IT Survival: Asset Management and Disaster Recovery

Monday May 17th 2004 by Mike Houghton
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Mike Houghton explores how proper asset management and a comprehensive disaster preparedness plan can save administrators time, money and their sanity.

The broad arena of enterprise network management can be overwhelming, particularly if you're the new hire in a large organization's IT department. All too often "the newbie" will fail to focus on the time saving (and potentially job saving) aspects of the job such as Asset Management and Disaster Recovery.

With today's growing need for patch management, antivirus signature updates, license compliance, usage tracking, and a host of other responsibilities, an enterprise network management solution is not only a useful tool but also a necessity. If you're new to this, then you will want to be as realistic and upfront about the true scope and cost of these essential tools when pitching a potential solution to senior management. Let's take a closer look at both Asset Management and Disaster Recovery.

Asset Management

Time and again large businesses allow the tracking of their IT licensing and asset serial numbers to get out of control. This is a crucial topic when it comes to licensing true-ups, warranty tracking and asset location. Management and control of these can be a daunting task. In today's world, asset management is not only a tool for the IT department but also an essential tracking device for accounting and other departments with a say in how money is spent and invested. Think about how great it would be to know the exact number of copies of any given application installed across your network, at any given time, along with version information.

There are also management tools that include the ability to update, configure and monitor your network communications devices including routers, switches, servers and all kinds of LAN/WAN devices. In fact, many tool sets include support for handheld devices, like PDA's, Scanners and printers and in some cases, WLAN AP's.

Properly implementing a quality asset management tool can save a company a lot of time and money in a number of situations. The ability to audit, track and monitor software usage are all functions available with specific management tool sets.

Patching remote clients in an enterprise environment by sending CD's via snail mail is simply not an option. If you are just starting in a situation where at least some of the processes to handle these issues are not in place, then you'll want to consider a tool specifically engineered for this task.

Depending on your specific environment, you will want to consider such applications as Microsoft's Software Update Services (SUS), Windows Update service, and SMS for MS-based environments. There are also a multitude of choices for MS and non-MS platforms including Altiris, Marimba, PS'SOFT, Computer Associates, manageStar, Intuit, Remedy and others.

But don't be fooled by the sales pitch of the asset management software vendor. In order to enjoy the full functionality of these tool sets, you will need to implement them early in the planning stages of the network infrastructure. Also, many of these tools require a software client of some form to be installed on each machine to be managed.

You can request for onsite demonstrations and evaluation software from these vendors in order to get a good understanding of the various applications' pros and cons as they apply to your particular business.

Once you have a grasp on your assets, as it were, then you can begin looking into a solution to keep it all up and running should some sort of disaster strike your organization. This is where a contingency plan comes in. Or as we refer to it in corporate America, "Disaster Recovery".

Page 2: Disaster Recovery Planning

Disaster Recovery Planning

Yikes! CEO's and VP's cringe at the thought of this expensive yet virtually required endeavor. However, anyone with any sense of self-survival and experience will tell you to make a plan for some sort of off-site backup.

Taking this subject seriously can literally save an entire organization in the event of any number of disasters. This is why I stress that it's a "required" process for Network Administrators to understand and appreciate.

Fires, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, or any number of disasters could happen anywhere and anytime. Disasters don't just happen to other businesses, they can happen to yours too!

Large organizations have a responsibility to plan and prepare for this possibility. If your department has not already taken the time to explore this, then this could be a great opportunity for you to develop and propose just such a plan. You should get the ball rolling and remember that a disaster does not have to turn into a crisis.

Consider your strategy thoroughly and remember that this is not strictly an IT endeavor. There will need to be an interdepartmental, cross-organizational plan put into place. Often this will require coordination between a host of internal and external departments in order to actually relocate an entire operation in a day or two.

Rest assured, it can and has been done by very large organizations in the past simply because they had a tested and established Damage Recovery Process (DRP) in place. Research and training is the key to perfecting any effective DRP.

In the event of a catastrophe, most likely, the IT department will not only be responsible for getting the entire enterprise communications back bone back up and running, but they will also need to reconnect the remainder of the network infrastructure including email-services, web-hosting, data-storage, call center telephone systems and possibly a host of other resources essential to a functioning business.

Some points to consider, your DR plan should be robust without being exorbitant. From a business perspective, not all of your data is worth protecting. You will need to measure the risk of losing it all against the cost of recovering or recreating it. Given the costs associated with information recovery compared to the costs of disaster preparation, being prepared will typically far outweigh the expense of recovering.

You'll want to consider this topic seriously and perhaps look into a third party, off-site solution. You should consider a support company like Sungard and All Covered or IBM's Business Continuity and Recovery Service. These are all excellent solutions that offer a broad selection of offsite and fallback centers. You can also research other providers at Information-Providers.com.

In summary, whichever way you choose to approach these issues, you should provide for flexibility in design for future considerations. So whether you're just starting as a Network Administrator for a large company, considering moving to a new one, or are comfortable in your current employment, you owe it to yourself and your company to familiarize yourself with these topics.

Asset Management and Disaster Recovery are here to stay. It's your job to make sure that the same can be said about your network.

Online Resources

Network Related Q&A Forum
http://forums.enterpriseitplanet.com

WLAN related Discussion
http://forums.wi-fiplanet.com

Support Planning
http://www.backthruthefuture.com
http://www.unisys.com/index.htm
http://www.wipro.com
http://www.ihssupportsolutions.com

Asset Management Options
http://www.altiris.com/home_nf.asp
http://www.marimba.com
http://www.pssoft.com/us/index.php
http://www.managestar.com
http://www.itsolutions.intuit.com/default.asp
http://www.remedy.com/solutions/servicemgmt/asset.htm?citrusgogle=AssetMgmt

Disaster Recovery Related Discussion
http://www.disasterrecoveryforum.com

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