Ski resort turns to tools to cover its software assets

Use of software asset management tools has helped a Quebec-based ski resort dramatically increase its operational efficiency.

With a comprehensive and complete picture of its software assets, Ski Bromont has been able to determine which applications to keep, and which to discard, or update; it has also put in place procedures for software access and management; and it has created an effective plan to guide future purchases.

Together, these efficiences have nearly halved Ski Bromont’s IT department’s service hours.

The situation was quite different just two years ago.

While on the business side, the resort in Bromont, Que. was headed for a record breaking season, on the IT side it was a different story.

A bewildering mish-mash of obsolete applications and unauthorized software downloads had snowballed over the years, causing frequent system crashes.

The facility’s decision, in 2003, to offer season passes online was just beginning to bear fruit. However, failure to implement a comprehensive software asset management (SAM) program at the very outset was threatening to send Ski Bromont off-trail.

During the peak holiday season in 2004, there were times when the resort’s Web site and ticket kiosks went down for days at a time.

“It was disastrous. We would lose 1,000 customers or roughly $20,000 each day [due to] downtime,” said Guy Granger, vice-president, finance, Ski Bromont.

Then a year ago Ski Bromont asked Conamex International, a Microsoft-centric technology consulting and deployment firm based in Montreal, to develop an asset management program that would make sense of and control the various applications on the resort’s network.

“Ski Bromont had no idea what software they had,” says Jean Leblanc, technical evangelist, Conamex.

After doing of an inventory of the resort’s network, Leblanc found the system comprised an odd assortment of current and dated versions of applications, legitimate software and programs downloaded without permission by various users over the years.

The resort’s membership grew from 3,000 to over 27,000 in 2005, but while the staff was able to handle the sudden surge of visitors, the IT environment wasn’t prepared for the good times, according to Granger.

The clutter of disparate programs added to the resort’s problems, said Leblanc. For instance, some of the 100 work stations still used Office 97 while others ran more current versions. The network was also unstable as a number of the arbitrarily downloaded programs were not secure.

“The previous outsourced IT service provider had not kept records for asset tracking and failed to complete all the software licensing transfers,” said Leblanc.

This made it hard to separate the legitimate software assets from the rest and gave technicians a hard time tracing problems when glitches or crashes occurred.

To resolve some of these issues, Leblanc deployed products such as Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Microsoft SQL Server 2000 and Microsoft ISA Server 2004.

Server 2003 simplified improved identity and access management capabilities, while SQL Server 2000, a relational database management tool, enabled the database to be maintained and administered. The ISA Server 2004 supported faster and secure access to various applications.

Before the migration, Leblanc implemented a SAM program to get a clearer picture of the resort’s IT assets. Using Microsoft Software Inventory Analyzer (MSIA), Conamex conducted a station by station inventory of all software and hardware assets. The next step involved gathering licensing documentation and matching this with appropriate software.

A lot of companies share Ski Bromont’s woes, according to Diane Piquette, license compliance manager for Microsoft Corp. “Company officials can tell you how many trucks they own, or where these vehicles are, but won’t be able to tell you what software they’re using.”

However, the idea of implementing a comprehensive SAM program is catching on according to Michelle Warren, analyst with Partner Research Corp. (PRC) in Toronto.

“SAM is picking up steam as more and more organizations recognize the value that proper IT asset management provides,” she said.

Another analyst said, historically, enterprises have employed some version of SAM, but new tools provided by the likes of Microsoft, IBM, Altiris Inc., Hewlett-Packard, Novell and other smaller companies, are taking this a step further.

“New metering functions provided by the SAM tool enable organizations to realize greater savings,” said Nauman Hague, research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group Inc. in London, Ont.

He said metering functions — available in high-end products such as MSIA — track commonly used programs and also determine which applications have current or expired licenses.

“These capabilities help administrators to quickly determine which software they should upgrade, purchase or discard,” said Hague.

The Info-Tech analyst said SAM tools are available for organizations of all sizes. “If budget is a problem, such tools are even available free online.”

Granger said the work done by Conamex reduced the resort’s IT service hours by as much as 50 per cent. With more than 47,000 members to service, Granger is more confident that Ski Bromont’s network will be able to handle the added online traffic.

“Since the server no longer breaks down, we operate at a higher operational efficiency level but require much less IT support,” said Granger.

The resort also realized some software licence savings by using Licensing Microsoft Operations Manager, which keeps track of program licences.

“We now clearly see which licences are in use and which are parked. This helps us to take advantage of licensing discounts,” said Granger.

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