The number of connected devices worldwide is growing exponentially. By 2025 the average person will have an estimated 9.27 connected devices, a steep increase from 1.84 in 2010. The global tally is poised to almost double by 2028, skyrocketing to an astonishing 45 billion devices.
For businesses, keeping track of an ever-expanding and increasingly complex network of assets (both digital and non-digital) poses a major challenge.
This challenge is further compounded by the threat of cyberattacks, data privacy regulations, and the proliferation of shadow IT. To manage this complexity and avoid potential pitfalls, organizations must have visibility of all assets within their environment.
Investing in an appropriate asset discovery tool provides businesses with this much-needed visibility and forms the foundation on which IT asset management (ITAM) is built
This article will take a closer look at IT asset discovery, its benefits, and important considerations for businesses looking to introduce an asset discovery solution.
What is IT asset discovery?
Put simply, asset discovery is a term that is used to describe the process by which organizations catalogue IT assets and monitor them on a regular basis.
IT assets include both hardware and software. With advances in technology, new varieties of IT assets are being created. Examples of contemporary assets include those in the cloud, virtual servers, and mobile devices.
By creating a complete and up-to-date picture of an organization’s technology landscape, asset discovery helps businesses make informed decisions and recognize potential hazards.
There are two main IT asset discovery tools used to identify assets on a network: active asset discovery tools and passive asset discovery tools.
Active asset discovery tools
Active asset discovery tools scan all assets, both active and inactive, on an organization’s network. By pinging or querying assets, active discovery tools collect information about the presence, status, and configuration of assets. This information provides businesses with an immediate and detailed overview of each asset.
The trade-off for detail and speed is greater cost and a required level of technical expertise to operate. Moreover, during a scan, the contact attempts broadcasted to devices can slow down the network. A slow or interrupted network can negatively impact day-to-day business operations.
Active asset discovery excels in instances where real-time and detailed data is required. For instance, a business wishing to monitor device updates to ensure security and compliance.
Passive asset discovery tools
Unlike active asset discovery, passive asset discovery does not query or engage with assets. Instead, it relies on monitoring network traffic, analysing logs, and collecting data from other sources to identify assets. Because it is not actively engaging with assets, a major advantage of passive asset discovery is that it does not cause network disruptions.
Passive asset discovery is also cheaper and requires less technical know-how. However, results are less comprehensive than those produced by active discovery. For example, passive asset discovery can only identify assets that are generating activity at the time of discovery – Inactive or silent assets will not be identified.
Passive tools offer a non-intrusive approach and are helpful in scenarios such as monitoring network traffic in search of unmanaged devices without causing extra traffic.
Which asset discovery tool is better?
Since both tools are useful in different instances, the best approach is often for businesses to use both active and passive asset discovery.
Most comprehensive IT asset discovery tools on the market include both active and passive discovery. This helps businesses achieve the most accurate overview of the assets on their network.
What are the benefits of IT asset discovery?
Nowadays, businesses deal with the constant threat of bad actors attempting to compromise exposed or vulnerable Internet-facing assets.
Thankfully, asset discovery enables security teams to identify vulnerable IT assets and take a preventive approach. For example, asset discovery can be used to identify outdated software, which, when left unchecked, leaves businesses open to a variety of hacks.
IT asset discovery tools are also effective in detecting shadow IT. Shadow IT refers to a growing number of connected assets, both hardware and software, that employees are using without the approval of IT teams.
Shadow IT often exists in the form of unauthorized SaaS applications. For example, an employee might decide to use Dropbox for file-sharing purposes despite this not being an approved application. While potentially offering short-term efficiency gains for employees, the use of shadow IT creates new and unmonitored security gaps.
Using IT asset discovery tools, organizations can systematically uncover Shadow IT blind spots and reduce the risk of a data breach.
IT asset discovery gives organizations information on whether devices and systems are being used in alignment with internal policies, vendor terms and conditions, and applicable regulations. Remaining compliant helps organizations avoid unwanted fines and legal headaches.
Data is also an asset, and many organizations store user data that is protected by various privacy regulations. Failing to discover all the sensitive data captured can lead to non-compliance and the risk of certain penalties. Again, asset discovery can assist by uncovering sensitive data, ensuring that it is managed in line with regulations.
When organizations don’t have a clear overview of their IT assets it can lead to unnecessary expenditure. A simple example could be a business that purchases a new laptop for a recent starter while a perfectly usable device sits unaccounted for in storage.
Having an overview of the assets within an organisation can help reduce costs by ensuring that unnecessary purchases don’t occur simply because there is an absence of up-to-date asset data.
Asset discovery also reduces costs by identifying underutilized assets which can be flagged for potential removal.
Visualization of network assets
Using the data collected by IT asset discovery tools, organizations can map out each of their assets to gain complete visibility of their IT estate.
Building this map helps businesses keep track of the equipment and applications moving in and out of their network. It also facilitates decision-making around inventory management. For example, IT teams can easily identify that a certain fleet of assets will need to be replaced after a certain date and based on this foresight make necessary arrangements.
Data for reporting and analysis
As mentioned, asset discovery picks up information about assets on a business’s network. This data comes in handy when businesses want to run an audit of their network or when planning an upgrade of their IT infrastructure.
What to consider when looking for an IT asset discovery tool
Can the solution discover all your assets?
A key factor in choosing a suitable asset discovery tool is whether it is capable of scanning and identifying all assets across an organization’s entire network, including both physical and virtual environments. Businesses should avoid tools that are unable to comprehensively discover the asset types that exist in their domain. For instance, environments deploying modern technologies, such as cloud-based virtual assets, require a tool equipped to discover these asset types.
What will the performance impact be?
It is important to consider the impact of an asset discovery tool on an organization’s network. Active asset discovery can place a significant burden on the network, particularly when scanning extensive networks that house thousands of devices. This can result in network congestion, sluggish performance, and even downtime.
Ideally, asset discovery should be efficient and have a minimal impact on day-to-day business operations. Some active discovery tools offer the flexibility of scheduling scans, which can be a helpful resolution for certain business types. However, an active discovery tool is not a good option for time-sensitive networks, such as an industrial control system.
Does the tool work well with your other applications?
Another important consideration is whether the asset discovery tool is compatible with your existing IT infrastructure, including servers, network devices, and software applications. Compatibility facilitates smooth integration and prevents potential conflicts with other pre-existing security or management tools.
Businesses are grappling with an increasingly complex and hazardous digital landscape. Investing in a robust IT asset discovery tool is imperative for informed decision-making, enhanced security, compliance management, cost optimization, and efficient resource management.
Businesses looking to introduce an IT asset discovery tool should prioritize the capability to cover all assets in their environment. Minimizing network impact and ensuring compatibility with existing infrastructure are other important considerations.
Is your business vulnerable to shadow IT risks?
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