Challenges of managing technical applications and why it requires attention from Software Asset Managers and Vendor Managers
IT organizations have been focusing on Software Asset Management for a number of years now. It is not difficult to find information about and solutions for managing software from major vendors like Microsoft, Adobe, Oracle and IBM.
Overall, the primary market focus has been on software with complex licensing and driven by the need to avoid compliance fines that have become common since the financial crisis of 2008. One of the common approaches to managing compliance is “staying out of front pages of newspapers” – avoiding big penalties that are publicized and can damage company reputation – doing just enough to balance the cost of maintaining accurate information with the risk of compliance fines.
In many instances this has meant less focus on software that by the nature of the licensing technologies employed will never be out of compliance. Many of these applications are technical in nature and are often categorized as “engineering applications”. Some of the biggest vendors in this space are Mentor Graphics, Cadence, Dassault Systems, Autodesk, Schlumberger and IBM. In addition, since many of these applications are used by engineering departments, IT doesn’t necessarily have full control over them. Many IT departments simply manage the hardware and network environments for technical departments, but don’t have direct control over the software used by those teams. The same can be said of software asset management efforts – since the applications are owned and used by technical departments, they have been allowed to be managed by those departments.
The question is: Because these applications are never, or almost never, subject to compliance issues, does it mean they don’t need to be centrally managed?
The answer may depend on the type of business you are in. If you are a company in the manufacturing sector (such as automotive industry), oil and gas exploration or semi-conductor industry, you may be spending as much or more on those specialized applications as you do on general purpose software. Therefore managing these applications is critical to your business. Since they are so critical, those organizations are likely to invest in the management infrastructure for tracking usage of these applications. However, even in those organization, the overall management is often left with the technical departments and not central software and vendor management teams. In my opinion, this is a mistake.
Let me explain.
The main challenge in managing these specialized applications is due to their cost. Some licenses cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or even more. Since they are expensive, they should be managed for cost optimization. There are two approaches (which are NOT mutually exclusive, but rather deliver cumulative benefits.
Software is an important resource for the majority of today’s organizations. This is especially true of technical applications. Like any resource, it requires professional management.
Software asset managers are responsible for managing this resource, yet, in many cases, they don’t manage technical applications. This means they are unable to negotiate the best terms for all software and don’t control contractual terms that are agreed upon. In case of an audit, this could prove problematic – software asset managers may not be aware of all the software the company uses until the audit is under way. Just that fact will put them at a disadvantage during the audit.
Similar issue may be true for vendor managers. Again, they may not be aware of all software purchased by the organization, meaning they will not be in control of all activities related to that vendor.
This truncation of responsibilities can be costly. If you are negotiating multiple small contracts, you may not be able to get the discount levels you are seeking. You may be subject to different contractual terms, which can result in additional costs to your organization. You may also be unaware of specific issues, therefore unable to raise appropriate resources to deal with these issues effectively. There are many other issues that you may encounter, simply because of the lack of central oversight over these technical applications.
What the majority of the organization are focusing on is technical management. This is focused on optimizing what you have. There are a number of key areas that are typically the focus here.
Because access to this software is typically managed by license servers, compliance is not typically an issue. The way this software work is that when a user starts the application on their local workstation the application contacts its license server to obtain a license. If the license server doesn’t have any licenses, user will not be able to use the application. Once the user logs into the application, they may need to access a specific function, let’s say they are working on a vehicle design and wish to render a 3D model of the vehicle. Again, the application will contact the license server to obtain the 3D modeling license.
Since the software is very expensive, the focus is on maximizing the utilization of the licenses by spreading the usage across different time zones, so utilization runs at an even pace, avoiding regular peaks and valleys. This can be accomplished by moving operations to cover a wide range of time zones, spreading the workload over time. Organizations may also wish to restrict access to licenses, even if this means some users have to wait for a license to become available.
Multiple license servers
If the company using license server managed products is a global company, it may have multiple license servers around the world, so that users in each region can have quick access to the license server. This is a common practice – it reduces network traffic and latency and helps improve productivity. But, this means that the total license pool has to be split between each region. And if you are a user in let’s say Germany, may only access the EMEA license server. This may be OK in most situations, but what if you need to access a feature in high demand, for example 3D modeling feature. In that case you may have to wait until a license is available in the EMEA license server, despite the fact that the Asian or American regions may have idle licenses.
Setting up multiple license servers requires monitoring. Typically the license administrator will have access to a tool that will collect usage information and report usage information over time. And the usage that is tracked needs to be very detailed, as every minute or second may be important. The administrator will see the average and peak license utilization. If a particular license is showing as fully utilized this may or may not be an issue. As I mentioned above, the goal of organizations using these licenses is to maximize usage.
But does 100% utilization mean that the organization has the right number of licenses or not? To get the answer to that question, the administrator will need to look at another report – Denials. In the event there are no more licenses available, the license server will deny the access. But, perhaps the particular license needed is only used for a short period of time, so a license becomes available within a few seconds and the user is able to proceed with a minimal wait. That short wait may be acceptable to the organization, so long as they are not very frequent and there are no long term license availability issues.
Let’s add another complication. Let’s look at an example of an oil drilling company. It has oil rigs in various locations around the world. Let’s say that one of their engineers will be going to a remote location and needs access to a drilling simulation software while on site. There is only one problem. The location is remote and there is virtually no internet access on site. This means the user will not be able to access a license server to get a license when needed. Fortunately, license servers have an answer to this question via a concept of license “borrowing”. When user “borrows” a license is it permanently assigned to that user and nobody else can access that license. While this gives the remote engineer access to the application he or she needs, it temporarily (until the license is returned) reduces the number of licenses available to other users. This can result in increase in license denials for the other users.
Once again, the license administrator needs to be aware of all the licenses that have been borrowed and monitor the number of borrowed licenses to ensure that they are unavailable for valid reasons (the user is working remotely and not simply gone on vacation and forgotten to return the license).
So far the challenges don’t seem unsurmountable.
But, there are more complications ahead.
The larger the organization, the more users and licenses they will have and this will result in more data to be analyzed. Companies have hundreds, or sometimes even thousands of employees accessing these applications and use multiple products, with multiple features each. This results in license servers producing large amounts of data that needs to be analyzed in order to give administrators a complete picture of license usage. The raw data simply has the information about who “checked out” or “checked in” what feature license and when. That data has to then be correlated and aggregated before a true usage picture is available. The amount of data that needs to be analyzed can be hundreds of gigabytes, or in some cases even terabytes in size. Organizations need to often store the data for defined periods of time, making both the data analysis and storage a challenge of its own.
Complex licensing schemes
Many of these applications have complex licensing schemes. They are made up of multiple features (main program, 3d modeling, printing, etc.) and they often come in various editions differing by a single feature. In addition, many software vendors will reuse the same feature in multiple products (e.g. printing may be licensed as the exactly same feature ID in all of the products the software vendor offers).
Feature to product mapping
As I mentioned above, it is common for software vendors to use the same license across multiple products (e.g. printing feature license). As a license administrator you will see the total number of consumed printing feature licenses. But, do you know what product the utilization of the feature belongs to? Unfortunately the answer is that license servers manage features, not products, so they will NOT provide you the information matching features to products. This is something the administrator will have to do on their own (hopefully with assistance from a product to automate this task).
But where does the administrator get the feature-product mapping information? This is typically something that requires reaching out to individual software vendors. And to add one more complication, these mappings often change over time. So, the task is not a onetime operation, but an ongoing process. There are a few vendors who put this mapping into their license files, but there is no current industry standard dealing with this issue.
All of these challenges can require significant effort to effectively manage these applications and license servers, and many larger organizations have dedicated staff for this function. These organizations also commonly employ license optimization products like Flexera Software’s FlexNet Manager for Engineering Applications to collect and aggregate the data needed for analysis.
Having spoken to some of these companies, they frequently speak of the ability to save millions of dollars on their software licenses, making it a worthwhile investment.
As I discussed, there are multiple challenges when managing technical applications. Some of them are best left to the technical teams (such as how to distribute license servers and licenses around the world). Others should be managed by professional software asset managers and vendor managers.
As we look at maturation of IT and its evolution to a service organization these applications should come under control of central IT. Today’s IT asset management tools deal mostly with general purpose IT applications, not technical software. If these “engineering” applications are not accounted for by IT, then the organization will not have an accurate picture of its software real estate, underestimating total spending on software. This can create vendor and contract management challenges, as vendor managers and software asset managers may not be aware of purchases made outside of central IT. While technical departments are more than capable of handling their own negotiations, the lack of central control can result in loss of negotiating power, volume discounts or even audit challenges and central IT must have at least awareness of the overall software environment within the organization.
In my discussions with customers, I am seeing a trend to centralized management of all software, regardless of who manages the day-to-day operations. Organizations that are leading in this area tend to be mature companies well on their way to transitioning IT into service organizations. Key initiative that is common among them is the move to “IT as a Service” with chargeback for IT Services and all software and hardware, making IT at least formally in charge of any application deployed, regardless of its ultimate function.