Ghost assets are scarier than you might think: Part 3

This post is part of a three-part series on ghost assets.

Ghost serversIn my last two posts, I told the frightening tale of ghost assets, the once lively pieces of an IT department’s infrastructure that eventually expired. Yet instead of burying these dead devices, many organizations leave them to haunt their IT departments, and they end up threatening a business’s bottom line and compliance. In the final portion of my tale, I’ll discuss how organizations can finally lay these ghosts to rest.

Exorcizing the specter
Tools are not the answer — they’re only an element of eliminating ghost assets. There is no such thing as a one-shot, out-of-the-box, perfect configuration and inventory management product, though many manufacturers claim to provide such a solution. These products are open-structured and highly configurable, but require tremendous time, effort, and expertise to set up and maintain. Many customers find that they can’t fully leverage the capability of these products without hiring a dozen or more subject matter experts or paying exorbitant rates for long-term, on-site consultants.

IT asset management (ITAM) should be thought of not as a tool, but as process — one that encompasses tools, personnel, expertise, and procedures. Here are some of the best ways to return ghost assets to their graves and eliminate the risks they pose.

1. Data is legion
Most ITAM projects start with the usual suspects: configuration management data and purchasing records. You won’t find ghost assets there because they exist in the twilight area outside of daily use systems. They’re identified by inference, as astronomers identify black holes by the effect they have on nearby stars.

Broaden the spectrum of data collection. Virtualization systems, scripting, agents, infrastructure systems, invoices, manufacturer records, licensing contracts, personnel records, and so on are all viable sources of data. The more robust the data, the more comprehensive the results. For example, if a delivery manifest from last year lists 200 servers, but system center configuration management only reports 165, some ghost hunting might be needed.

Involve the proper stakeholders, but do so with the understanding that insight can come from places you might not expect. IT administration, product custodians, project managers, procurement, accounting, human resources, facilities management, and shipping and receiving are all potential sources of information. For example, there might be a bill of lading from the loading dock for a truckload of recycled assets that haven’t been purged from your asset tracking configuration management database.

2. Iterate! Improve! Iterate! Improve!
It’s important to keep going — repeat this process over and over again. Each iteration will be more accurate, more automated, and more useful. The unreconciled, unreported, unmanaged, and unnoticed will be found. Ghosts will be put to rest. Over time, you’ll see ways to improve all aspects of lifecycle management. Also bear in mind small adjustments can make a big difference. Moving a couple of clusters that were misidentified as production to disaster recovery can profoundly affect your compliance position.

Walk toward the light
Building an ITAM program that is comprehensive enough to prevent assets from becoming ghosts takes time and expertise, but it is absolutely possible. Combining reliable, stable, and automated data collection methods with appropriate, enforced, and practical processes lets you be confident there are no poltergeists in your cloud, no banshees in your datacenters, and no phantasms in your storage closets.

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