Computing Edge Solves Inventory Problems

There are a lot of software programs that can ease or eliminate many of the common hassles associated with taking inventory in enterprise IT environments. Many users rely on Microsoft Corp.’s (www.microsoft.com) Systems Management Server (SMS) or one of the more powerful systems management frameworks from Hewlett-Packard Co. (www.hp.com), Computer Associates International Inc. (www.cai.com), and Tivoli Systems Inc. (www.tivoli.com).

There also are a number of point products available for Windows NT/2000 that provide powerful inventory management capabilities. One product, Inventory +Solution 2.1 from Computing Edge Corp., boasts a provocative claim. Computing Edge says the product has a "Zero Footprint" install method: No software must be installed on the client machine.

Installing It Somewhere

Of course Inventory must still be installed; specifically alongside Computing Edge’s Notification Server. The server provides an overall framework for the management tasks associated with the solution. But for Notification Server to function, a database has to be somewhere in your environment. Notification Server supports either SQL Server or the Microsoft Database Engine. For this review, we chose to download and install the Microsoft Database Engine in lieu of SQL Server.

We installed Inventory on a Windows 2000 Advanced Server test machine. The Inventory installation -- which was preceded by the installation of Computing Edge’s Notification Server -- went off without a hitch. A handy wizard provides the ins and outs of installing both Notification Server and Inventory. In the case of Notification Server, there’s a helpful software compatibility tool that lets you know what you will and what you won’t need to install to support either application.

Using It

Inventory will run on any combination of Windows 9x, Windows NT, or Windows 2000 clients. We chose to exploit it to inventory two Windows 2000 Professional and one Windows NT 4.0 Workstation clients.

Inventory can be used with SMS and is said to feature tight interoperability with Microsoft’s client/server systems management framework in this regard. We didn’t have SMS deployed, so we didn’t have an opportunity to test Inventory’s integration with it. We did, however, note that deploying Inventory in conjunction with SMS appeared to be a relatively pain-free task: We only had to select the Win32 Inventory Policy from the Notification Server’s console and make sure that we had its Forward Inventory Data to SMS check-box selected.

Inventory can create inventory reports that provide information relevant to PC serial numbers and BIOS details; software auditing; disk, operating system, and registry settings; and end user information with corresponding Microsoft Exchange profiles.

Inventory is composed of three separate programs: ceinvsoln, which controls the execution of each of Inventory’s other programs based on a configuration file; censinvcollector, which can post inventory data to the Notification Server by means of either a file or by way of HTTP; and a set of tools -- snplus, auditpls, exchpls, cesysinv, diskinv -- that generate XML formatted NSI files containing data about whatever system was scanned.

Inventory is simple to use: To collect inventory information about a machine, you have only to run ceinvsoln on it from a command prompt. This can be done over the network from the Notification Server or from the client workstation itself. Each of the programs that run as part of Inventory have several command line parameters that can extend their functionality, and ceinvsoln is no different.

Among other tasks, we were able to use ceinvsoln’s command-line parameters to perform a so-called "Zero Footprint" inventory, in which the NSI files that Inventory creates when it runs are wiped from the client machine after the inventory scan is complete. You can also send users ceinvsoln via e-mail or provide a link to a Web site where it can be accessed. 

Inventory is billed as a Zero Footprint product because it doesn’t require any software installed on client computers to take inventory of them. This isn’t necessarily true, as we found out. If you want to take inventory of a client computer by means of a floppy disk-based method -- which involves physically visiting the workstation to be inventoried with two floppy disks in hand -- then the Zero Footprint claim is valid; if you want to do inventory from a network share, from a URL, or from an e-mail attachment, client computers have to have some key files residing locally. 

An inventory program would be nothing without its reporting functionality, and Inventory didn’t disappoint us in this respect. The Notification Server underpinnings can publish directly to the Web, creating several intuitive and attractive reports that provided us with information relevant to each of the information groups that we chose to collect information about. 

Conclusions

Unfortunately we couldn’t stress Inventory as much as it probably should have been stressed. We used it to inventory three client workstations, and it provided us with the level of detail that we expected about all three. But given its reliance on a relational data store and its Notification Server underpinnings, it’s probably more than adequate for large IT environments with thousands of client workstations. 

Our experience with Inventory was generally positive. It provided us with all of the information that we asked of it within the context of easily accessible reports. Its Web-based reports, in particular, were a pleasure to read, simple to drill down into, and comprehensive in scope. For a program as simple as it is to use, Inventory is surprisingly powerful and scalable.

Inventory +Solutions 2.1
Computing Edge Corp., Salt Lake City
(800) 585-7002
www.computingedge.com

Pricing: Pricing is based on the number of clients. Cost for a single client is $18.95; for 100 clients the per-client cost is $16.86; for 1,000 it's $11.69; for 5,000 it's $9.19; and for 10,000 client it's $7.95. The Notification Server and Inventory +Solution are currently free, but beginning Oct. 1 Computing Edge will charge $695 for the Notification Server.

Pros/Cons:

+ Can inventory network-attached systems and systems not physically attached to the network

+ Publishes reports directly to the Web for easy access from any Web browser

+ Can integrate with Microsoft Corp.'s Systems Management Server product

- Is not a standalone solution and must be used with Computing Edge's Notification Server product