Many organizations utilize discovery tools to help maintain their inventory of technology assets. Discovery tools providing visibility into what assets exist by dynamically collecting and storing details about hardware, software, and infrastructure systems. Some discovery tools even offer IT asset management capabilities, allowing for end-to-end tracking of assets once they have been identified.
Discovery tools collect asset information in two primary ways. The first approach leverages agents, which are installed on every computer to facilitate inventory collection. The second method does not use agents (“agent-less”), but instead gathers data via network-based asset discovery.
The “Pros” of Using Agents
There are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches. For example, the use of agents allows for the most precise and complete collection of inventory information. This is because certain data (such as a BIOS footprint) cannot be easily captured otherwise. Additionally, only agents can track laptops and other mobile devices when they are in the field, while the non-agent approach can only gather information from them when they are connected to the network.
Additionally, while the agent-based approach uses a very small footprint on each asset in order to detect it, tools that don’t use agents must constantly scan the entire network infrastructure to uncover any new systems, or any changes to existing ones. And, because non-agent discovery tools require probes to be installed in each network sub-net and remote locations, they can be cost-prohibitive, particularly for companies with multiple branches or offices. Agent-based discovery tools, on the other hand, can be rolled out quickly with far less infrastructure.
The “Cons” of the Agent Approach
Many will argue that there are some disadvantages to agent-based solutions. System administrators, who already struggle to oversee a wide array of software applications, will have yet another piece of software to install and manage. Users can easily remove the agents, making then undetectable. And, agents cannot be installed on certain network devices, like routers and switches. As a result, they will not be included in asset inventory logs unless related information is collected manually.