Beware! You Could be Throwing Money Away: Page 2

Out shopping for new software? Hold on to your wallet! You'd be surprised how often IT administrators buy software that they already own but they just don't know it. Our Datamation reporter helps you save more than a few pennies.
Posted April 30, 2004

Drew Robb

Drew Robb

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Tackling Servers and Mainframes

The reasons that enterprises wind up with too much software on the desktop also apply to the data center. But unique problems plague the server and mainframe level.

Personnel changes are a big part of the problem. With some specialized tools, there are only one or two people in the organization who can use a particular piece of software. Sometimes, this software may only be used occasionally, such as when modeling changes to the network or migrating to a new operating system. If those users get assigned new duties or leave the company, others may not even know that software exists, so they buy something new the next time that issue arises.

Another issue surrounds custom Software. A company may have extensive custom software that was developed in house or by a contractor. These modules often can be reused in other applications, but instead the software gets rewritten since there is no record of what these elements are.

And then there's the problem of dealing with unknown features.

Enterprise management software is incredibly complex and the feature sets keep changing all the time. IBM, for example, provides over 150 different courses to train admininstrators on how to use different parts of Tivoli. If you are a Tivoli shop, it is not unlikely that the software contains features that no one in your IT department knows about. It gets worse if other departments can purchase their own software.

''The finance group might decide it needs to do a software inventory in order to reconcile their purchase records with what is installed,'' says Friedlander. ''They might be unaware that they can get the data from Computer Associates' Unicenter or Microsoft's SMS and so the go out and buy an inventory tool.''

Plan Before Buying

Someday you may be able to look at a centralized library of software features and see if you already have the functions you're looking for before buying something new.

Reading the features listed on all the software boxes sitting on the shelf, or scanning through a directory listing of all the applications loaded on the network won't necessarily answer the question of what features you have available. But there are a few steps one can take.

First off, create a complete inventory of all the software you have. Don't just list what is deployed in the production environment, but all the tools that developers and programmers might have loaded on their own workstations.

Secondly, have one set of people to evaluate software and keep records who are familiar from a tech standpoint with the products they have installed, advises Friedlander.

Also remember to talk with your vendor. Companies are constantly adding new features to their existing software. With a quick call or e-mail, you may find that you just need to download a new module for your existing software. Even if you wind up having to pay for an upgrade, it can still be cheaper than having to buy a new tool.

And don't forget to check Open Source. If you are looking at a tool to solve one particular problem that your existing software doesn't address, there is a good chance someone has a freeware tool to address it. Visit sourceforge.net or other open source sites and see if they have something that meets your needs.

You also need to check tech support sites. Not everything makes it into the product brochure or owners manual. By checking Microsoft's TechNet or Developer Network (MSDN), or similar sites from other vendors, you may find hidden features or downloads that will do what you are looking for.

Metadata Repositories is another thing to check. For custom-built software, using a tool like Flashline, Inc's Flashline 4 lets you identify the characteristics of software modules so they can be reused for other projects.

You also can post a question to a newsgroup and see if anyone else knows about the feature in question.

Of course, following these steps won't eliminate all your software purchases. Sometimes it is easier to just buy something you know will do the trick rather than spending a lot of time researching the issue. But before buying anything major, check what you already have in house, and you may be able to save a good chunk of the budget.

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