Interview: Selecting a Tool for Automating SAM across 20K Desktops

28 July 2011
7 minute read
Best practice

Interview: Selecting a Tool for Automating SAM across 20K Desktops

28 July 2011
7 minute read

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with a Virtual User Group member who is in the process of selecting a SAM tool.

What advice would you offer this organization based on our conversation? Please add your feedback to the comments below.


Q. Could you explain your current situation? Why the current interest in SAM Tools? 

Our company has just been acquired by another company. After reviewing our operations the company that acquired us decided that they like the way we do SAM.

They like the way we operate, we have centralized SAM, we’re locked down, we distribute software in a managed way, we control our licenses and control our costs. There are two of us doing SAM for a 4,000 seat estate manually.

The trouble is that our SAM practice is not currently scalable. We have SAM under control but it is completely manual, if we are to scale our SAM operation to incorporate our new parent company and subsidiaries we have to automate.

The new parent company is fairly good at software distribution, but the issue is they don’t claw anything back once it’s distributed. There are twenty subsidiaries within our new company, so our current challenge is to go to each one of these entities and find out what they have. We’re in the market for a good discovery tool. We then need to find out what proof of entitlement they have so we’re also in the market for a good record keeping tool. From this baseline, we then need to novate and renegotiate contracts as we move forward, identify overlaps and efficiencies.

So our current task is to automate our current SAM operation – and then scale it across the 20 operating units.

So what is in place at the moment? You mention that it is a manual process – Is it a matter of crunching Excel sheets or do you have any form of technology in place? 

We used to have a database via MainControl (*) which came through our infrastructure company but were forced to convert this into a spreadsheet when the contract expired. Our license management repository is manually recorded in a system called Microsoft OneNote. This is a free form database of license information which we use with templates. Over time it has developed into our software licensing bible. It includes who we buy from, how it is deployed, where we store it, what the contract terms are etc. It is very much a manual system but it works.

We don’t meter our software. The SAM policies and procedures are nailed down. My boss says ‘You’ve got the foundation there already – don’t go changing things’.

(*) NB: MainControl – bought by MRO, who were subsequently bought by IBM in 2006.

For OneNote – Why fix it? It if it working for you and it’s well honed – why not leave it alone? 

Because we won’t be able to scale it up when we become 20,000 desktops! I don’t plan to change OneNote, I find it too useful, but the issue I have with it is that I am not able to share the information stored within it with the rest of the business.

We don’t want to duplicate effort every time we buy software by logging something with OneNote, then letting the deployment guys know, then letting the help desk know, then updating our license spreadsheet – we want one central system that people can access.

My fear is that there might not be something out there and I might be asking too much on my wish list!

So you have mentioned looking for a good discovery tool, a SAM record keeping tool and something to manage software going forward. Of those three components – is there anything in house that you can use for this? 

We’ve got SCCM for deployment, everything is scripted and I’m confident we have deployment covered.  Altiris is used in the new company which bought us and will likely be replaced by SCCM as the tool of choice. We also discovered some legacy Express Metrix licenses in the new company, which may be reinstated to current rather than parked up, and may be the basis of a license management tool, but we haven’t done too much work on what this can provide for us yet.

You’ve mentioned a few technologies so far – who else have you seen? what technologies have you been impressed with? 

We’ve had all the selling, as soon as you contact a company, you get their product rammed down your throat.

We were quite impressed with Tivoli (BigFix as was). I wasn’t so impressed by the reporting side but from a discovery perspective they seem to be quite impressive. That is until they sent the quote – which blew me out of the water!

We’ve had a couple of demonstrations from Snow Software, but I’ve never been its convinced that its the tool for us. Snow are very hard on the sales front, nearly as pushy as the Tivoli rep.

Are you doing this all via a LAR? (*) 

Snow Software came to us via a LAR – and this is one of the issues I had with it. It was almost too close a relationship and the LAR was pushing the sale of Snow like it was the end of the world. The LAR also did not offer us anything else to compare it with. It felt like it was kerching for them but not necessarily good for us.

Through our infrastructure provider we’re looking to appoint a new LAR, and through that negotiation ask them what tools they will be able to provide to enable SAM. We’ll use this as leverage when changing LAR. I’m not sure that this is the best approach to take but it’s definitely a cost effective one.

(*) Microsoft Large Account Reseller.

So you’re saying the LAR would throw in a tool as part of the deal? 

Thats what being mooted as a possibility. We’ll try to use the change in LAR as a way to generate an aggressive discount on a SAM tool.We also tried to get the Asset Intelligence part of SCCM to work as part of our automated discovery trials but failed dismally. We found it a nightmare trying to get it to work. This was on the recommendation of our Microsoft Rep, but I guess he has no other choice than to recommend Microsoft. After SCCM failed we bought a cheap and cheerful tool called Lansweeper to help with our discovery on a more automated basis.

How are you going to select a SAM Tool? 

I find it difficult going on the internet and coming back with a meaningful list of 4 or 5 tools to review. I get bogged down with everyone saying try this one or try that one and get bogged down with all the dross.What we intend to do is draw up a shortlist and then give each company a sample set of data and see what they come up with.Part of it will be dependent on price too. SAM is always sold as a return on investment but in the short term it’s spend, spend, spend!

You have to factor in the tools, the people and it is difficult to come up with a solid justification.

What advice would you offer this organization based on our conversation? Please add your feedback to the comments below.

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