Lead Image © Sebastian Duda, 123RF.com

Lead Image © Sebastian Duda, 123RF.com

Ralph, the open asset management tool

Accountant

Article from ADMIN 37/2017
By
As IT infrastructure grows more complex, IT asset management tools become essential. They track an IT asset's life cycle from the purchase order, through practical usage, to disposal or reuse. One promising newcomer is Ralph, the open source specialist tool.

Networks are dynamic entities that change quickly depending on the company and field of application. Often only individual systems are added, at other times whole departments are equipped with new systems, or critical systems are refurbished or replaced by others.

In complex environments, it is not enough to enter IT components' commissioning data in a static asset accounting tool and then simply forget about your legally compliant records. There is another problem: The tools used as the interface between business and IT are often not sufficiently granular to be able to give IT the right answers to different questions.

A simple example illustrates the problem: Desktop PCs in particular are often purchased and deployed in bulk. In asset accounting, they appear as a single item and are written off there as a lump sum. But network and IT administrators gain very little knowledge from this lump-sum information. Admins need to learn about the lifecycle of a single asset and be able to track it.

Benefits of Asset Management

Many companies are unaware of the benefits that professional asset management can offer IT departments, which also explains why this field is so little explored. Companies can benefit across all levels of decision making from reliable and up-to-date asset information. If decision makers and IT professionals have access to accurate inventory and requirement figures for IT hardware components, this simplifies planning and future procurement actions. Accurate inventory figures are also necessary to conclude or optimize maintenance, service, and leasing contracts.

These figures are important for IT security, because it is easier to define and meet appropriate security arrangements if you have precise documentation on how the IT components are used. In conjunction with human resources management, IT departments can ensure that sufficient IT resources are in stock.

As a further bonus, equipment planning is simplified in the future. The idea is for planning coordinators to have access to uniform, or at least standardized, product lines. As any IT administrator knows, homogeneous components are easier to manage and thus cost less.

Another advantage of IT asset management: Companies can optimize their IT spending and minimize risks. You can simplify administrative tasks through the use of IT asset classes (PCs, tablets, smartphones, printers, and so on). This is usually simpler to implement than configuration management, because, for example, you do not need to map complex dependencies in service production. In practice, asset and configuration management complement one another excellently. Together, they can help to maintain and optimize the IT infrastructure.

The excuse often put forward is that deploying a suitable solution would involve a considerable amount of expense and human effort, but you can safely ignore this. The free asset management tool, Ralph [1], is a very powerful and flexible environment capable of managing not only assets, but also licenses, support contracts, and even users. The asset entries in the database can be added manually or automatically. Ralph has agents for Linux and Windows that send the relevant information to the asset server.

Getting Started with Ralph

Getting started with Ralph is simple. The developers give you two options: an Ubuntu 14.04 package or a Docker image. The developers recommend the manual installation with the Ubuntu installation package. At he time of writing, Ralph 3.0 is in the final stages of the release process (as of the end of May).

Before installing, make sure that you have a new Ubuntu 14.04 installation with no other packages are installed. Then add the Ralph repository:

$ sudo apt-key adv --keyserver hkp://keyserver.ubuntu.com:80 --recv-keys 379CE192D401AB61
$ sudo sh -c "echo 'deb https://dl.bintray.com/vi4m/ralph wheezy main' > /etc/apt/sources.list.d/vi4m_ralph.list"

To install, simply follow the usual approach:

$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get install ralph-core redis-server mysql-server

Ralph can basically be installed as a full-fledged asset system or as an agent. Redis and the MySQL database server must be installed to run the asset server. The core component, ralph-core, is sufficient for running the agent. You then just need to point it to the two servers on your network.

Ralph uses a configuration file, for which you need to adjust the interaction with the MySQL database server. In particular, you need to enter the database-specific settings:

$ cat ~/.profile
export DATABASE_NAME=ralph
export DATABASE_USER=someuser
export DATABASE_PASSWORD=somepassword
export DATABASE_HOST=127.0.0.1
export PATH=/opt/ralph/ralph-core/bin/:$PATH

You have now laid the foundations for initializing Ralph. Various other actions are necessary for this purpose. First, edit the

/opt/ralph/ralph-core/lib/python3.4/site-packages/ralph/settings/prod.py

file. Set the value DEBUG = True. To create the necessary tables in the database, run the following command:

$ ralph migrate

Next, a reload is required:

$ ralph sitetree_resync_apps

The next initialization step adds a new user:

$ ralph createsuperuser

You have now successfully installed Ralph. Now launch Ralph with this command

$ ralph runserver 0.0.0.0:8000

Log in via the URL http://localhost: 8000 with the administrative account specified above (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Ralph's dashboard showing an overview of the most important asset data.

The Docker installation is still at the experimental stage. To use Ralph in a Docker environment, you first need a Docker Compose environment. For an experimental Docker Compose configuration, see [2].

To create the Compose configuration, copy the docker compose.yml.tmpl file to docker compose.yml. Then run the build process and initialize the database:

$ docker-compose build
$ docker-compose run --rm web /root/init.sh

The next command feeds Ralph with sample data:

docker-compose run --rm web ralph demodata

Use the following command to run the Docker-based asset environment

docker-compose up -d

Access is then via the local web interface. To do this, launch the browser and access http://127.0.0.1. If you want to get a quick impression of Ralph, you can tinker with the online demo, which the developers deployed [3]. Use ralph as the login name and password.

First Steps with Ralph

After the installation, Ralph comes up with a clearly designed web interface through which you can manage your hardware and software assets, licenses and support contracts. The environment supports two types of asset: Devices and Parts. Devices can be, for example, blade servers, while Parts are the components of this server. The components can be moved from one device to another if necessary.

Assets can be created manually or automatically. To generate assets automatically, corresponding agents are available for Linux and Windows. Ralph manages the assets in the Data Center menu. Extensive forms are available (Figure 2) if you choose to create an asset manually. In the Basic Info field, specify the general data, such as the device type, the model, the inventory number, the location or the warehouse, the status (if necessary), a URL, the service name, the host name, and so on.

Figure 2: Creating and editing an asset using the web GUI in Ralph.

You can assign financial data, such as the purchase order number, invoice date and number, the price, the supplier, the budget information, and a user and/or owner to each asset. Go to the Additional Info to define the data center, the server room, the rack, the orientation and exact position, the slot number, and to link to the Ralph core devices. You can also define the serial number and a barcode in specially provided boxes for each device.

You also create components using the Data Center menu. The standard approach: First, create the devices, then the components, and then assign them to the devices. Extensive registration forms are available to create parts. In Basic Info , you once again enter the basic data such as the type, the model, the inventory number, the warehouse, the location, and status. If this is third-party property, you can also specify that here.

For each component, you can also specify a wealth of financial information, such as the price, the date of purchase, the order, and the supplier. You can assign the components to certain users and owners. Often, besides editing a single asset, you will need to apply certain actions to multiple entries, for example, to transfer certain components from one warehouse to another. This is also possible with Ralph. The developers refer to this feature as bulk editing. First search for the desired entries, select the entries in the results set, and then perform one of the actions. They are available in the Actions drop-down menu (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Various commands can be run against assets and components via the Actions menu.

Ralph also records the actions applied to assets as a workflow log. There are almost no restrictions to moving components. Also the status of components can be adapted flexibly. Just use the Components drop-down menu that is available in each Part dialog.

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