a way to denote the departments and company subsidiaries that use the software, as well as the IT staffer charged with maintaining the software.

The L denotes life cycle. IT managers need to track the state and status of each product to keep licensing costs down and extend the product’s life cycle, explains Martin. “Has it been ordered, provisioned, returned? What’s its physical state?” Martin asks. “Without this information there’s no way to track where it’s at in its service life.”

And the final A stands for assignment, as in: To which department or employee is the product assigned? This helps managers determine where the product is physically located.

Choose The Right Software

When IT managers shop for asset management software, they need to consider whether they’d like the system connected to the enterprise accounting system to synchronize costs. That answer will narrow options for asset-tracking software, Pennington says.

Other questions to consider: Does the software need to track assets used by customers? Will it need to produce invoices? Does the software allow for serialization?

The asset-tracking software generally costs $750 to $900 per licensed user. “Each software has a slightly different approach to how it tracks assets. It is imperative that it will be similar to the company’s own business processes,” Pennington says. “The other option is for the company to be willing to change their business processes to match that of the software.”

In addition, managers may need a labeling program that can connect to the tracking system, though this is included with some systems. Pennington says prices for a labeling program can run about $450.

Pennington explains that managers will also likely need a thermal printer, which can run from $400 to $900, and barcode scanners, which generally cost anywhere from $400 to $1,900. The printing and labeling equipment lets companies label hardware to track it in the field.

Martin provides additional advice, recommending that IT managers resist the urge to track everything. “You can get stuck in data overload and a lot of information . . . isn’t really relevant to business decisions,” he says. “Asset management is really focused on the business, so pay attention to the stuff that will cost or save you money.”

by Jean Thilmany



TOP TIPS

• Although helpful, you don’t need to populate a data-tracking system with historical asset information. Doing so delays the return of data.

• Knowing the actual cost of each system can help IT personnel make the case for or against new purchases to their higher-ups.

• Having asset information housed in one place saves a significant amount of time when you need to secure systems quickly or to bring them back up.

• By keeping track of license renewal dates, the software can shave costs in penalties for late renewals.


What You’ll Need

• To properly track your enterprise’s data assets, you need:

• To know the department or employee to which each asset is assigned.

• To list all IT assets within the company and its subsidiaries.

• Barcoding, thermal-printing, and labeling software for tracking hardware in the field.

• To have a handle on costs related to the assets (such as heating and cooling costs), so you can properly populate the data asset software.

• To know the physical state of the hardware and the date it was entered into the system, so you can compare it to its returned state.

• To know what the numbers and information returned by the asset-tracking system mean for your company.

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