Managing Server Software – Turning Troublesome and Complex Problem Into ITAM Success

By Ann Marsh, Cargill Inc.

So, you think you have a good handle on your client software licenses? But what can you do about that troublesome server software? Complicated license models, diverse hardware platforms, and technical teams with admin rights all make this a complex environment to manage. In this article, I will share some of the things we have done to help manage our server software environment and some of the challenges we are still working on.

Managing the Processes

One of the first steps to success is to understand how software is purchased and installed in your environment. This is generally a different process than for client software. You want to make sure the asset management team is involved in the process and as early as possible.

In our organization, software is updated in three main ways: through a large project, server life-cycling, or break/fix actions. We started our improvements by ensuring that all of our project managers understood the types of projects where asset management needed to be involved and the benefits of involving us. We also made sure that our standard project checklist had an early step for asset management review as well as including an asset manager in the kick-off meeting of any project involving software. It’s critical that your asset management team be involved early on so that all expenses are considered and no contracts are signed until you’ve had input. See the end of this article for a list some of the projects where an asset manager should be involved.

Our organization handles server life-cycling and one-off server replacements/builds through a standard request process. We have put a process in place that the asset management team reviews all new servers PRIOR to any software or hardware being ordered. In order to be successful, you need to ensure both the management of your infrastructure team and their technical staff understand why asset management is important. Otherwise, they will do anything they can to bypass and undermine your process. You want to present yourself positively, making clear all of the benefits that your involvement brings. A positive approach always works best. As a checkpoint in our change management process, the asset management team also does a second review of all server builds and upgrades to ensure that nothing has changed.

Understanding the ITAM Value Proposition

I’ve talked about how important it is that your technical teams buy into the process. Their goal is to build servers quickly and efficiently to satisfy their customers. In general, customers and the technical teams don’t understand software licensing and aren’t really interested in learning about it. They will probably see your job as “process for process’” sake and not feel that you are adding any value. The secret to gaining buy-in is to build the understanding that by including you, they are adding extra value for the company and the customers that they can credit for too! Although scaring people is usually not the best way to develop buy-in, you should educate on the fact that the audit risk is real and can be expensive.

The Right Tools and Skills

So, what are some of the values we bring in the server space? This is not a complete list, but some things you can use include; uncovering free or reduced price disaster recovery or testing copies of software, negotiating improved license terms that match how the software is used, identifying additional software that may be included for free, buying less licenses or less expensive editions that still meet the business need, identifying ALL users in your company and negotiating a lower price, taking advantage of all the benefits of your maintenance contract and ensuring you are buying the correct amount of licenses – no more and no less. I’m sure you can think of many more!

You are starting to get requests to review server software, but wow, those license agreements are complicated. This isn’t an article on license management tools, but if you are to be successful it’s crucial that you have at a minimum a good inventory agent to show what is installed on ALL of your different server platforms – AIX, Windows, Sun, iSeries, etc. You can’t evaluate what you don’t know. You also will need tools to help you identify hardware information about your environment such as how virtual servers (guests) link to their hosts, what features are turned on per server, number of CPUs, processor speed, etc. Every company is different, but you will probably need multiple tools to cover everything in your environment if you are a large company. Ensure you do a good job identifying your requirements and find the tools that work for you.

Our company tries to be pro-active in gathering our contracts and license agreements. If you are starting out, I would suggest you take a risk based approach – find all of your enterprise agreements first and then work your way through the other agreements prioritized by risk. Software that is high cost (over $5,000/license), widely deployed, or from a BSA (Business Software Alliance) publisher is a good starting point. Gartner and Forrester also publish an annual list of publishers that are the most active auditing – we include everyone on that list.

Server software licensing tends to be much more complex than client software licensing. You need to ensure that your asset managers have a strong technical background and are able to understand virtualization, cloud computing, cores, CPUs, Citrix, WTS, processor and resource based license models at least at a high level. They must also be able to interpret complex license agreements that can be 20 – 50 pages. If you are lucky enough to be involved early in the negotiation process when software is just being purchased, ways you can add value include ensuring that the license metric for the software is one that is understandable and measurable and that the measurement can be done in an easy and understandable way. This will save you and your technical staff much pain and heartache down the road.

At our company, we use experienced IT professionals with 5 – 20 plus years of experience with strong project management skills, technical knowledge, analytical skills, and research skills for our license management. Constant education is a plus – there are many good webinars offered through IATAM and from publishers. Most publishers also publish white papers around different licensing models and technologies and Linked-in offers a host of different groups that can help.

Adding Real Value

As you move ahead in managing your server licenses, ensure you are capturing ALL of the value that you are bringing. In this type of job, there is always more to do and it’s easy to feel like you are falling behind. We have a simple spreadsheet where people can capture the value that they bring every single day. Much of it is cost-avoidance, but as asset managers we are adding real value.

  • Some of the things we have been able to do:
  • Eliminate company paying for disaster recovery licenses when they were free – we’ve re-deployed the licenses
  • Ensure servers are ordered in the correct size to avoid the purchase of additional software
  • Remove unneeded software and thus eliminate any security and audit risk with that title
  • Understand business need and ensure people purchase the correct edition
  • Purchase from preferred vendors and take advantage of enterprise agreements in place
  • Re-deploying software when it is unused in one area to another area where it is needed
  • Assist sourcing to negotiate lower pricing by helping them understand total usage from publishers
  • Build quick response methods for software audit requests
  • Eliminate missed maintenance renewal dates that could result in costly re-reinstatement penalties

Managing server software licenses is challenging and constantly changing. One of the things I love about my job is that I learn something new every single day and even if I think I know most of what I need, there will be some new technology or license model coming tomorrow that we haven’t even thought of. So, think of this job as a wonderful challenge and a way to exercise your mind. Think of all the value you and your team are adding to your organization.

Examples of projects that need asset management involvement:

  • Outsourcing support to a 3rd party
  • Server virtualization (internal and external, i.e. cloud)
  • Upgrading existing software (publishers often change license terms with an upgrade)
  • Adding new software
  • Upgrading CPU or processor speeds
  • Moving servers to a new location (especially a new country)
  • Adding users to a server for a new location or legal entity
  • Merger or divestiture activity