SAM and Core IO: A Dynamic Duo

Are you a bit fat in software and hardware assets? It's time to reassess your IT resources and Microsoft's Core IO can help streamline that process.

Today's business executives increasingly understand the critical role that technology plays in their companies. That growing awareness turns an ever-brighter spotlight on the people who are responsible for making sure their organizations' IT infrastructures support and align with business needs.

To help IT executives with that job, Microsoft recently introduced the Microsoft Core Infrastructure Optimization (Core IO) model, which can be used to benchmark an organization's current IT infrastructure and help create a more-secure and better-managed environment. Core IO's primary objectives are to rationalize and reduce IT costs, reallocate underutilized IT resources and streamline IT business processes.

Given those objectives, Core IO can provide a valuable framework for discussions that Microsoft partners can have with customers.

An essential component of-and, one might argue, a prerequisite for-Core IO is software asset management (SAM), an integrated set of policies, processes, people and tools dedicated to discovery and management of an organization's software holdings.

Knowing what software and hardware are deployed in your environment is necessary before you can begin optimizing them. SAM helps provide that visibility. For instance, an organization might use SAM to determine the degree of hardware and software standardization, readiness to perform upgrades and migrations, the state of business-continuity planning and the IT infrastructure's ability to support optimal service support and delivery.

Accepted SAM maturity frameworks share some common elements with Microsoft's Core IO model. These include the level of automation-as opposed to ad hoc processes-centralization of resources, standardization and transparency. Ultimately, these characteristics reflect the level of control that the organization has over its IT environment and the degree to which its IT services align with business strategies.

Most SAM frameworks categorize an organization's SAM practices on a spectrum ranging from completely unmanaged and reactive processes to proactive, forward-looking management. An organization that's at a low SAM maturity level manages software purchasing on an ad hoc basis, tracking purchases and entitlements manually (or not at all). At higher maturity levels, active management of SAM practices includes centralized purchasing and license record-keeping.

Similarly, the Microsoft Core IO model segments a company's status into four levels, from Basic ("We fight fires"), to Standardized ("We're gaining control"), to Rationalized ("We enable business") to Dynamic ("We're a strategic asset"). At the Basic level, an organization views IT as a cost center and manages it in an uncoordinated, manual way-and, in terms of SAM, has loose control over IT assets. On the other end of the spectrum, a Dynamic-level company views the infrastructure as a strategic asset that's fully automated and has dynamic-resource allocation-and, in relation to SAM, has IT assets that are fully aligned with business needs.

The similarities between the two models are no coincidence. The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) defines SAM as "all of the infrastructure and processes necessary for the effective management, control and protection of the software assets within an organization, throughout all stages of their lifecycle."

Likewise, Microsoft defines two of Core IO's pillars as "desktop, device and server management" and "security and networking," both of which have SAM elements. Having the right SAM processes, therefore, becomes a prerequisite to IO-and complements and supports a Core IO assessment. Ultimately, an organization that obtains a high level of Core IO will have included SAM optimization as part of that effort.

Finally, an effective SAM program can also help organizations realize larger infrastructure-optimization goals, such as standardizing desktop operating systems or ensuring that desktops have anti-virus software installed.

The pressure that IT executives face to do more with less will only continue to grow. IO offers great promise for helping them meet this challenge, and SAM can play a vital role in ensuring such efforts' success.

About the Author

David Yashar is managing consultant for Woburn, Mass.-based consulting firm Soft-Aid, a Gold Certified Partner specializing in IT and software asset management.

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