Software Licensing Dangers In A Virtualised World

Software Licensing

Very few IT managers really know all the software running on their systems and how much of it is paid for. Even more worrying is that they probably don’t know how much software they’ve bought that never gets used. The fact is that most companies struggle to maintain control over their software licences, leaving themselves open to fines.

At the other extreme, many overcompensate and buy extra licences to be on the safe side. The majority end up doing a combination of both: under-licensing on some products and overpaying on others.

There is no clear route of ownership and when you start asking who is responsible for IT purchasing you can get a lot of different answers. One person may have chosen a CRM system and another a BI application. The result is confusion and wasted money. From a security point of view, if companies are not sure what software they have, they risk having unmanaged and unpatched applications.

Virtualisation is one of the most rapidly adopted technologies in recent years, and for good reason. But while virtualisation opens up an entirely new world of possibilities, the benefits don’t come without traditional legal risk.

Specifically, few organisations have begun to grasp the software licensing implications of deploying virtual servers and software, not to mention the subsequent challenges of upholding the terms of their existing license agreements.

Many vendors still don’t provide clear and specific guidelines for applications running on virtual machines or virtual software being streamed to desktops. Until more software publishers offer licensing models specific to this new paradigm, the onus is on IT managers to find ways to navigate the ambiguities.

The obvious step is to conduct a systems and software audit to track all software across an enterprise. Some companies, for instance, use over 10 metrics to license their software. This alone makes keeping track of licenses difficult enough, but with the advent of virtualisation this can make it a full time job.

A pre-audit service has several advantages. Specifically it helps to provide a clear picture as to what has been deployed in your environment, to help you understand the cores that are associated with the deployed products, and to remove deployed and unused applications.

Virtual hosts can also be reassigned to smaller capacity servers and virtual hosts containing a single product can be grouped on a single physical server. A pre-audit service will generate reports to assist with software asset management and help assess your organisation’s software compliance with licensing requirements.

The one major concern regularly overlooked by those investing in virtualisation is the ambiguity surrounding software license agreement. As most licenses do not provide specific guidelines for applications running on virtual machines, the majority of traditional software license management tools have not yet evolved to the point where they can simultaneously and comprehensively support licensing schemes for both virtualised and non-virtualised environments. If your organisation is going virtual, make sure it stays true to licensing rules.

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Simon Barnes, one of the three co-founders of Orb Data, is responsible for the Managed Services portfolio. In addition, with 10 years’ experience in delivering Enterprise Systems Management (ESM) he continues to pursue his technical role helping customers meet their challenges. Before forming Orb Data, Simon provided consultation services for ESM solutions. Prior to this, Simon worked in the UNIX Operations Team at BTCellnet, where amongst other things he implemented an ESM solution based on the IBM Tivoli software suite.