Discovery and SW Normalization-When is Normal NOT Normal?

By Kathy Bugajski

The Software Asset Management discipline has matured over the past 5 years. By now, most companies have implemented some form of asset discovery and tracking of their software licenses. Discovery is a wonderful thing. It automatically reports against your installed base of hardware assets and their corresponding software licenses. What could be easier…..

If you are like most companies, you have found that one discovery tool does not provide you with all of the details you require to manage your software licenses. The tool that discovers desktops may not discover servers. The tool that discovers Windows servers may not discover UNIX servers. And, most definitely, the tool that discovers your mainframe systems will not discover anything else. There may also be gaps in your tools’ abilities. One tool that is excellent at discovering hardware may not be the best when reporting against the software installed on these hardware assets.

So, if you have multiple discovery sources, you will need to identify the priority in which the individual fields will be fed into your repository. You may have a primary discovery mechanism for Windows-based systems, but in order to obtain deeper software details, you may use a more robust tool, such as one that feeds your UCMDB which has the capability of retrieving detailed database information, as well as virtual relationships, which have a direct effect on licensing. You may also be using the discovery agent inherent in your License Management tool, but again, does it effectively pull data from all of your computing sources?

Not every discovery tool is created equal. Each discovery vendor pulls details based upon the executables, add/remove programs or other embedded algorithms. What you end up with is multiple discovery records for the same products for the same machines, which don’t always look the same. Take for instance, Microsoft Office 2016 Professional Plus. One discovery record could retrieve the details as stated. Another may return the record as MS Office 2016 Pro Plus. There are several other variations on how the details for that software license are returned from discovery. What you end up with is three records for the same machine that are the same product, but are called different things. If you are the Software License Manager, it is your job to correctly identify the software that is entering your License Management tool, whatever that may be, and ensuring that you know you have 1 license for Microsoft Office 2016 Professional Plus.

Enter the process of Normalization. Normalization reviews all of these disparate license records and delivers an accurate, relevant picture of your installed base. This eliminates the manual, time-consuming activity of evaluating your discovery data and ensuring that the same product from different sources is identified as one product name. Normalization tools also provide bundling of software to identify suites and eliminate duplicate records based upon installation rules.

This way, you have an immediate, accurate picture of installations that you can use to compare against your entitlements to complete your compliance position.

As I said at the beginning of this article, what could be easier….. Product Normalization is a timesaving process that ensures continuity across your license landscape. There are, however, a few pitfalls that you need to be aware of. When is Normal not Normal, when it is TOO Normal. What I mean by that is that a particular installation has been normalized so that it is difficult to decipher what the original name was. For example, the normalized name may be AGENT. Well, you may be able to determine what AGENT this is by looking at the vendor name. Then again, one vendor may have several installations that have been normalized to AGENT. At which point, you may be scratching your head trying to determine what that actually is. One way to use your normalized data to its full potential, but to also be able to circumvent over normalization, is to always keep the discovered name in your license repository as a sanity check.

As with any technology, there are pros and cons. With discovery and normalization, the pros definitely outweigh the cons. Being able to discover software installations provides input into your compliance calculation of entitlements vs. installations, vs. utilization. Normalizing your data eliminates the high overhead of manually categorizing your discovered licenses and provides a streamlined, accurate inventory of your installed base.

About the Author

Kathy Bugajski is Vice President, Software Contracts Manager for BNY Mellon.