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Software Licensing in a Virtual World

Software Licensing in a Virtual World

While virtualization is supposed to help simplify IT environments, there is one aspect that virtualization can complicate -- licensing, which creates a significant challenge for IT Pros looking to leverage the best that virtualization has to offer, yet not violate any licensing agreements.

In the quest to do more with less, virtualization has become one of the best allies for IT pros looking to stretch budget dollars. However, virtualization may introduce hidden costs into the IT equation -- namely licensing costs. Understanding how software licensing works within virtual environments is becoming an important skill for those deploying the technology.

In the past, software licenses were relatively straightforward, with EULAs (End User License Agreements) dictating how software could be used, with a software package associated with a single user and a physical machine.  As networks grew in complexity and offered more services, software licensing evolved and vendors introduced licensing innovations, such as site licenses, concurrent user licenses and so on. Fast forward to today and the basics of licensing have become more complicated than ever creating an administrative nightmare for those charged with managing software in the enterprise.

Deploying virtualization technologies has had the biggest impact on how software is provisioned, licensed and supported. Take for example server virtualization, where a single server is partitioned via a hypervisor to run multiple operating systems – here the question becomes “how many OS Licenses do you need”, which may seem like a simple question, however the truth is much more complex. With server virtualization there are some other considerations – such as will the virtual servers be used constantly or will virtual servers be launched based upon demand, and why are the servers being virtualized – is it for load balancing, resiliency, dividing up management, or some other reason?

Each of those questions can potentially impact software licensing and add confusion to the process. What’s more, licensing concerns do not end with network servers; there are several other virtualization technologies that can impact licensing.  One of the most notable is VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure), deployments where user PCs are converted into virtual machines, which are then hosted in the data center – the physical PC is no longer part of the equation and virtual PCs can be created on demand for access. That means concurrent user counts can grow and shrink based upon demand.

IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) and other cloud based offerings can also contribute to the licensing conundrum – case is point is the use of hosted infrastructure services, where IT leases virtual servers which are hosted at a cloud services provider – a situation where licensing server OSes and applications can be somewhat nebulous.

It is those concerns (and many others) that are forcing IT to reevaluate and rethink how to manage software licensing, all without breaking any laws or overspending on licenses. Nevertheless, IT Pros simply don’t have the time to manually manage licenses and ensure compliance with various software vendor licenses, much less evaluate every nuance of a particular license.

Visibility and Governance

Taming the software licensing beast takes equal measures of visibility and governance. Visibility in the form of knowing the who, what, when and where of software usage, and governance in the form of managing the purchasing, deployment and support of applications.

The lack of visibility is one of the biggest hindrances to managing licenses – without knowing what software is being used, one cannot judge how licenses are consumed. That creates a significant problem, where businesses either over-buy or under-buy licenses, never finding out what the “right amount” should be.

Gaining that visibility is a simple matter of deploying the correct technologies. A multitude of vendors offer applications that monitor software usage, track the associated licenses, and in some cases – enforce license counts by controlling concurrent users. However, proper visibility takes more than just throwing a management application onto the network – it takes leveraging that management application to the fullest and consolidating visibility with governance to create a unified methodology to comply with software license requirements. That unified management paradigm is usually referred to as software asset management or software lifecycle management. Either way, software and management are the key elements of proper governance.

Frank J. Ohlhorst is an award-winning technology journalist, professional speaker and IT business consultant with more than 25 years of experience in the technology market. He has written articles for a variety of technology and business publications, and he worked previously as executive technology editor at eWeek and director of the CRN Test Center.

See here for all of Frank's Tom's IT Pro articles.

(Shutterstock cover image credit: Virtual Global Business)