Software licensing and virtualization: 3 steps to minimize the risks

The benefits of virtualization are well documented. Still, there are some challenges – not the least of which is complying with software licensing rules. In virtualized computing environments, it’s easy for companies to purchase too many licenses, not enough, or the wrong type – in any case, noncompliance can cost organizations big bucks if they’re not careful. 

For example, you could get hit with a huge bill if a software vendor’s audit finds your company is underlicensed. Or, you could pay too much money up front if you think you need more licenses than you actually do. Therefore, it’s critical that companies migrating to a virtualized computing environment take a proactive stance with regard to software licensing.

Software licensing in virtualized environments is risky business

As with pretty much everything IT-related these days, “things just ain’t they way they used to be.” The industry is moving away from the one-server, one-application model to virtualization. Virtualization technology allows one server to be divided into many virtual machines, each capable of running individual instances of an application.

Therefore, the traditional software licensing model that requires buying a license for each instance of an application can quickly run up the cost of doing business when applied to a virtualized environment.

To further complicate things, virtual machines can be provisioned with a few mouse-clicks. The compliance checks that normally happen during the course of provisioning a physical server are often bypassed. Such a dynamic computing environment can lead to compliance “drift” where one minute you’re in compliance, the next you’re not.

Desktop virtualization is yet another scenario that requires special licensing terms. Not only must you have the right to virtualize the operating system, you must have the correct licenses for your users to access their desktop environments remotely, whether it’s from a thin client on-site, their home PC, a mobile device like a tablet or smartphone, or a hotel kiosk. Then, you have to factor in licenses for terminal services, VPN-clients, end-user applications, multi-user enterprise applications, and so on.

Adding to the complexity is that software vendors’ approaches to virtualization vary; some offer limited support for virtual environments, others say for customers to be compliant they must meet specific requirements.

3 steps to minimize the risks

As vendors come around to offering more virtualization-friendly licensing terms, the industry’s beginning to get a sense of how best to handle the variables introduced by virtualization.

Experts recommend IT managers do three things to keep software licensing costs in check:

  • Gather accurate information – Conduct a comprehensive review of all software used in your organization, including operating systems. Then count the maximum number of users who need access to each application at any given time. Finally, survey the devices employees use to access their desktop environments. In some cases, it makes a difference whether or not those devices are running Windows. A complete software inventory is necessary to avoid over- and under-licensing.
  • Understand software licensing requirements – Research the licensing terms of each software title your company currently uses, as well as any you may be planning to deploy. This step is especially important since different vendors have different approaches to licensing their own applications. Establishing a dialogue with vendors can be extremely helpful.
  • Implement a software asset management tool – A proven software asset management tool that automates the tasks required to maintain compliance is a must-have. FlexNet Manager Suite for Enterprises by Flexera Software, ManageEngine and CDW Software Asset Manager are three examples. Such tools can automatically discover what software is installed on devices connected to your network, match the number of licenses you own to the number of copies installed, tell you when licenses are set to expire, and more.

Putting all of this information together gives you a complete view of where your organization stands with regard to software licensing and it can help you avoid exposing your company to the financial risks associated with over- and under-licensing in virtualized computing environments.

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