Rightsizing Software Licenses Based on Usage – The Practicality of Usage Tracking as a Means to License Savings

By Dave Harding

Software audits are on the up (1). Extended support for Windows XP is set to expire in April 2014. Application virtualization is more prevalent than ever. All three have licensing issues that reverberate through the enterprise.

Not being able to accurately report on the number of software licenses used exposes audit liability and limits the enterprise’s ability to respond to a vendor request. With Windows XP being upgraded to Windows 7 or 8, companies want to determine what software licenses they can rationalize, and to standardize on the applications they are actually using. And with employees using more than one device for their work, virtualized deployment has come into its own.

So how can software asset managers really tell what applications are used over what’s deployed? If you can monitor what is used and then correlate the usage to deployment, you can begin to right-size the number of licenses that you own and maintain. Let’s look at some of the different scenarios where these issues arise.

Responding to Vendor Audits

If you are a large organization, it is no longer a question of whether you will be audited by a software vendor, but when, and which vendor will make the request. Many organizations do not have robust processes to manage audits, leaving them open to fines and unbudgeted costs. Our customers tell us that the majority of software vendors are more interested in using audits to increase revenues instead of building relationships with them. It’s therefore important that organizations are able to mitigate the risks of fines and true-up costs and be able to rapidly assemble the information needed to pass an audit.

Software licensing management is not an easy task. Using traditional Software Asset Management (SAM), the software asset managers can know the number of licenses deployed, but they will not be able to address the critical issues of usage or reclamation. In addition, many SAM projects are costly and often last a long time. Microsoft System Center can help organizations to introduce metering rules, but it can be complex to manage and is limited on how many software titles can be metered simultaneously. Access to System Center data for software asset managers is often complicated and involves requests to the IT team for time and effort.

A new approach utilizes all the benefits of System Center while simultaneously turning traditional SAM on its head by first looking at what software is used and then correlating deployment to usage. Software License Optimization (SLO) sorts usage into three categories; frequently used, occasionally used and unused. Once SLO is achieved, you can begin to right size the number of licenses that you own and maintain. A continuous process of discovering and reporting on usage enables an automated reclaim mechanism to optimize the number of licenses.

Reclaim can be done either by a mandatory silent process or by user-centric opt-out. A user centric opt out process gives users the opportunity to prevent uninstallation and to justify their need for this unused software. Branding and messaging of the opt-out screen can improve the acceptance and success rate of software reclamation processes.

By tying in a self-service software request process whereby users can request, receive and then install software through an app portal, users will be less reluctant to have software removed if they know that they can, at any point in the future, request and rapidly obtain the software again when they need it. Users only care the ability to have the software they need, when they need it.

Application discovery is another important consideration since systems management information is incredibly noisy and complex to decipher into meaningful and easily consumable information. With the right tools, you can normalize your software inventory information, removing junk such as antivirus updates, hot fixes, etc. This normalization allows you to rationalize the number of applications variants and to use the information to map applications during an OS deployment based on usage.

OS Deployments: Perfect Time to Right Size the Number of Licenses

With extended support for XP due to expire in April 2014, many organizations are already in the process of migrating to Windows 7. It’s an ideal time for administrators to clean up the number of licenses they have and rationalize the versions of applications within their estate. Users expect a degree of change as they move to the new OS and if there is unused software on their desktops they won’t necessarily miss it when the new OS is deployed. It’s also a great opportunity to standardize the software that is used throughout the enterprise to one compatible and standard version.

Looking at the usage of an application on the previous OS will determine whether a user will get, for example, the upgraded version of the application, a free alternative or nothing at all after the migration. Applications a user no longer needs are automatically removed during the migration process so that the number of new license purchases will be reduced since licenses for new versions of unused software do not need to be obtained. It is often said that the worst software license you can buy is a new version of an unused application.

Virtual Licenses

Application virtualization (such as App-V) is expected to make an IT administrator’s life simpler. It is more supportable and easier to manage from their point of view without physical application installation, retirement or compatibility issues. However, the challenge is in measuring the number of licenses required given the attitude to virtualization technologies by software vendors. All too often, the vendors see virtualization as a new opportunity to sell more licenses.

With the right tools, you can analyze the usage of App-V deployed applications in exactly the same way you do physically installed applications. Along with an understanding of entitlement and usage rights, an organization is able to analyze all types of software deployments and determine usage. It can now get an instant picture of the financial impact of unused software and unlicensed applications – even in an application virtualization scenario.

Irrespective of the deployment technology, software asset managers need to ensure that they have the right tools for easy visibility of not only entitlements and install counts but also usage. Doing so will empower them to maximize the efficiency of their software budget as well as just ensuring compliance. This gives them the ability to prepare better for true-ups and vendor audits and remove the risk of being fined.

About the Author

Dave Harding is the Product Manager for 1E.