How to evaluate software asset management tools

IT asset management or ITAM solutions provide comprehensive management of hardware and software assets, both on-prem and in the cloud.

How to evaluate software asset management tools
Loops7 / Getty Images

The vulnerabilities of the Apache Log4j logging package—and the attacks they’ve drawn—have made one thing very clear: If you haven’t yet implemented a software inventory across your enterprise, now is the time to start evaluating and implementing such tools.

Actually, a software inventory, or software asset management, is just one small subset of the overall space of IT asset management or ITAM. ITAM solutions provide comprehensive management of both hardware and software, including cloud and on-premises servers and endpoints. They track where these assets are now and when they were last seen active across your network, and include reports about all computing assets: servers, switches, routers, communications lines, storage devices, desktop systems, mobile devices, copiers, scanners, and so on.

ITAM systems been around for decades. I recall testing one of the earlier products, Landesk, which is now a part of Ivanti, back in the early 1990s. Since that point in time these tools have become much more sophisticated, capable of tracking assets through their entire lifecycle. Today they assist with patch management and license auditing and have become integrated with service/help desk operations and other common IT administrative tasks. Many of these tools have expanded their scope beyond traditional IT gear to cover all kinds of network-connected devices such as smart speakers and TVs. They can discover cloud-based software too.

Before you dip into this space, realize that there is no consistency on what it is called. Forrester calls this space “enterprise service management” and lists ServiceNow, BMC/Remedy Helix ITSM, Atlassian’s JIRA Service Management, Ivanti/Landesk Neurons, and IFS Asset Manager as leaders in its latest Wave report. Gartner lists 20 different software-only asset management tools such as Snow, Lansweeper, Flexera’s FlexNet Manager, and Zoho/ManageEngine Asset Management.

To add to the confusion, many of these tools also support a configuration management database (CMDB), which also means different things depending on the context. The CMDB is a central repository of all sorts of asset information. Some of the richer collections from BMC/Remedy and ServiceNow have become industry standards that are supported by other asset management tools. To get a sense of the range of offerings in this space, you might want to read this post on about 12 IT service management tools.

In this article, I focus on five leading-edge asset management products, which are summarized in the table below. The table includes links to product information and to any live or recorded demonstrations available that could help you gain a better understanding of how the product works. Below I discuss why these tools are needed in modern software development organizations, how you should go about evaluating them, what their notable features are, and what these tools will cost. 

IT asset management tools

Evaluating software asset management and ITAM solutions

Before you begin any evaluation of these products, start with an assessment of the current state of your CMDB. If you are already using a CMDB from ServiceNow (or perhaps BMC, then you should carefully examine their software asset management capabilities—you may find them lacking, especially if you use open source products. If you are using some other CMDB, you may well be unhappy with how it collects asset data. In which case, you have a different project on your hands: how to move from your legacy CMDB to something that is more asset-friendly.

Second, you should look at tools you are using to manage software licenses. If you are happy with what you have, feel free to skip to the next paragraph. But if your license management software hasn’t saved you money lately, or if it doesn’t cover SaaS subscriptions or software package dependencies, then now is the time to review what you can do to replace it.

Third, you should also survey all of your service/operations/compliance/patch management systems and determine if they will work with any of the tools that I cover here. As you review these tools, you should look at existing integrations with your legacy systems that track licenses, software subscriptions, software patching, and trouble ticketing. If you don’t have any of this gear, or you don’t want to continue using what you have, an integrated ITAM suite could be just what you need. Otherwise, find out early on whether or not your legacy systems will play well with the ITAM solution you are contemplating.

Here are some of the questions that software/IT asset management tools should be able to answer:

  • Am I using the software assets that I purchased and buying what I need?
  • Are there any unused software licenses of Office 365 that I can use?
  • Are there any unused SaaS subscriptions available?
  • Are my software assets patched to the most current version levels?
  • Are my cloud-based server instances running the latest OS and software versions?
  • What applications depend on software package x, y, or z? (This could come in handy to resolve the Log4j scenario mentioned above.)
  • Can I use the software/IT asset management solution’s internal collaboration tools to manage a multiple-person deployment project?
  • How complete is the software/IT asset management tool’s discovery of my software portfolio?

Pricing of software asset management and ITAM solutions

Figuring out the eventual price that you will pay for these products will require some legwork. There are lots of reasons that nailing down pricing is difficult. At opposite ends of the pricing spectrum are Spiceworks, which is completely and forever free, and the likes of ServiceNow and Ivanti, neither of which disclose any pricing. Other products are available in forever-free versions that come with built-in limits in terms of numbers of agents or assets they monitor, and also lack live support. Still other products have public pricing pages that may have meaningful information, or may serve mainly as a way to collect your contact information for their salespeople.

ServiceNow ITAM

ServiceNow has been in business for more than 15 years now. The company was an early leader in service desk and trouble ticketing systems. They offer both cloud and on-premises versions of their highly integrated software (both run the same code base) and now cover the gamut including asset management, operations management, security, and compliance. ServiceNow doesn’t reveal pricing but is considered to be among the pricier options. They don’t offer a free version but they do have an extensive collection of screencast demo videos (registration is required) that illustrate how to use their product.

ServiceNow’s IT Asset Management module covers both hardware and software assets but is stronger on purchased software than on open source. The product can report on underused software licenses and SaaS subscriptions, and can provide insight into managing complex situations such as Microsoft’s enterprise licenses that come with numerous prerequisites. ServiceNow ITAM’s discovery feature claims to find at least 80% of all running applications. It is also useful for optimizing your software spend and monitoring compliance rules. Finally, the core of ServiceNow’s ITAM product is their CMDB, which has a rich collection of data that is used across their entire product suite.

servicenow itam IDG

ServiceNow ITAM provides a detailed software analytics dashboard where you can manage licenses, compliance, and other software lifecycle tasks. 

Ivanti/Landesk Neurons for ITAM

Ivanti is the keeper of the Landesk code base, which pre-dates just about everything else in the asset management space. The Ivanti solution can discover both hardware and software assets, tracking asset lifecycles from purchase to eventual removal, and it covers both on-prem and cloud-based assets and both IT and non-IT devices. It can be used to reclaim unused software licenses and SaaS subscriptions and reallocate them. The system’s dashboards serve up all sorts of helpful information, such as the last time or first time a particular PC or software version was seen across your network.

Ivanti packages Neurons in several different ways, including specialized versions for healthcare environments, for patch management, for service management, and for spend intelligence. All of these integrate with the its CMDB offering. Ivanti provides agents that can discover software across the five leading OSs (Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android, and iOS) as well as agentless discovery methods. Ivanti offers both on-premises and cloud versions but doesn’t disclose pricing.

ivanti neurons for itam IDG

Ivanti’s Neurons for ITAM dashboard provides details about software installed on each device, including version and vendor reputation.

Atlassian Jira Service Management

Atlassian’s Jira Service Management is part of a larger software tools collection that includes a complete service desk solution, similar to what ServiceNow offers. The asset management features are contained in the Service Management module. If you are looking for a better CMDB and you don’t want to pay the higher prices of other products, then Jira Service Management might be a good place to start. One nice feature is its dependency mapping tool that can report on the effects of changes to your assets and services.

Atlassian provides a video tour of the product and a completely transparent pricing page, where you can see there are four different versions available. The forever free version, which can collect data from up to three agents (the other versions increase this to 5,000 agents), is recommended as a place to get started if you don’t presently have any service desk tools, just as long as you don’t need any live support. Atlassian used to offer both cloud and on-premises versions of the free product; the latter has been discontinued. The three paid versions start at $20 per agent per month and all have free seven-day trials.

atlassian jira service manager IDG

Atlassian Jira Service Manager contains an extensive asset inventory. In this particular screen you can see the level of detail for an Amazon EC2 instance. 

ManageEngine Asset Explorer

ManageEngine Asset Explorer comes as part of a full ITAM solution and is available in a forever free version that includes full functionality and live support, but is restricted to 25 nodes or individual assets. There is also a fully-functional 30-day free trial that ups the restriction to 250 nodes. Once you go beyond those limits Asset Explorer is priced based on the number of nodes you need. It comes in both cloud and on-premises versions. But before you do anything, I suggest you try their live running demo online that you can explore here. Its software asset and licensing modules can track the number of licenses and installations, identify underlicensed and overlicensed software, and detect unauthorized and unlicensed software in near real time. 

manageengine asset explorer IDG

ManageEngine’s Asset Explorer offers scant detail about installed software packages, but does show historical data in another tab.

Spiceworks Inventory

Spiceworks has a bare-bones inventory module that lists the basic attributes of the software packages installed on each endpoint. There are no dependencies and the report on software version numbers isn’t very actionable, although the discovery (what the vendor calls its Agent Collector) did a thorough job of reading what was installed on our test Windows 10 machine. For a totally free product, you get what you pay for. Spiceworks Inventory is available in a cloud version only.

spiceworks inventory IDG

Spiceworks Inventory module has only the barest data about installed software packages.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.