ServiceNow Discovery

ServiceNow Discovery

Inventory Review Index


ServiceNow is a SaaS IT Service Management platform. Their network discovery and inventory offering, ‘ServiceNow Discovery’, is specifically designed to populate the ServiceNow CMDB and populate downstream ITIL processes with network and asset data.

ServiceNow Discovery also maps relationships between discovered items and augments inventory data with other enterprise data feeds. The goal is to seed service management processes with accurate inventory data; build a single source of truth and system of record.

Infrastructure & Methodology

The ServiceNow Discovery infrastructure consists of two components:

  1. Management, Integration and Discovery (MID) Servers that sit locally on the network
  2. An instance in the cloud

The MID Servers, as the name suggests, act as local sentinels collecting information, talking with data sources and discovering the network. This data is then encrypted, bundled and fed to the instance in the cloud where the data is interpreted.

The MID Server is a ~30MB standalone Java application, typically residing on a Windows Server and placed strategically across the network depending on network structure and geographical locations.

The MID Server sits behind the firewall and communicates using a specific configurable port. One of the key selling points of a SaaS application is removing upgrade headaches; the MID Servers update themselves whilst the main instance is upgraded.

The MID Server uses agentless discovery across native ports and protocols. As with any agentless offering there is a trade-off between the use of installed agents and richness of data. For the sole purpose of feeding the CMDB, I think they have struck the right balance. Competitors may have more depth in terms of discovered data but also have different goals in mind such as systems management and deployment.

Enterprise Configuration Management System

All this data collected from the MID Servers is fed into an online Enterprise Configuration Management System (CMS).

With Service Management in mind, network discovery data is unlikely to be your only source of information. ServiceNow Discovery data can be ‘federated’ with other sources, such as databases, to add metadata to discovered assets.

For example last logged in user can be correlated with active directory data, which can be correlated with purchase history databases and so on.

I found these enterprise data Mashups to be blindingly straight forward and intuitive. Integrations follow a simple three-step process:

  1. Identify your data source (e.g. SQL)
  2. Assign a ‘Transform Map’ (what data goes where)
  3. Assign a schedule (how often)

Support for a variety of enterprise integrations is made available via the ServiceNow wiki.

From Discovery to Business Service Management

Discovered network configuration items and relationships are automatically mapped.

Users of the system can manually specify which technical items constitute a business service. For example the business service ‘Sales force Automation’ might be made up of two web service components. Once this linkage is made by the user ServiceNow Discovery associates all the component parts and relationships that underpin that business service.

The result is a bird’s eye view of the business service. Each component of the service is annotated with any current incidents, problems or changes that are pertinent to that service. Users can subscribe to a business service and receive a feed or updates on all the dependencies associated with that service

The arrangement of information and fields can be configured to suit user roles; so a technical analyst might see a different view of the world to an asset analyst, and each user can configure their own world view in terms of dashboards and portal settings.


It’s what you would build if you wanted to build a CMDB from scratch in the cloud. Key strengths are the versatility of the whole system; it’s ease of use and intuitiveness. I particularly liked the bird’s eye view of business services and associated assets and found the enterprise data Mashups to be very powerful.


This is a review of inventory tools not Software Asset Management tools, but the software recognition capabilities of ServiceNow Discovery was lacking compared to agentless competitors in this group test.

Although the primary goal is ITSM, as organizations mature and look to broaden the scope of ServiceNow to include basic License Management they will find this section of the solution to be labour intensive compared to competitors (For example for automating new software requests or building in license management steps into change management).

Specifically, ServiceNow uses add/remove programs for software identification, which is unreliable for license management. Users need the ability to translate installed files and technical data into recognizable product licensing terms.

This is perhaps an overly critical point of an otherwise compelling solution.

Product ServiceNow Discovery
Version June11
Methodology Agentless Discovery feeding a SaaS ITSM Platform
In a nutshell Enterprise-grade agentless discovery and relationship mapping for datacenters
  • 150 Using Discovery
  • 800 Total
  • Versatile
  • Ease of Use
  • Bird’s Eye View of Business Services

Enterprise Data Mashups

  • Application Recognition (Add/Remove Programs Only)




Primary Market Focus
  • Size: Large Enterprises, Global 2000
  • Use: Populating the CMDB for IT Service Management
  • Environment: Datacenter


Pricing Model Priced by physical server, minimum 500 servers (Virtual machines, desktops and other networks devices free). Prices start at US$5.50 per server per month with volume and term discounts available.

From the brochure:

“We know the configuration management database (CMDB) is only as useful as the accuracy of the data and relationships it manages. ServiceNow Discovery, with application dependency mapping, is agentless and is designed specifically to populate and maintain an accurate ServiceNow CMDB.

Built on the ServiceNow platform, Discovery takes the hassle (and the network impact) out of running this critical process. ServiceNow Discovery detects networked configuration items (CIs) and application dependency mapping determines relationships to help automate service model definition. This information is then used throughout all ServiceNow applications to automate closed-loop change verification, perform unauthorized change detection and impact analysis, and enable hardware and software asset management.

IT organizations need a lightweight discovery technology built on the same platform as the ITSM functionality it supports. Discovery is fully integrated with all ServiceNow applications to give you a good understanding of technology infrastructure and help you deliver excellent IT service. Legacy discovery tools can only be run outside of business hours to avoid a negative impact on network traffic, which really impedes the usefulness of discovery. With ServiceNow, you can run Discovery whenever you need it, without impacting your network performance.”