In two recent blog posts I’ve covered available licensing programs and what happens if you get audited by the Business Software Alliance. In this blog post I’m going to talk about keeping track of your software licensing through Software Asset Management and a basic overview of how the process work.
Software Asset Management (SAM) is the process of optimising the purchasing, management and recognition of software licenses. Software tools are available to assist with the process, which can be broken down into five or six categories:
- Inventory tools to identify what software is deployed across a network
- Management tools to manage license agreements and reconcile usage rights against data returned from inventory tools
- Metering tools to identify how frequently software is used, to allow you to remove software from computers where it is not used
- Policy tools to restrict installation of software can be installed, or who can use it
- Deployment and Patch management are usually part of the same system, and provide facilities to deploy new software packages and update already deployed software
From that list items 1,3 and 5 are usually provided in the same application. For many organisations that is Microsoft SCCM, Dell KACE or Symantec Altiris. My preferred system is KACE, providing a good cost/functionality point compared to SCCM. Whilst these tools may have some limited SAM functionality out the box, they rarely meet requirements when it comes to license management. Where KACE and SCCM are concerned, they are both very weak in this area, but excellent at inventory, deployment and patching.
Organisations look to SAM software vendors to compliment their existing systems, there are a few main vendors in this area:
I can’t vouch for SNOW or Asset Labs, but I’m familiar with License Dashboard which covers my requirements pretty well and has proven to be flexible and extremely usable.
Once armed with your SAM software you’ll want to quickly understand your effective license position (ELP). This is a three step process:
- Create an inventory of your licenses, with supporting evidence
- Create an inventory of software usage data, with counts of how many systems have the software
- Reconcile the two, creating your Effective License Position (ELP)
1. Create an inventory of your licenses
Importing licenses and contracts is a slow process, for a large environment this could become a full time job for a few weeks as you manually enter contract details. Any good SAM software will allow you to import an MVLS statement to relieve some of the hassle of manually entering the details. The specification of the MVLS file format is open, so with any luck other vendors will begin to support it.
To make your life easier when entering license details, here’s some functionality you’ll want to look out for:
- Software licenses can be tricky; with downgrade rights, entitlements to upgrades in the first 12 months, renewals and limitations on what versions can be upgraded from. Ensure the SAM software you’re looking at can accommodate various license models;
- Attaching evidence to the record is useful, it’ll make proving the license on a group of devices much easier if you’re audited. To be compliant you must have evidence for each license;
2. Create an inventory of software usage
Importing software usage data into SAM software should be straight forward if you have systems management product such as Dell KACE or Microsoft SCCM. Any good SAM product will provide support for importing from them.
Two useful bits of functionality to make sure you have are:
- The ability to understand the configuration of the physical systems you assign licenses to, whether they’re virtual, how many processors they have etc;
- The capability to filter out non-licensable software such as drivers or other free software that doesn’t require a license. I can guarantee this functionality will save you a significant amount of time;
3. Reconcile the two, creating your ELP
Once your licenses and usage data is imported, the real functionality of SAM software comes to play – reconciling them.
At first this sounds like a straightforward process, but there’s a lot to consider. Whatever software you choose needs to be able to cater for the following:
- Upgrades that you’re entitled to due to Software Assurance;
- Upgrade versions that allow you to upgrade from some previous versions, but not others;
- Downgrade rights are available for certain license schemes but not others;
- With so much data in one application, the ability to remind you of license renewals etc is very useful;
Once reconciled you’ll be left with your ELP, giving you an idea of what capacity you have for additional deployments, or how many more licenses you need to buy.
If you’re interested in License Manager you can find more information on Twitter, LinkedIn or the License Dashboard website. License Dashboard have also published a video, Create an ELP in Three Simple Steps which takes you through the process using their SAM software.