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The Best SAM Tools – What To Look For

This article was originally posted in 2011. We’d love your feedback on what’s changed, is this article even relevant any more? Let us know in the comments section below.

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The list below are what I call ‘Competitive Differentiators’. They are strong features that are unique to certain SAM tool manufacturers. Once the majority of tools on the market offer these features they will no longer be considered differentiators.

As well as serving as a way of picking the differences between different SAM tool manufacturers – they also provide an indicator of where development is focused.

Way back when…

When I began selling SAM tools in 2000, the focus was very much around inventory (What have we got?), the industry then went through a period of development around Software Recognition (OK, we found winword.exe on our network- but what is it?), and now I believe the focus is around business intelligence (OK, so that file winword.exe is actually Microsoft Word, but do I need a license for it, am I using the best version and how can I get more bang for my buck?).

I believe there is still plenty of mileage and innovation possible in inventory tools – but generally speaking, the war is being waged over ‘what to do with the data’ rather than ‘how to collect it’. This can also be seen by many tools now becoming inventory agnostic – they don’t care where the data comes from – it’s what you do with it that counts.

Not all points are useful for everyone and the list is not exhaustive.  SAM tool manufacturers  are currently adding or building in these features so if you are in the market for SAM technology make sure you ask your prospective tools manufacturer about these features if you feel they are relevant to you.

This is not technology for technology’s sake. As well as listing each differentiator I have attempted to articulate the business value of each point.

License Intelligence around Product Use Rights

Traditional SAM tools allowed you to balance installs versus licenses. I found 5 copies of Microsoft Project with my inventory tool; I will reconcile that against my 5 licenses that I purchased. Marvelous, everything is right with the world.

Unfortunately, licensing is rarely that simple. Modern tools go a step further and say – ok, you’ve told us what you have installed and what you have purchased, let’s take it a step further and make sure you are making best use of your product use rights.

Some examples:

  • Second use rights – some vendors will allow you to use another copy of their application at home, on a virtual device or for backup purposes. Double counting these in your total license count can make a significant difference to your bill. Smart SAM tools offer features to begin to automate this process.
  • Upgrade and downgrade rights – You’ve bought Windows 7 as part of your agreement but you are actually using something a lot older. Modern SAM tools can cope with upgrade and downgrade rights and will apply them to automatically generate a compliance position.
  • Client Access Licenses – CALs are a strange beast. Since nothing is normally installed with a CAL they are notoriously difficult to manage. Modern SAM tools, when possible, begin to automate the management of CALs.
  • Mainstream Support Expiry Dates – Along the business intelligence theme – some SAM tool vendors are providing additional information about the software installed. One example is the expiry dates for mainstream support. For example if you are analyzing your SAM data in preparation for a negotiation, it is useful to know that one of the products within the contract will become end of life mid-way through the contract.
  • Processor or user based licensing – Modern SAM tools allow you to calculate licensing on metrics other than total installs. For example they can analyze hardware information and produce a compliance report based on total processors or concurrent users.
  • Automatic License Reconciliation – modern SAM tools will attempt to build a compliance and optimization position automatically.

SKU Intelligence

The pivotal point for many SAM tools are the SKUs (Stock Keeping Unit). This is commonly used as a unique identifier to match installed software with a purchase order. This is not the only way to perform a reconciliation but it is a good way of matching the diverse worlds of IT and technical terms (exe files, installs and licensing) with the price and product terms of procurement (Prices, PO’s, Invoices). Modern SAM tools then apply some additional intelligence to those SKUs such as costs. For example some tools provide an estimated price of the SKU – this is particularly useful when you are being audited and are trying to make decisions based on partial information. Administrators can easily prioritize and assess risk.

Process Automation

I see this as a key development area for the future. It’s no good having all this marvelous data about your environment if you can’t act on it. Modern SAM tools incorporate business process management techniques such as webshops to automate key SAM processes. See also ‘Why You Should Consider a Software Webshop‘.

Customer specific clause calculation

Larger customers will negotiate and sign unique terms and clauses into their agreements. Modern SAM tools allow for a customer specific schedule to be attached to an agreement and for future calculations to be completed automatically in accordance with the schedule. Some vendors are extra versatile and can calculate compliance based on bespoke variables. If you’ve signed a contract based on the number of plant pots in the building, and the number of plant pots is stored in a LDAP database somewhere – a compliance position can automatically be generated.

License Management for specific software publishers

Modern SAM tools have the ability to manage the complexities of the largest software publishers such as IBM capacity based licensing, SAP user based licensing or being Oracle LMS certified.

Implementation and Maintenance

Modern SAM tools have the option to deliver their product via the web. Not everyone wants a cloud solution but delivery via the Internet makes things a lot easier (and cheaper) if you are outsourcing the management of your software or multiple business partners or organisational units need to access information. Similarly modern SAM tools allow for their software database updates to be trickled down via the web like new anti-virus signatures rather than the clumsy process of downloading database updates.

Data Import and Integration

Modern SAM tools are multi-lingual, paranoid and mistrusting. They will speak and integrate with different data points but assume that the data is dodgy and needs reconciling and cleaning.

Some examples:

  • Modern SAM tools don’t just integrate with Active Directory – they look into AD and reconcile the data (e.g. Which devices are in AD but not audited, which devices have we found from other sources that are not in AD etc). Modern SAM tools don’t just accept SCCM data – they cleanse it, reconcile it and make it useful.
  • Modern SAM tools audit and reconcile virtual environments (this includes VMWare, Microsoft, Citrix and Linux). They don’t just audit the devices, but also build a relationship between physical and virtual worlds. This is important for two reasons: 1) Discovery – ok we found a virtual device with software on it – but where is it? and 2) License Optimization – sometimes if a virtual device can be mapped to a physical device special terms can be applied to the virtual machine to save on licensing e.g. A user may have the rights to use an application free of charge or another virtual device.
  • Modern SAM tools talk to dinosaurs. They recognize that some customers have no option but to use SCCM or LANDesk for inventory and will utilize this data to get the job done.
  • Modern SAM tools talk to software publishers. They allow for bulk upload of purchasing history or consumption statements .

SAM Tool Geek

As you may have spotted. I am a geek for this sort of stuff! I keep a record of which SAM tool manufacturers offer which differentiators via Tools Intelligence and I provide consulting to organisations who need advice in this area. If you need any help on what to ask or what to look for – please give me a shout.


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About Martin Thompson

Martin is owner and founder of The ITAM Review, an online resource and community for worldwide ITAM professionals.

Martin is also author of the book "Practical ITAM - The essential guide for IT Asset Managers", a book that describes how to get started and make a difference in the field of IT Asset Management.

On a voluntary basis Martin a contributor to ISO WG21 which develops the ITAM International Standard ISO/IEC 19770.

Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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