Improving software licensing management with application metering

Solution providers can augment their relationship with customers by using application metering to save them money on unneeded software licensing costs.

Remember when you discovered the License Manager service in Windows NT? You may have thought it was a great tool that was capable of making software licensing management woes a thing of the past. Unfortunately, that joy was probably fleeting.

The License Manager service was difficult to use, didn’t perform well, and really only worked for Microsoft server software under specific licensing schemes -- often schemes your customers don’t use. But keeping track of customers’ software licenses is still critical to your business. In fact, you could argue that it’s more important than ever, because companies are trying to be a lot more careful about software legalities.

Microsoft is willing to help, by providing software inventory and metering capabilities in System Center Configuration Manager (ConfigMgr). The problem is that ConfigMgr is a big, complicated pro duct, and many non-enterprise customers might rather use something less complex and expensive.

Licensing options for customers
When taking a look at your customer’s software licensing needs, there are two broad areas to consider. The first is desktop applications, where a license-tracking solution can help someone figure out how many users are running a given application at the same time. It’s not the same as an inventory installed software, of course, because many users will have installed software they aren’t using.

It’s important for solution providers to read the End User License Agreements (EULAs) that come with the software to determine if it’s licensed per concurrent user or per installed seat. If it’s the former, then license-tracking software can save your customers a lot of money; if it’s the latter, then they don’t need license-tracking software as much as an improved software inventory. There’s money to be saved either way.

The other category is for server licenses. For example, most Microsoft server products offer a few licensing choices, the most common being the choice between per-device and per-user models. In the per-device model, your customers buy a Client Access License (CAL) for each device that will access the server, regardless of how many users might share that device. In the per-user model, they buy a user CAL for each user, regardless of how many devices that user might utilize (which might include a mobile device, laptop or desktop). Keeping track of how many CALs someone has bought, and what type of CAL each one is, can be tricky enough. Tracking how many people are actually using those CALs is almost impossible without help.

To complicate the situation even further, your customers can also configure some servers (Windows Server being one example) with “per server” licensing. This is more common in smaller environments. For more information, read. Keep in mind that software vendors other than Microsoft make up their own rules, so you may suggest that your customers document how each product is licensed. This will make them aware of the limitations, and give them a head start when investigating possibilities for saving money.

You can help save you customers money on software?
That’s right, you can help your customers save money on software purchases. Right-sizing the number of software licenses to their actual use isn’t an easy task, which is why many IT shops end up over-purchasing. They will encounter one of a few distinct problems when it comes to paying for software:

  • They buy too many licenses to ensure they’re compliant. This also means they’re overspending on upgrades, maintenance etc...
  • They buy with a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Not every user needs the enterprise edition of every software package out there. Sometimes a less-expensive version will do. This means customers also have to be able to monitor usage of suite components, so they can consider downgrading some users to a less-expensive edition when it comes time to upgrade.
  • Some users rarely need a given piece of software, but when they do need it, they need it. In these cases, it might make sense to offer a shared-access virtual machine that has the required software. This can help your customer save by not installing it directly on the computer of every user who might need that software.

Helping customers reduce their licensing costs increases your standing as their trusted advisor and gives you additional touch-points to engage further. Even assisting them with the installation and support of metering software represents a potential engagement.

Using application metering to license software
With so many software licensing schemes in existence, customers need flexible tools to keep track of the licenses they’ve bought in comparison with the ones they’re actually using.

For example, they need to be able to track concurrent usage. Not every piece of software they own will be licensed that way, but the ones that are often offer the biggest opportunities for savings. In fact, some customers will try and negotiate concurrent-use licenses from vendors, just because of the potential advantages. Customers can then install the software for every user who might ever need it while only paying for those that are simultaneously running.

It’s here where application metering tools come in handy. They can track the number of concurrent copies, and stop users from running any more. Users can be placed in a queue and notified when a license is available for their use, and an administrator can be notified when available licenses are exhausted -- perhaps prompting a purchase of additional licenses to accommodate demand. Metering tools need to be built to recognize that some users’ machines may be disconnected at times. For example, someone with a laptop, working in an airport, shouldn’t necessarily be shut off from using applications just because they can’t “see” the network-based licensing service.

Because concurrent use is far from the only license scheme, whichever tool your customer uses needs to recognize the other major models as well. Per-user, per-machine and even concepts like shareware and freeware are all out there in customers’ environments. In addition to tracking total license inventory, their choice of tool should let them assign licenses to specific offices, departments, geographic regions, or whatever else, allowing licenses to be tied to the areas of their organization that need them (and maybe who actually paid for them).

Virtualization and virtualized applications further exacerbate the problem. They create a tricky situation for a lot of licensing tools, forcing extra effort when applications reside in virtual environments. Are your customers offering applications on VMware vSphere or Citrix XenApp? If so, they’ll want to properly support and track licenses for those applications as well.

There’s also the matter of correctly identifying all of the software your customer has installed, regardless of how it’s licensed. Ideally, tools should use a comprehensive database that can identify software by more than just a filename or location. The right solution will look at the files themselves, which is often accomplished using checksums and other mathematical algorithms. Whichever license-tracking tool you suggest to your customers, make sure any tool you recommend has the ability to submit “unknown” software to the tool’s vendor, so that the vendor can identify and add it to their recognition database for future use.

A final but fundamentally important point suggests recommending metering tools that your customers already have. For example, if clients already use ConfigMgr, it’s often a best approach to recommend solutions that integrate with it. Such a tool should enhance ConfigMgr’s existing inventory abilities. For example, it might help you manage licenses based on the inventory in ConfigMgr’s database instead of forcing a completely separate inventory across each computer.

The last thing most customers want to deal with is software licensing management. Yet there’s a real opportunity for you to take some of that aggravation off their hands, while potentially saving them quite a bit of money. Cement your relationship with them by using application metering tools to help them right-size their software investment. Making money while helping your customers save cash serves as a win-win relationship for any solution provider.

About the author
Greg Shields, MVP, vExpert, is a partner with Concentrated Technology. Get more of Greg's tips and tricks at www.concentratedtech.com

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