mark.lillywhite

SNOW agent vs SCCM Agent for SAM data gathering

Blog Post created by mark.lillywhite Employee on Feb 20, 2018

SCCM Data - a good start:

Using the SCCM agent as an inventory source has merit, since the data it has gathered can be imported into Snow very quickly to gain visibility of much of the deployed, licensed software and hardware in the estate.

To accelerate SCCM and Snow working together, Snow has developed an automated import system that uses a pre-defined schedule to collect the source data from SCCM, which is then automatically processed through the Software Recognition Service (SRS) with no need for manual intervention. Snows Software Recognition service cleanses the millions of executables into a straightforward list of software titles, and whether they require a license or not.

There are advantages to this approach:

  1. Getting a ‘quick and dirty’ view on deployed software in the estate is sometimes necessary, especially if deadlines are tight. It is possible to get a snapshot of deployed licensed software within 24 hours (assuming the SCCM agents are comprehensively deployed and functioning). This then gives the benefit of Snows’ Software Recognition Service, and its easy to use Reporting, to gain visibility.
  2. The change control process in the datacentre to add the snow agent can often take weeks – and if SCCM is already deployed, a feed from SCCM is far better than no data at all.
  3. Because the SCCM agent provides the data, there is no need to deploy a further agent – useful if other teams (or outsouced teams) outside the control of the SAM sponsor need to be engaged.

However there are also problems. The main issues with SCCM data are:

 

Detailed Usage Information:

Whilst it is possible to configure SCCM to track windows application usage, it has to be configured by an SCCM admin for individual applications, with expert technical knowledge of what executable is relevant for what application. In practise this introduces a large administrative overhead on the SCCM team, meaning it is seldom kept up to date. Also SCCM metering for MACs does not exist.

Correct identification of Suites

The Snow agent uses proprietary techniques to correctly identify certain suites, bundles and editions of software. In particular SQL Editions, Quest products (e.g. Toad), Adobe and Autodesk products all have basic or incorrect identification if the primary inventory source is SCCM. Snow is able to accurately identify these products, as well as ISO 19770-2 software tags (as used by Adobe, Symantec and certain other vendors), to produce the most accurate inventory available.

Remote Desktop (Citrix) and VDI recognition

When software is accessed via Remote Desktop Services (or similar technologies like Terminal Services or Citrix) it causes different licensing rules to apply. The SCCM agent is simply unable to identify which users, and from which devices a remote application was accessed from. This means no secondary use rights can be assigned and indeed the calculated position will be grossly overestimated or underestimated – meaning significant financial risk or overspend.

Operating Systems other than Windows

Whilst SCCM 2012 now has MAC & LINUX agents, they are rarely deployed, and provide extremely limited information. In addition, there is NO UNIX or Thin Client information (essential for compliance around ORACLE, Citrix (or Remote Desktop Services) and VDI.

SAAS and Web Application Tracking

Many applications are web based (e.g. Salesforce, ServiceNow) that require tracking for compliance or optimisation purposes – even Sharepoint comes with different CAL’s (Enterprise and Standard) driving a need to understand which Sharepoint Servers are servicing users with the wrong CAL. SCCM is unable to track this, whilst the Snow agent uses its constantly updated Software recognition service to define and report on the top 500 SAAS applications.

 

SCCM agent performance

The SCCM agent in standard configuration consumes a reasonable amount of bandwidth. When configured for full Software Scans, it can severely impact the device being scanned for several minutes, and generate upwards of 800 Kb of data. Across a large estate, with a weekly scan this can be a worrying burden – most SCCM implementation’s therefore do not use the software scan and instead rely on the hardware scan (which contains add/remove program information). Contrast this to the Snow agent which uses proprietary techniques to scan a desktop or server in around 30 seconds, producing around 50Kb of data. The Snow agent and the SCCM agent together will consume less resources then the SCCM agent alone configured for Software Scans.

 

App-V, ThinApp, App-J recognition

App-V is commonly deployed to both physical desktops, as well as virtual desktops & published desktops. SCCM cannot identify which users have accessed App-V based applications in a virtual environment, meaning an all or nothing approach must be adopted when performing license calculations. The Snow agent has specifically had technology added to identify both what a user accesses, as well as the app-v packages that user has access to.

 

Conclusion

SCCM as an inventory source is basic, but readily available. It can be used together with the Software Recognition Service for a quick view of most deployed, licensed software on the desktop estate. There will be gaps (e.g. certain suites) but being able to see something quickly may outweigh other considerations.

 When using SCCM to Supply Server information, there are more severe limitations, especially when a virtualised Server estate is in question, but again something is better than nothing.

 Remotely accessed Applications, Mobile Device Software and comprehensive & complete usage information is simply not possible with SCCM.

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