What every IT pro should know about network inventory So you've been tasked with setting up a network inventory to better manage your network. If you're not a seasoned network admin or IT pro, this can be quite a daunting task. A quick search for "network inventory" leads you to many applications that will help you get an accurate inventory – some are free, some are expensive. So how can you tell what will work best for you?
What exactly is a "network inventory"? Simply put, a network inventory is a list of devices such as computers, routers, servers, and printers which are connected to your network. The amount of detail you collect on these assets will depend on what you're using to collect the inventory and if the collector has administrator access.
At the simplest level, a network inventory is a basic list of devices. However, as it gets more involved, it can evolve to contain detailed information about software installed, hotfixes applied, Windows events, serial numbers, and much more.
How can software inventory software help me manage network assets? If you're in the IT space, it's important to have an accurate network inventory. For instance, keeping track of what software is connected to your network can save you time, money, and bandwidth. A quality software inventory software will let you keep track of software licenses to make sure you're in compliance. Knowing who has what licenses can help with loss prevention.
Convenience plays a role as well: it can be annoying when an employee tells you it has a problem with software but does not provide any information. With a good network inventory in place, you can look and see what pesky software it installed and quickly address the issue.
So, how is a network inventory collected? There are two primary ways that network inventory collectors work: by scanning devices via scanning agent or via an agentless scanner.
Scanning agents need to be deployed on each computer on your network. When in place, these agents scan the computer and report back to a central database with the information they've collected.
On the plus side, scanning agents do not have to connect to a device to scan it, so you do not have to worry about firewalls and antivirus programs blocking the connection. All you need to do is make sure it's set at the correct admin level and can connect to the central installation.
On the down side, you'll have to install the agent on every computer in your network, and update them all when new versions are released.
Agentless scanners do not require anything to be installed on each device in your network as all the devices are scanned from a central installation. If your network is set up correctly and maintained properly, using an agentless scanner can be much easier.
Can a network inventory include multiple networks? If your company manages networks at multiple sites, you'll need to make sure you're able to get a reliable inventory snapshot for each site. This can be done in a variety of ways including using a simple agentless scanner over a VPN connection, or using remote scanners that will report back to a central installation. Scanning over a VPN can slow down your network traffic significantly, so if you like to run a scan during business hours, be sure to use a remote scanning solution.