With so many publishers claiming to sell a software asset management (SAM) tool, how do you decide which tool to choose for your organization? One of the prerequisites is to find out if you need agentless or agent-based server monitoring.

Both agent and agentless monitoring use intelligent software to detect and report on computer equipment. But agentless surveillance software is embedded separately in device software or a built-in management platform such as WMI (Windows Management Instrumentation). This process does not involve any agent installed on the machines.

On the other hand agent-based software involves in-depth monitoring suited for an organization with a more complex, wide-spread network infrastructure. Typically, agent scanning is more effective and provides easier deployment within an organization.

The SAM Process

Before choosing between the two you must first learn how deep is the information that needs to be uncovered in your organization. Here are key pieces of information that are typically needed to evaluate your organization’s software and hardware compliancy. I call these the pillars of a SAM process.

  • Discover – Locate all hardware and hardware specifications to determine things like virtualization, cores and processes which can affect licensing.
  • Catalog – Conduct a full software inventory and normalize all endpoints.
  • Restore – Reconcile outdated software with purchased licenses.
  • Optimize – Upgrade existing licensing for continuous compliance.

With these SAM guidelines in mind, how would it affect the decision of going with an agent or agentless tool?

The key differentiator between the two options would be the last pillar – optimization. Only with an agent-based solution are you able to gather usage and metering information. By identifying the purpose of the software that resides on a machine and how often that license is being used you can determine if it is a product needed for every user in the organization or if it could possibly be restricted for use by employees with relevant responsibilities;  and therefore save your organization a lot of money.

What about the technical considerations between agent or an agentless deployment? Here are a few other differentiators to help you make your decision.


  • Most IT asset management (ITAM)/ SAM publishers use agent technology because there is a deeper level of information from the inventory that needs collecting.
  • With an agent along it is easier to collect information on remote machines because security is better and less bandwidth is needed.
  • Only one port is required during the scan.
  • Compared to agentless monitoring, agent–based shadowing is more streamlined and requires minimal data transfer. The scan is performed on system boot up and seamlessly pushes the data through active directory. This all means that agent- tracking software is typically silent on an end-user’s system.
  • Uninstalling the agent is simply done through the add/remove programs or a service desk application.


  • Agentless is a solid solution for smaller organizations that have less complex networks.
  • It uses a built-in agent to scan inventory details and access software remotely.
  • Because this process does not involve an agent installed on the machines there are fewer internal roadblocks necessary when deploying an agent.
  • It is less intrusive on the client devices.

More ports are necessary for the deployment than in an agent deployment and additional configuration of settings is necessary.


Agentless is best to make single point-in-time decisions assuming your environment is not overly complex. Typically the agentless solution is a better fit for smaller organizations.

Agent is best for complex ongoing SAM solution because you are able to gather more in-depth information about the environment. Larger organizations tend to use an agent for discovery.


Looking for more direction? Ask your account manager to schedule a discussion with a CDW solution architect who can get you set up on a SAM platform that suits your organizations needs.