What to look for in an auto-discovery tool

Author: DiscoveryPlus Services Group

What should you look for in an auto-discovery tool?

IT discovery. What is it and why do you need it? IT discovery is the means of capturing and recording information about your application, cloud, compute, network, and storage environments using a variety of viewpoints, then creating digital records that are stored in a CMDB. 

Discovering and storing your IT asset and configuration management data is your company’s most important service management capability. Your IT and business environments are hybrid, distributed, fragmented, and complex—both in the diversity of components involved and the web of relationships that connect them. The data provides a 360 degree, top-down, and bottom-up view of the relationships between your systems and applications.
Discovering and storing your IT asset and configuration management data is your company’s most important service management capability."

The data can be used to drive executive sponsored business initiatives, IT transformations, and day-to-day operational activities. To tackle the inherent inefficiencies of operating a large, complex estate of distributed and fragmented technology and data centers, begin by selecting the right tool. The ideal tool offers automated and detailed intelligence gathering about your IT environment. Below is a list of several important features to look for in an auto-discovery tool.

Discreet but socially intrusive capabilities

The discovery tool should be technically discreet, meaning it should not impact performance or create a footprint on scanned devices. It should be agentless and automated. Scans should originate from a discovery server stationed on your premises, using sensors and probes written for specific technologies. For example, a Cisco UCS Blade Server probe, using a sensor, would scan for UCS blades on Port 22, then connect to the server by authenticating via SSH with a preregistered username, password, and private key, which are stored on your discovery server. 

What do I mean by socially intrusive? Think social media platforms. They are intrusive. They know who you are talking to, what your interests are, and to whom you might want to be connected. Your discovery tool should be similarly persistent and socially intrusive. It should collect and record everything it can about the device with which it is communicating and capture the interdependencies within that ecosystem. 

The tool should be capable of compiling and monitoring your infrastructure and its related components, using a correlation engine, a confidence engine, and a social discovery engine, all of which are working in conjunction with each other to maintain threshold performance parameters set by you. You want to create a social network of your machines and applications to an infinite depth. A common mistake made by users of discovery tools is to limit your depth of discovery to several layers. You want to probe connectivity until it returns with no communication. 

The right tool will help your organization capture changes in ecosystems, on the edge, and in the cloud."

Isolated CMDB

The tool should have a CMDB containing not only configuration parameters relating to individual components and applications within systems, but also data regarding relationships or interdependencies between these components and applications. The isolated CMDB will store your baseline configuration items' data and support data hygiene to paint a 360-degree picture of your enterprise and the communicating ecosystems. A capable CMDB will also have the ability to interface with other CMDB and ITAM tools to allow for data loads and sharing of your sanitized configuration item data.

It should also be capable of capturing on-demand information and validating new data. Your environment is in a state of change. Period. Try not to think in terms of contraction, be it up or down, decommissioned, or net new. It is change−the one constant in your IT environment. The right tool will help your organization capture changes in ecosystems, on the edge, and in the cloud, even if your change-control processes may have missed them. Avoid cloud chaos. With the explosion of cloud services, dynamically optimized infrastructure, and the accelerating rate of business change, having current information to drive decisions is important.

Finally, your discovery tool should be capable of providing current data about the environment and also have the ability to validate new data against what you have already discovered. Why is capturing change so important? The ability to capture changed information is priceless in situations where you must assess the impact of an incident while it is occurring or diagnose the root cause of a problem.

Robust analytics

The tool should have the ability to perform a broad range of analyses about the discovered data stored within the CMDB. For example, your auto-discovery tool should be able to analyze server and application dependencies to produce business service relational data mappings in the form of reports and visualizations. Look for a tool that has multiple view options within a business service mapping (BSM) visualization interface.

Three of the most important views are infrastructure, communication, and application dependency mapping (ADM). Ideally, the interface should allow you to analyze infrastructure, such as a server, network, or storage device, and produce illustrations of the configuration item and its application and component dependency connections. 

Reporting and documentation tools

If you have the right tool, it has baselined your entire IT ecosystem in the isolated and hygienic CMDB. Now, your tool should be able to report and document on not only the configuration items, but also the complex interdependencies among applications, servers, and components. Interdependency mappings between servers and applications, as well as components, whether production or nonproduction, should be easily extracted in a tabular form and presented as traditional documents. 

There are several interdependency documents that the tool should be able to produce. The top three documents are discussed here. The first document is the Master Asset List (MAL). The MAL is a parent-to-child relationship report revealing the application (parent) to server (child) relationships, the upstream and downstream interdependencies, and the core configuration data for applications and dependent servers. It should also reveal planning and execution data, should discovery be used to support a business continuity or transformation event. The MAL may be a one-to-one, one-to-many, or many-to-many report, depending on the interdependency data set. 

The second interdependency document is the application-to-server report. It documents what servers are supporting what applications. This document also includes supporting attribute data for each configuration item. 

The third report is the business service mappings report. It documents which configuration items are communicating with each other for a given ecosystem. As an example, the enterprise data warehouse ecosystem will list the business service mappings for the application, database server, storage device, switch, web server, and application server supporting the enterprise data warehouse environment.
Visualized documentation enables quicker consumption and understanding of the data."


We find that the best way to help people understand and document complex IT ecosystems is through visualizations in a digital form. The same discovered interdependency data, which produces the top three interdependency documents, should also process, render, and document the data as meaningful visualizations. One should be able to see the connections; the associations between devices, applications, processes, IP connections, and software; and even the people who use them. Visualized documentation enables quicker consumption and understanding of the data while maintaining the ability to extract and report the interdependencies in traditional reports. 

Seven steps to IT discovery /
Free discovery tools will lack most, if not all of our above recommendations and will leave you with an incomplete discovery. The result will be loss of time, effort, and ultimately, money. Finally, even a superior tool is not enough to conduct complete discovery. You need people with strong technical knowledge and experience. Avoid the chaos and do not fail. 

Discover the story of your business

Have you performed a true discovery of your environment? Do you understand the socializing that is occurring within your ecosystems, be they hybrid, cloud and/or on premises? Can you, with the click of your mouse, visualize and create a map of your systems−socialized machines−that are communicating with each other? To succeed at discovery, you need a tool that provides a deep understanding of your environment. 

Learn how Examiner creates a 360-degree view of your infrastructure, applications, and their relationships.