License Management and Metering Tools

Tools that let you walk the line between overpurchasing software and software piracy

If you were to ask IT managers to list their favorite job duties, managing software licenses probably wouldn't be at the top of their lists. After all, most IT managers would much rather be applying technology to solve business problems than dealing with the administrative headaches of ensuring their organizations' license compliance. Unfortunately, the reality of today's business environment requires that you diligently walk the line between overpurchasing software and software piracy. If you can't reconcile your installed software with the licenses you own, you're either wasting scarce budget dollars or inviting costly fines should the Business Software Alliance (BSA) or the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) audit your organization. Thus, most IT managers toe the line, regardless of their lack of enthusiasm for that duty.

Traditionally, managing software licenses involves three tasks:

  • assessing your organization's software needs
  • collecting software-inventory data so that you know which software programs your
    organization has purchased and on which machines those programs are installed
  • tracking and controlling software usage

Although these tasks might seem simple, the devil is in the details—and the details have been multiplying since the first PC landed on a business desk. One detail is that managing software licenses typically is an interdepartmental endeavor that requires cooperation between the purchasing, accounting, and IT departments. As if keeping everyone from these departments on the same page weren't enough, software vendors continually change their licensing models (e.g., Microsoft's move to Licensing 6.0). Another detail is that few IT departments can claim absolute control over the entire desktop fleet. On the contrary, many IT managers would be hard-pressed to tell you with complete certainty what software is installed across their organizations, much less claim control over what software gets executed.

The good news is that the marketplace has responded to the need for tools to help manage licenses. The bad news is that numerous tools are available that have a wide range of features and functionality, and finding the tool that best suits your needs can be daunting. Although you might find a tool that fits your needs exactly, you might discover that you need more than one tool or a tool that can augment existing capabilities in your environment. The challenge is finding the right match without compromising functionality or blowing your budget.

Assessing Software Needs
Although assessing software needs is a logical step that most organizations take before making a software purchase, you need to analyze your organization's software usage to verify that your initial assessment is accurate. IT departments can waste a lot of money by making an assumption that their users need, for example, Microsoft Office XP Professional when, in reality, they need only Office XP Standard because few of them use Microsoft Access. Thus, passive software metering is an important aspect of software-license management.

Passive software metering lets you track application usage. Some metering solutions simply tally the number of times users access an application. More sophisticated metering solutions can discern the times that an application is actually being used versus idle time, such as when the application is minimized. One such solution is Vector Networks' PC-Duo Enterprise, a suite of desktop management modules that snap into Microsoft Management Console (MMC). One of the six modules, Software Metering 2.0, distinguishes between active and minimized applications.

Tally Systems also offers a passive software metering module—the Usage Module—for its asset-management application, TS.Census 2.1. By combining software metering with TS.Census's already robust inventory collection, you can get detailed information about software usage in your organization and hence make more informed software-purchasing decisions.

Other products that offer passive software-metering as part of their larger suite of management tools include ManageSoft's ManageSoft 6.5, Executive Software's Sitekeeper 2.0, and PowerQuest's (formerly Cognet's) Cognet Observer 4.1. Each product's software-metering capability is a component of a larger suite. For example, ManageSoft and Sitekeeper have strong application distribution and management capabilities along with inventory collection, whereas Cognet Observer more closely resembles TS.Census in functionality. Whether you need the additional functionality of these suites' accompanying tools depends on your organization's particular needs.

Collecting Software-Inventory Data
IT managers need to know what software is installed on which computers in their organizations. Software-inventory tools meet this need. Although software-inventory collection is commonly part of many larger desktop management suites, such as Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS), several packages are dedicated to just inventory collection and reporting. FileWave's Asset Trustee 6.0.3 is a typical example. You should choose a standalone inventory-collection tool only if you already have the tools to perform the other software-license management tasks.

When looking at inventory-collection tools, you'll want to make sure that the tool you select meets certain criteria. You should make sure that

  • the tool's client is transparent to the end user and doesn't cause disruption
  • the tool requires minimal network resources or can at least be scheduled
  • the data the tool collects is in an open format so that you can export
    or dump the data into other databases, such as an accounting or finance database

Many of the standalone inventory-collection tools and the inventory-collection modules of larger suites have evolved to include features that let you enter license-purchase information. After you've entered this information, many of these products automatically compare the inventory data with the purchase data, then alert you if your installed licenses exceed the number you've purchased. Although this feature is helpful, it assumes that you have an accurate record of what you've purchased. In addition, inventory-collection tools often aren't flexible enough to automatically interpret complex licensing models (e.g., concurrent usage). These two weaknesses are providing an opportunity for a logical but unlikely player in the software-license management field: the Value Added Reseller (VAR).

Two VARs that have thrown their hats into the software-license management ring are ASAP Software and Softchoice. These VARs have traditionally been the conduit through which organizations purchase software titles in volume. Fierce competition in software sales prompted these vendors to find a way to add value to their services. What they came up with was a software-license management solution that includes a hosted service that combines software and hardware inventory data with license-purchasing records. ASAP Software internally developed ASAP eSmart as its hosted service, whereas Softchoice integrated an existing hosted service—AssetMetrix's AssetMetrix—into its solution. Both solutions require you to install an agent on each workstation. Afterward, the agent securely transmits hardware and software-inventory data across the Internet to a server in a hosted location.

Using a VAR to manage software licenses has some advantages. One advantage is that you can outsource this tedious job. Plus, VARs have in-depth knowledge of licensing models and can automatically track any license purchases you make through them. Both ASAP eSmart and AssetMetrix also let you manually enter purchases that you've made through other vendors.

Tracking and Controlling Software Usage
Tracking and controlling the execution of software on desktops is the job of active software-metering applications. Such applications act as desktop watchdogs. These watchdogs not only track application usage but also prevent the launch of unlicensed applications. The license-usage restrictions that you set determine whether a user can launch an application.

Some players that provide active software metering as part of their feature set are Express Metrix's Express Meter 6.2, ABC Enterprise Systems' Lan Licenser, Sassafras Software's KeyServer 5.2, Altiris's Asset Management Suite, NetSupport TCO 4.0, and Integrity Software's SofTrack. Each product has its strengths. For example, Express Meter is a standalone software-metering product, although it integrates with the company's PC audit application, Express Software Manager. As a standalone product, Express Meter might be an option for organizations that already possess a license-management solution but would like to add the functionality of active software metering.

These products all employ a client/server architecture to enable active metering and management. For example, Lan Licenser uses a three-tier architecture that consists of a site server, one or more regional servers, and the client. When a user attempts to launch an application, the Lan Licenser client identifies itself to the site server (single-server setup) or to a regional server, which passes the information to the site server (multiserver setup). The site server monitors active license usage. If no licenses are available, the user receives a message to that effect and is put in a queue to wait for the next available license.

To help rotate licenses, Lan Licenser actively monitors inactivity and warns users when an application has been idle too long. (You set the time limit.) If necessary, Lan Licenser safely shuts down the application to release the license for someone else. An administrator can also centrally restrict access to applications based on username, workstation name, group membership, department, time of day, or any combination thereof.

Cross-platform compatibility can be crucial for organizations with diverse environments. Most of the products I mentioned work only with Windows OSs. One exception is KeyServer. KeyServer's server-side process can work on networked computers running Windows OSs (e.g., Windows Server 2003, Windows 2000, Windows NT), Macintosh OSs (e.g., Mac OS X Server), Novell NetWare, or Linux. KeyServer's client works with all Windows and Mac OSs.

Dealing with Different Departments
All the tools I've discussed to this point provide functionality for one or more of the traditional software-management tasks (i.e., assessing software needs, collecting software-inventory data, and tracking and controlling software usage). However, as I mentioned previously, software-license management is often an interdepartmental activity between the purchasing, accounting, and IT departments. Thus, you might need to integrate your organization's purchasing, accounting, and IT systems.

So what's available for organizations that need a full spectrum of functionality and, for various reasons, can't leverage their existing processes to manage software licenses? Fortunately, such organizations can use an application suite. Some full-spectrum asset management suites are Tangram Enterprise Solutions' Asset Insight, MRO Software's MAXIMO 5.0, NetCracker Technology's Operations Support Systems (OSS), and Peregrine Systems' Peregrine AssetCenter. Most of these suites perform all the traditional software-management tasks, although some of the suites don't yet provide active software metering. In addition to providing asset and license management, suites provide applications to help you manage procurement processes, accounting processes, lease contracts, service level agreements (SLAs), and Help desk services. Although these suites are typically quite expensive, they can be worth the cost to organizations that need a comprehensive solution that includes software-license management.

A Worthwhile Process
The spectrum of solutions available for software-license management can be overwhelming. A thorough analysis of your explicit needs will help you narrow the field considerably. After you trim your list to those tools that meet your needs, you can then start looking at the selected tools on a more granular level until you find the right tool for your organization. The selection process might be time-consuming, but being able to manage your software licenses pays big dividends.

Contact the Vendors
ASAP Software * 847-465-3700 or 800-248-2727

Tangram Enterprise Solutions * 800-482-6472

Altiris * 801-226-8500 or 888-252-5551

AssetMetrix * 613-244-0235
Softchoice * 800-268-7638

FileWave * 415-682-2404 or 888-345-3928

PowerQuest (formerly Cognet) * 801-437-8900 or

Express Metrix * 206-691-7900

Sassafras Software * 603-643-3351

ABC Enterprise Systems * 408-961-8708 or 866-343-3222

ManageSoft * 800-441-433

MRO Software * 781-280-2000 or 800-244-3346

NetSupport * 770-205-4456

NetCracker Technology * 781-736-0860 or 800-477-5785

Vector Networks * 770-622-2850 or 800-330-5035

Peregrine Systems * 858-481-5000 or 800-638-5231

Executive Software * 818-771-1600

Integrity Software * 512-372-8991 or 866-372-8991

Tally Systems * 603-643-1300 or 800-262-3877

Corrections to this Article:

  • Tom Iwanski's Market Watch: "License Management and Metering Tools" (June 2003, http://www.winnet, InstantDoc ID 38934) was intended as an overview of the license-management market segment and not a comprehensive buyers' guide. However, as a service to readers and vendors, we've compiled the following list of license-management products that we didn't mention in the article:
    -Asset Navigator by Alloy Software
    -GASP by Attest Systems
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