Software Asset Management (SAM) is a set of business processes that are designed to maintain license compliance and spending efficiency regarding an organization’s software licenses. Buying a SAM tool to help gain visibility into your software licensing seems like a no-brainer, but not all SAM tools are created equally.

SAM done right can provide significant benefits to an organization, including:

  • Cost Reduction or Expense Elimination: a potential 30% savings could be found in any software environment that hasn’t implemented SAM in the past.
  • Reduced Risk: Software vendors use software audits as a source of revenue due to the fact that often in the event of an audit, companies have no way to defend themselves against the (inaccurately high) claims of the auditors.
  • Cost Optimization: SAM empowers your company to only purchase what you need and allows you to get the most out of what you purchase.

If you have decided that your company would like to implement SAM, then your next logical step would be purchasing a SAM tool. The reasoning behind this is simple: modern software architecture is quite complicated. For mid-sized to large businesses, counting your licenses manually using nothing but a spreadsheet would produce enough data to drive anyone mad. To implement true software asset management, you need to purchase a SAM tool. At MetrixData 360, we have been working in the SAM tool industry for many years now and we pride ourselves in our high customer satisfaction rate.

To ensure you have a good experience, it’s important you don’t rush into this purchasing decision. In this buyer’s guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about SAM tools: what they are, where they often fall short, and how they fit into your greater plan with SAM.

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What Are SAM Tools?

SAM tools are applications that are meant to aid and assist the management and organization of your software assets. SAM tools are divided into two categories: agent and agentless, both of which come with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Agentless SAM Tools

By far the more popular option of the two, agentless monitoring relies on protocols to relay information back to a central monitoring software. Software and hardware manufacturers have built features into their products which will allow the software or hardware to relay information about itself if prompted.

Agentless monitoring simply embeds itself within the software or hardware to tap into this relay of information in order to read their operational parameters before sending it back to the central monitoring software. So, it’s technically not agentless but simply tapping into a communication network that was already there within the product.

Pros of Agentless SAM Tools

  • Deployment and installation are easier and faster, since there is less software to install compared to agent-based monitoring. With agentless tools you only need to install the central system.
  • Monitoring is always done the same regardless of the system it is monitoring.
  • Licensing and hardware expenses are low compared to agent-based tools.
  • Maintenance and updates are often easier and cheaper.
  • Only requires basic knowledge of graphs, monitoring, and analysis to use.

Cons of Agentless SAM Tools

  • Limitations in what can be monitored, some elements of your environment simply can’t be remotely monitored. Due to this limitation, monitoring is less expansive, and the analysis is restricted.
  • Monitoring protocols sometimes are lacking in security measures.
  • Requires additional network traffic for when the raw performance data is sent to the remote data collector.

Agent-Based SAM Tools

Comparatively, agent-based monitoring gives you the opportunity to collect and analyze more data from your infrastructure using agents that run on the monitored system. The agents are pieces of software that are installed to collect operational data and they will send it back to one central system. Since vendors of agent-based tools often provide their tool when you host on their platform, the increased breadth of data is expected.

Pros of Agent-Based SAM Tools

  • Flexibility for developers to define the information that is passed between the monitoring tool and the system it is monitoring.
  • Adding new devices onto the tool is very easy and doesn’t require updating the tool. You simply need to install the agent onto the new device.
  • Often provide much more detailed information compared to the agentless tool.
  • Collection of parameters are done by the agent, making it easier and simpler to use.
  • Often comes with profiling features and in-depth analysis.

Cons of Agent-Based SAM Tools

  • Monitoring limitations.
  • If your SAM tool vendor also provides you a Cloud platform, it will be difficult to ever switch platforms since it will mean losing your SAM tool.
  • Often hardware expenses and licensing expenses are higher compared to its agentless counterpart.
  • The agents that are running are added to your CPU, memory and disk space on the monitored systems, which could then in-turn affect performance.
  • You will need to install both the central system in addition to the installation of all the agents on each server.
  • Maintenance will often prove to be labor intensive, especially if the deployment process is not automated.
  • Not every system will allow the installation of the agents.
  • Often requires a level of skill to harness the full potential of all the features.

How SAM Tools Fit in with a Good SAM Maturity Strategy

Every SAM strategy needs a good SAM tool to back it up. However, reaching that peak performance of software asset management — where you are completely compliant, cutting costs and gaining complete visibility into your software licensing environment — isn’t something that you gain as soon as your SAM tool is up and running.

The 5 Stages of SAM Maturity

There are actually five stages of SAM Maturity:

  1. Chaos:
  2. Symptoms: Your software environment is a mess, you have no visibility, no SAM tool installed, and every software audit is simply a matter of putting out fires.
    Goals: Simply gain visibility and get a picture of what you have.

  3. Reactive:
  4. Symptoms: You have one or multiple SAM tools, and you are starting to gain visibility into what you have. Audits are still a matter of damage control as your company is only reacting to findings.
    Goals: Use the data the SAM tool has provided you to hunt down licensing issues and gain compliance.

  5. Compliance Plus:
  6. Symptoms: You’ve reached compliance; your software environment is neat and tidy, and you have full visibility and the ability to effectively defend yourself in an audit.
    Goals: You can now start actively looking for savings opportunities in your software environment. *
    *You need to ensure compliance before you start hunting for savings since attempting to reduce your licenses and cut costs can often incite an audit from software vendors.

  7. Optimize:
  8. Symptoms: All your licenses are in order and are cost-effective without reducing value. Software audits are no big deal because you have full visibility into your licensing environment and any compliance issues are dealt with as they arise.
    Goals: Solidify your hard work to make sure this SAM strategy outlasts you.

  9. Amplify Value:
  10. Symptoms: Not only is your SAM strategy proving effective and useful to your company but now this strategy will continue in the company’s best practices. Savings should begin to accumulate at this stage.
    Goals: Pick where you want your software environments to grow based on your company’s unique business needs.

As you can see, purchasing your SAM tool is only a single step in your journey to SAM maturity, and it won’t take you straight to the later stages immediately. Now, your company doesn’t have to reach all of these stages, it may only be in your interests to reach the mid-level stages and that’s completely fine. This whole process from beginning to end represents roughly a year of effort from your SAM team.

How Do SAM Tools Work in the Cloud?

Everyone is heading into the Cloud, and for good reason, as it provides its users with flexibility and a pricing metric that is often comparatively cheaper than their on-prem counterparts.

One of the main appeals the cloud offers is the ability to use a pay-as-you-go model of payment, where you only pay month-to-month and only for what you need.

Surely this means that software asset management is no longer needed, since the confusing licensing part of it is handled by your provider and you can sleep easy at night, right? What companies often don’t realize is that SAM is now more important than ever, especially when it comes to the Cloud.

What Makes SAM so Essential?

  • Migrating to the cloud is often an expensive process as licenses are transferred, replaced with their Cloud equivalent, or purchased for the first time. We have seen many companies halt their Cloud migration or replace their original full migration with a hybrid solution simply because of unforeseen expenses.
  • Shadow IT becomes a huge risk in a Cloud environment. In the old, on-prem days, purchasing licenses often required negotiating contracts, an activity which would require weeks. Now, it’s easier than ever for a customer to purchase licenses, all they need is a credit card, an account, and an afternoon. The pay-as-you-go pricing models also makes it difficult to anticipate what the year-end cost will be.

Why Do SAM Tools Often Fail?

Software Asset Management has taken on a slow adoption in the business world at large, with under 20% of companies worldwide having some sort of SAM practice in place, with the vast majority of them taking on SAM during some kind of event: either a software audit or when the Cloud migration expenses hit the CFO as gently as speeding freight train.

However, even looking at the percentage of companies that have SAM and don’t just take it out for special occasions, there is a vicious cycle that has become apparent.

The “Trough of Disillusionment” is what Gartner calls the realization companies experience over either 6, 12, or 24 months that their SAM tool can’t deliver, with only 25% of enterprises expressing satisfaction with their SAM tool in 2020. So, what are the causes of this dissatisfaction? There are a few things that contribute:

The Silver Bullet Solution

Companies assume that their SAM tool is the silver bullet which will save them from all their compliance issues. They are often disappointed when SAM tools fail to live up to the expectations put on them. That is because the tool is just that – a tool.

Tools need to be in the hands of the right people to get the results you want. It’s the people who drive the success, and a strong SAM strategy often requires a team of full-time professionals to get the job done.

We have seen companies who have thrown the task of the entire SAM process into the lap of some unlucky member of IT or Procurement; someone who already has a full-time position and who can’t possibly deliver the results you need using only their spare time.

When building a proper SAM team, you’ll need to consider the following skills:

  • Legal Expertise with a specialization in contracts and/or software contracts in particular.
  • Negotiation Expertise — you’ll need someone who knows how to make deals with the software vendors.
  • Software vendor specialization, software vendors are inclined to modify and update their software products and their licenses frequently (up to hundreds of times a year).
  • Experience dealing with tech would also be considered an asset.

Finding any one person who encapsulates all these skills will be difficult if not impossible.

Implementation Failures

The way that SAM tools are implemented and used can also have an impact on your overall success rate. There are a few common scenarios that are seen when companies first begin to implement SAM:

  • They don’t know what success looks like, they enter into the project without thinking of their end goal. Working backwards from a goal will help you build an implementation plan while also ensuring that you know what ‘done’ looks like.
  • They try to do everything at once, organizing your entire infrastructure will not happen immediately. You will need to set up a tight scope: start with a few of your vendors at first and eventually branch out.
  • They see SAM as a single event; however, SAM is really something that should be considered as a continued service – something that you are slowly but surely moving towards improvement.

The Shortcomings of SAM Tools

There is a reason why SAM customers often purchase their tool with high expectations and that comes from the fact that many SAM tool vendors often promise things that their tool simply can’t deliver on, giving their customers a false sense of security. SAM tools come with many potential shortfalls that you must be aware of when purchasing your SAM tool, such as:

Naming Conventions

SAM tools get confused when confronted with unique naming conventions, test/development environments, and updated licensing rules. This often results in licenses being skipped, mislabeled or counted twice.

Solution: Make sure that your SAM tool can label specific devices correctly, which may require manual intervention that requires a SAM team.

Remote Users

If you use remote server access software like Citrix then your SAM tool may only count one installation, when in fact there may be many.

Solution: You can use manual workarounds to identify remote server access and fix this issue prior to being confronted with it during an audit. You can also pull your remote access users from your Active Directory into a user-based license record within the tool.

Unique Licensing Metrics

Basic SAM tools can count users, devices, processors, or cores. If your software publisher has anything more unique than that as a licensing metric, such as CALs with SQL Servers or Sub-capacity licensing with IBM, then you may run into some issues.

Solution: This is also capable of being overcome with manual intervention, although the challenge is that these licensing metrics are extremely complicated, so you might need a licensing expert available for your particular metric. You can also check out our tools which are specifically designed to handle difficult licensing challenges.

Cloud Struggles

As many businesses are moving to the Cloud, they often find that their SAM tool struggles to accommodate for the transition. In some cases, the SAM tool will use a connector to access the company’s portals for their Cloud solutions and pull data in from there but where this occurs, it is often prone to error.

Solution: To improve your SAM tool’s accuracy you can retrieve the reports manually and upload them into your SAM tool. It’s encouraged that you do this on a monthly basis.

License Keys

SAM tools can find it challenging to detect ‘invalid’ license keys if an employee brings a software license into the company from a personal account. SAM tools may read these keys as valid, but the software vendors certainly will not. Some vendors are particularly sensitive about these ‘invalid’ keys. They will ask to review them for fear that your organization has duplicated licenses or is even pirating their software.

Solution: Suspecting that your software environment contained pirated licensing material will make any audit that much more difficult because you’ll be confronted with battling against legal penalties in addition to the audit findings. You need to create a custom script to identify invalid license keys and tag any potential issues. You can also advise employees to not bring in personal licenses without authorization as well.

Activated Features

While SAM tools are great for counting the number of licenses, they often have trouble detecting activated features of a product.
Take Oracle as an example, Oracle licenses their products cheaper if features that are a part of the product are ‘turned-off,’ but Oracle has very few restrictions in place to prevent customers from using or activating these features. This can then result in heavy auditing fines if these activated features are discovered in your software environment.

Solution: Keep track of specific license edition types, set user permissions on licenses and tell your users not to activate specific functionalities without seeking confirmation from authority.

Want to more details? Check out our webinar hosted by CEO Mike Austin: The Failure of SAM Tools

How to Avoid Getting a Worthless SAM Tool

  1. Learn to Verify the Accuracy of the Data
  2. One great way to avoid a worthless SAM tool is verify its accuracy within your software infrastructure. There are three ways to do this:

    • Physical Spot-Check:
    • Test a small sample of assets (e.g., 20 devices) and compare the records your tool collects on them based on manual investigations into each device.

    • Lifecycle Checks:
    • Constantly cleanse your tool’s asset data by asking your IT staff to verify asset data as a part of their ITSM daily duties. They could easily verify things like ownership of assets when a ticket is raised against it, they can also check departments, specifications or configurations.

    • Compare Asset Data with Other Sources:
    • Compare your SAM tool against other large data sets that you have in your environment, such as your SCCM data or your Active Directory Accounts, which leads us into the next point.

  3. Get More than One
  4. As great as it would be for a single do-it-all SAM tool to exist, we’re still a long way away from that place. We have seen that in general, installing a single SAM tool only increases visibility of the company’s infrastructure by 20%. Typically the use of a second tool is needed to cross reference the quality of data or fill in any missing gaps. This will often increase the company’s visibility to a level where meaningful action can be taken to reduce compliance exposure and licensing issues.

  5. Get Someone Who Can Manage It
  6. Lastly, it’s important to have a team of people in charge of managing your SAM strategy. You can either hire someone in house, hire a third-party consultant to handle the task, or you can get a hybrid solution for your SAM needs. There are many pros and cons to each of these solutions, which we discuss in length in our article: Hire a Software Asset Management Expert or Do it Yourself? The Pros and Cons of Each.

Introducing our SAM Tools

At MetrixData 360, we have state of the art tools of our own that we’d like to offer you, our SAM tools are unique in the fact that they:

  1. Are designed with the intention of saving you money
  2. Take a holistic approach to the examination of your data
  3. Simplify complicated jobs
  4. Come with expert assistance
  5. Safe to use

The Tools We Offer

Active Directory Reporting Tool

Your Active Directory (AD) is the first and most critical step for determining your user and device counts. Although using AD is not an exact science, it is what Microsoft Auditors use as a guide to determine Qualified Devices/Users. So, you will want your AD as clean as possible, to reflect what you actually have and use.

However, your AD is often the area of your software environment that is cluttered and full of noise. MetrixData 360 has created an amazing tool which can determine qualified devices and qualified users in your Active Directory, which can be set to either standard or specific criteria and used to obtain accurate information.

Office 365 Reporting Tool

Your Office 365 license is critical for ensuring productivity for your business, but how can you be certain that your company is making the most out of the licenses they have when overspending on software is so common? Take control of your Office 365 licenses with MetrixData 360’s in-house solution to identify waste and overspend in your Office 365 Subscriptions with our Office 365 Reporting Tool.

Azure Usage Tool

Azure is an amazing platform that can offer your company streamlined productivity and versatility. However, it can also be extremely complicated. With organizations easily owning hundreds of Azure related products that they need to pay for every month, it can be a challenge to understand where all your organization’s Azure spend is coming from.

If you try to break down your cost using the invoices found in your Azure portal, you will find a nightmare of complicated data spreadsheets waiting for you – which is where MetrixData 360’s Azure Usage Tool comes in. Our Azure Reporting tool is custom-tailored to decipher Azure’s complex pricing and break it down into easy to understand and utilize information.

SQL Licensing Optimization Tool

SQL Server Licensing may be one of the most confusing license models that Microsoft has today. Even the biggest SAM tools on the market have a hard time truly optimizing SQL Server licensing. Usually, other tools will produce a simplified version of the data that doesn’t provide the in-depth analysis customers need to take meaningful action to organize their SQL Servers.

Our algorithm will provide a comprehensive view of your SQL Server Licenses, taking months of work and cutting it down to a few minutes. This is done to ensure your SQL Licensing is completed in the most cost-effective way possible, regardless of if you are on-premise, in the cloud, have Software Assurance, purchasing through an EA or a Server and Cloud Enrolment (SCE).

Windows Server Licensing Optimization Tool

Your environment is likely very dynamic and not static. You will have Virtual Windows (VMs) servers moving across VMWare hosts or VMs that are moving from on-premise to a public cloud. How do you manage these licenses?

Many organizations simply purchase licenses as they need them and never look to reset and re-optimize those licenses. Truth be told, it’s likely because it’s a very difficult thing to do. Our Windows Server License Optimization Tool has been developed to help clients quickly figure out the best use of their Windows (and System Center) licenses.

Learn More About SAM Tools

Buying a SAM Tool can prove a difficult experience because the market is saturated with tools that are only designed to sell you more tools.

It is important that you purchase SAM tools of quality. These products are the things that will keep you compliant. They will be the backbone of your defense in a software audit. They can ensure your transition to the Cloud is smooth and cost-effective. And they can give you back control over your software licensing environment.

At MetrixData 360, our goal is to save you money and get the most out of your software purchase, which is why we offer tools that are designed to save you money, time, and frustration. If you’d like to learn more about the tools we offer, you can check out our Tool Catalogue.


About Mike Austin

Mike AustinMike Austin is the CEO and team lead here at MetrixData 360. Mike brings more than 15 years of Microsoft licensing experience to his clients’ projects. He assists companies with negotiations of Microsoft Enterprise Agreements (EA), Premier Support Contracts, and Select Agreements, from Fortune 500 to organizations with as few as 500 employees. Mike's vast experience across multiple industries including financial services, high tech, manufacturing, media, health care, government, and retail give him an edge in any business environment. In addition to helping negotiate contracts, he assists clients with creating and implementing software asset management processes to prevent over-purchasing of licenses and ensures terms and conditions reflect actual usage.