Tag Archives: automation

Asset Discovery Tools

automated network asset discoveryKnowing what hardware is connected to your (or your clients) office network is obviously good to know, for one thing if you’re charging clients by the number of assets managed you’ll obviously make more money with more assets! Another reason is security – you don’t want stray systems sitting around unsecured/unpatched waiting to be hacked.

Knowledge is power and so proper documentation for every asset is essential to ensure they are maintained properly. Manually keeping track of all the company IT assets might be ok in a very small office with just a few machines which can all be seen from one place but for anything larger, with many machines which can change frequently and new ones arriving all the time, automation is the name of the game.

Fortunately there are a number of tools which make the job of asset discovery or network discovery very simple and which provide data which can then be imported or integrated with asset management or PSA applications.

If you have 100k assets to manage (and your pockets are very deep) then you may need something ‘enterprisey’ such as IBM Tivoli or the HP Configuration Management System, or so their sales people will tell you anyway. For the rest of us there are slightly more down to earth and affordable alternatives, including ones for free.

Open-AudIT is a network auditing application which works with Windows and Linux machines and will find out exactly what is on your network. Data is stored in MySQL and can be exported to PDF, CSV and other formats and reports can also be generated if needed. The word “open” in the name is a clue – it’s all open source (and free!) so you can see what is going on in the code if you feel the urge to look inside.

OCS Inventory NG is another free application which will scan your network and produce a detailed inventory of every device found which can then be imported into other applications as required.

Long a favorite of script kiddies and hackers everywhere but also of course a very useful admin tool is Nmap. It comes with command line and GUI options and can quickly scan entire networks then output the results in XML format (or even a special script kiddy format!) so it can easily be parsed and imported elsewhere.

Automated asset discovery of one kind or another is also commonly included in network monitoring systems such as OpenNMS as well as various RMM services and these can be particularly useful if they also integrate with your PSA application.

Using the tools mentioned above makes it easy to keep on top of your IT assets and ensure the smooth running of the networks and hardware your clients hire you to manage.

Deployment Tools

Deployment ToolsIn the IT services business there is one concept which stands above all else – automation. Nobody wants to be manually working on hundreds or even thousands of computers in a network or across multiple networks and regions  when the very thing which computers are perfectly designed for is automating repetitive processes. Realistically the only viable way to manage a large number of computers is with deployment tools which can automate the process.

In a small network it may well be possible to rely on manual updates, it may not be advisable but still it is doable. However it is not at all scalable and on a large network or collection of assets, whether they be desktop PC’s or Internet Servers and Appliances of various kinds, smart deployment systems are pretty much an essential requirement, not just for the business but also for the sanity of the IT staff responsible for rolling out the updates.

Using automated deployment tools significantly reduces maintenance times and allows a single person at a centralized and often remote location to manage extremely large numbers of assets which of course leads to much lower costs. However the cost reductions are not just as a result of less salaries to pay per assets managed but also in terms of reduced or (hopefully) eliminated losses due to malfunctions, downtime or even data loss caused by human error.

Humans are not machines and it is easy to forget to install something or configure correctly or update on time. An unpatched system is basically an open door with an invitation to passing hackers to come in and take what they want or generally wreak havoc, so timely deployment of security updates is critical.

Using deployment tools makes it much simpler to build and maintain standardized systems so instead of a crazy mix of software and configurations with every computer being different, they can all be kept the same,  or at least have a small number of standard configurations to work with, further reducing system management time and costs.

Thus by employing suitable deployment automation tools, the potential for human error is vastly reduced, IT efficiency is increased dramatically, security is maximized and reliability of all systems managed is much improved.

There are quite a few deployment solutions out there, from the RMM services such as GFIMAX  to the powerful configuration management and deployment systems like Ansible and which one is best is down to your specific requirements , experiences and of course personal preferences.

Needless to say, automated deployment of software updates to 10,000 computers is potentially risky so it is important to test deployments thoroughly before unleashing!