License Paralysis or License Overkill – Unplanned Barriers to Citrix Implementations

By Kris Barker, Express Metrix

Software licensing is complicated enough in its own right. Add to the mix an array of corporate applications running on Citrix servers, and you’ve got the potential for challenges of even greater significance.

It’s all too easy to trip up on software licensing rules without any intention of wrongdoing. Even in a traditional desktop environment, it takes considerable expertise to navigate the labyrinths of per-seat, per-user, concurrent, and other license models, which is one reason the software asset management (SAM) marketplace is thriving. Throw virtualized desktops, the explosion of mobile devices, and alternative application delivery models into the mix, however, and things get even more perplexing, with far less help available from your conventional SAM solutions.

The BYOD Catalyst

Interest in virtualization has intensified recently as organizations have begun to embrace mobile computing and the “bring your own device” (BYOD) trend. In particular, Citrix XenApp is rising in popularity as companies increasingly look to the Citrix platform both as a way to bypass physical software installation as well as enable streaming or publishing applications to end users’ mobile devices.

In this context, unfortunately, licensing complexities increase exponentially. Perhaps most confounding are questions related to how the number of connecting users and devices in these scenarios impact what’s required from a licensing perspective. The costs and difficulties associated with monitoring this dynamic environment (not to mention the licensing costs themselves) can be significant and must be weighed against the operational efficiencies that can be achieved by migrating to new application delivery models made possible using Citrix.

Unfortunately for those organizations that implement Citrix XenApp, this problem has been all but ignored by license management vendors (with a few exceptions), presumably because adoption of “thin app” delivery methods is still overwhelmingly eclipsed by the use of installed desktop software. This has left organizations running Citrix exposed to all the potential consequences of non-compliance, which range anywhere from sleepless nights to the potentially ruinous outcome of a software audit.

The Licensing Snag

The great advantage – and disadvantage – of the Citrix application delivery model is that it’s user-focused rather than device-focused. Employees can use multiple devices interchangeably and be equally productive on their laptops, smart phones, tablets, and home computers. But many, if not most, corporate applications are licensed per-device, meaning that organizations that rely on Citrix to publish or stream applications to smart phones and tablets rapidly drift out of compliance as these devices are added to their asset pool.

Because the per-seat license model doesn’t translate to a user-focused, multi-device world, licensing uncertainties abound. How many copies of Microsoft Office or Adobe Acrobat need to be licensed for each end user? Are separate licenses required for each connecting device? This dilemma is a challenge for any organization hoping to avoid a software audit, and it represents a significant risk to companies migrating to a Citrix environment.

Paralysis has struck many organizations that have implemented Citrix, leaving them in a quandary about whom or what to license. And software publishers seem to be doing little to clarify how such environments are to be interpreted based on their existing licensing agreements. Because of all the confusion, many companies either kick their license compliance concerns to the back burner, hoping they don’t get caught, or choose the appallingly expensive option of purchasing “site” licenses to cover all devices – an insurance policy that, while safe, doesn’t necessarily make good business sense. After all, if only 60% of your workforce uses a particular software package, why would you want to pay for the other 40%? And then, of course, there is the backs-to-the-wall option: because of the uncertainty of it all, abandon plans to implement Citrix altogether.

Businesses turning to Citrix to improve operational efficiencies and promote greater productivity shouldn’t be stymied by these software licensing uncertainties. Just like software that resides on traditional workstations, applications running on Citrix servers require a reliable method of being tracked and managed so companies can a) remain compliant with license agreements, b) ensure no more licenses have been purchased than are in use, and c) guarantee that the appropriate users have access to the software they need.

In our experience, organizations who don’t implement a best-of-breed asset management solution that works effectively in a Citrix environment are heading down a risky path that can lead either to costly license compliance penalties or the needless over-purchasing of licenses. It doesn’t have to be that way. Solutions for managing usage and compliance for applications delivered via Citrix do exist, and companies that get their act together, carefully evaluate their needs, and create a detailed plan for managing license exposure will be the ones that reap the most substantial rewards from this software delivery model.