Software Asset Management: Cloud or Not?

Summary:If your email, calendar, and apps are all in the cloud, why not do the same with your software asset management tools?

Ken Hess

Ken Hess

Cloud

or

Not

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

Best Argument: Not

29%
71%

Audience Favored: Not (71%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Move to the cloud for scalability's sake

Ken Hess: Software Asset Management (SAM) must move to the Cloud for scalability's sake. Now that mobile devices are part of the overall bucket of software use platforms, we must have a way to track licenses, deploy software, manage patches, meter usage and provide application security on a large scale. No longer can enterprises depend on isolated SAM infrastructure to do everything required of these tasks. Cloud is the only answer available.

Sure, for smaller environments with a few dozen servers, a couple hundred desktops and a couple hundred mobile devices, you can manage software assets effectively with a traditional set of software backed by a database. But when you go beyond small or begin to look at more than a handful of key applications, the number of data points grows exponentially. A traditional software solution can't handle it.

The answer has been to grow the software solution's SAM infrastructure along with demand but more software vendors demand license accounting than ever before. There is a point at which it makes financial sense to use cloud infrastructure to manage your software assets rather than traditional software. That point is different for each company but the variables are same for any size company: number of devices and number of applications.

Network bandwidth can be another variable for companies that manage large numbers of devices. Think about the bandwidth drain for large patches, application rollouts and new or updated OS deployments. Cloud-based software management can ease network this bottleneck by leveraging the public Internet user's personal broadband connections for delivery. And user devices don't have to wait until they enter the corporate walls or connect via VPN to check-in with a cloud management setup.

Cloud-based software asset management solves a lot of problems for companies who have a lot of applications to monitor, a lot of devices to manage and a geographically disparate or mostly mobile workforce.

Hassles, downsides, and even risks

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes: Software asset management is a necessary evil for most organizations, and helps to manage software throughout its lifecycle – from purchase all the way through to disposal – and also helps to limit costs and reduce the legal risks by operating within the bounds of complex compliance regulations.

As with most things nowadays, there's been a move to put software asset management tools in the cloud. The idea is that the cloud is better, faster, and cheaper than an on-site solution. After all, if your email, calendar, and apps are all in the cloud, why not do the same with your software asset management tools?

While there can be no doubt that cloud computing offers companies a great way to buy in the right amount of power and resources they need to carry out a task, not everything is ideally suited to being deployed to the cloud, and there are hassles, downsides, and even risks associated with putting your software asset management tools into the cloud which you should consider.

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Mic check

    Are my debaters standing by?

    Readers, thanks for joining. Please note that -- starting at 11am ET / 8am PT --  this page will refresh automatically after each question or answer is posted.

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Ready here


    Ken Hess

    I am for Cloud

    Check.


    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Not

  • Great Debate Moderator

    OK, first question:

    In the age of BYOD and cloud apps where traditional software licensing is increasingly becoming an anachronism, explain why Software Asset Management still matters.

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Still relevant and will be for some time

    It is true that some software licensing is moving toward a subscription model but not all of it has nor will it for some time to come--years, in fact. Software Asset Management (SAM) still matters because it still matters to software authors and copyright holders. For example, Microsoft still licenses most of its software through traditional methods and those licenses have to be managed and maintained. SAM is still relevant and will be for some time.

     

    Ken Hess

    I am for Cloud

    Cloud trap

    It's true that the shift into the cloud has changed the playing field with respect to software licensing and Software Asset Management, but it is important to note that not everything is in the cloud.

    In fact, the move to cloud computing, where usage is carefully metered and logged by the vendor, increases the need for asset management because it is easy to overlook the fact that locally-installed software isn't also being metered by the vendor.

    This is a trap that no big corporation wants to find themselves in.

     

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Not

  • Great Debate Moderator

    What are the biggest risks a company faces if it does not do Software Asset Management well?


    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Perhaps the biggest risk is financial if it's found to be out of license compliance.

    Fines for license violations are stiff--much higher than the cost of the actual licenses. The Business Software Alliance is an advocacy group and an enforcement authority that levies those fines when companies are found to be out of compliance. SAM is an important part of business software license management and is just another cost of doing business. On the other end of the spectrum, businesses risk losing profit by not managing licenses by paying for licenses that they're not using. A good SAM program prevents this "license sprawl."

     

    Ken Hess

    I am for Cloud

    There are plenty of risks...

    ...all bad for the company in one way of another:

    - Running outdated or obsolete software
    - Poor security compliance
    - Poor patch management
    - Impaired worker productivity arising from poor distribution of software tools
    - Having too many or too few licenses
    - Nightmares come audit time
    - Huge fines resulting from non-compliance

    There are no downsides from not keeping track of software – other than the short-term, myopic timesaving gained from not doing it in the first place.

     

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Not

  • Great Debate Moderator

    What are the core principles of good Software Asset Management?


    Posted by Jason Hiner

    The principles are all financial in nature

    I think the core principles of any software asset management program are: risk management, cost savings, inventory tracking, and legal compliance. The principles are all financial in nature. You manage risk to minimize losses due to security breaches and certainly you want to avoid any legal risks by maintaining an up-to-date inventory. The core principles are interrelated and they all really boil down to money. Companies try to retain profits by implementing a SAM program. Squandering money on fines and lawsuits is a great way to drain profits from a business.

     

    Ken Hess

    I am for Cloud

    This is a huge question...

     ...but at the core of all Software Asset Management tools should:

    - Be built around the ISO 19770 and ITIL standards
    - Be accurate
    - Have a low network overhead
    - Be built around the twin principals of security and backup
    - Be capable of generating compliance reports compatible with all vendors
    - Be able to create reports for management, IT operations and purchasing
    - Come with a maintenance agreement for when things go wrong

     

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Not

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Good solutions?

    Are there good solutions for Software Asset Management that can deal with the complexities of today's various software solutions, from traditional installed apps to internal web apps to cloud apps?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Yes, I know of one.

    Now, realize that I'm not just talking about license management, when I say yes to this. There are plenty of solutions that can deal with license management. When I refer to SAM, I mean the whole gamut of services from software deployment to license management to patch management and operating system deployment.

    If there's one product that comes very close to meeting all aspects of SAM, it HP's Software Automation (HPSA) tool suite, formerly known as Opsware. It does everything and it does it on a small scale or on a worldwide scale. I have no experience with the product in a cloud scenario but having quite a bit of experience with it in all other aspects, I can't imagine that it has any limitations when applied to cloud scenarios.

     

    Ken Hess

    I am for Cloud

    Depends on your needs

    Yes, but rather than recommend a particular company over another, my advice to companies is to request demos and make sure that the Software Asset Management solution does what YOU want it to do.

    Some organizations have simple needs, others are much more complex, and a good solution should be tailored to your individual needs.

    Always remember, it is YOU that is responsible for your software asset management, and it is YOU that will be answerable if things aren't as they should be.

     

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Not

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Installed app?

    What are the best reasons for using a traditional third-party installed app for Software Asset Management?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    If you have a smaller environment...

    ...there's nothing wrong with using a traditional application for SAM. The problem arises when you have to traverse multiple networks, the public Internet, or non-traditional software sources. By non-traditional, I mean mobile devices. Most SAM solutions have a practical limit of a few hundred devices because of the number of applications, patches, operating system updates and licenses to manage.

    Before selecting a SAM tool or suite, I'd find out what the practical limitations are (not the theoretical ones) and count up what you have. If you're well below the limit, then you're probably fine to go with a traditional solution.

     

    Ken Hess

    I am for Cloud

    While I have nothing against cloud services...

    ...I think that an important task such as Software Asset Management is one that's better suited to a local solution.

    Not only do you have more control, and a greater level of connection and interaction with the software, but you're also in the driving seat when it comes to backup and security. If you're the kind of person that has their ducks in a row with respect to backup and security, then handing over that responsibility to a third party in the cloud won't come easy.

    Again, remember, it is you that is ultimately responsible for your software asset management. Hand that responsibility over at your peril!

     

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Not

  • Great Debate Moderator

    What are the best reasons for using a cloud solution?


    Posted by Jason Hiner

    More than a few hundred devices

    A cloud solution is for those who need to manage more than a few hundred devices, instances, endpoints or whatever they're being called by vendors these days. Traditional solutions just can't keep up unless you're willing to spend a lot of money to purchase the necessary hardware, software, mainenance contracts and then pay for someone to maintain them.

    Cloud solutions take some of the financial pain away but don't expect miracles just yet on that front.

     

    Ken Hess

    I am for Cloud

    The primary reason that people switch to the cloud is price.

    Cloud solutions are touted as being cheaper because it allows organizations to buy in the level of service they need.

    This is how cloud services are sold – and it is not specific to Software Asset Management – but it isn't how it always works out in practice. The only way that you can be certain that taking the cloud route will be the cheapest option is by taking a look at the offerings, carefully assessing your needs, and comparing this to locally-installed options.

    As with everything, don't believe the sales pitch – always put it to the test.

     

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Not

  • Great Debate Moderator

    What are drawbacks...

    ...of using a traditional third-party installed app for Software Asset Management?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Practical limitations

    You only get so much bang for your buck from a traditional solution before you have to spend more bucks. So, to put it in plain english, scalability is the major drawback of traditional third party SAM solutions. The scalability problem is well known.

     

    Ken Hess

    I am for Cloud

    You have to do more work

    The biggest drawback of locally-installed Software Asset Management software compared to the cloud offering is that you have to do more work. Not much more, but there are additional factors that you are responsible for. These include:

    - Security
    - Backup
    - Uptime

    These are things that any system admin worth their salt should already be covering, so adding your Software Asset Management tools under that umbrella should be too much of an effort.

     

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Not

  • Great Debate Moderator

    What are drawbacks of using a cloud solution?


    Posted by Jason Hiner

    The only one that I can see is flexibility.

    I think that cloud solutions are less flexible than traditional software ones because cloud SAM isn't as mature as traditional solutions are. Frankly, I think companies that use cloud SAM solutions are probably mixing them with traditional solutions.

    I think the day for a 100 percent handoff to a cloud solution is coming soon but companies, especially the larger ones, are still a little reluctant to break with traditional solutions in the short term.

     

    Ken Hess

    I am for Cloud

    I've covered some of these already, but can be summed up as follows:

    - Potential for downtime
    - Loss of control over factors such as security and backup
    - The chance that a cloud solution doesn't cover all your needs

    Also, any company that's planning to make the switch from a local solution to a cloud solution needs to think carefully about additional downsides such as migration and data integrity.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Not

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Principles of a good cloud choice?

    Is the choice of cloud vs. on-premises software for Software Asset Management similar or different to the general principles of making a good cloud choice?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    It's different

    If I understand the question correctly, I have to say that it's different. And it's different because you're looking for different features from a SAM solution than those of say, storage or virtual desktops. For example, you might want the "always on" feature of cloud computing but does geographic diversity matter to you for SAM. So, I'd say from that standpoint, the choices are different.

     

    Ken Hess

    I am for Cloud

    It's essentially the same.

     In fact, cloud versus on-premises software really boils down to making the right choice for your companies needs. The principals are the same – shortlist a selection of possible solutions that you think might fit the bill, research and test these as extensively as you can, and then pick the one that works for you.

    What I'm advocating is not avoiding cloud services, or banishing them from your shortlist of options, but encouraging you to look beyond the cloud hyperbole and make your choices based on fact, not sales pitches and fantasy.

     

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Not

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Finally...

    Sum up your number one reason why a company should choose cloud or traditional installed software for Software Asset Management.

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Expense.

    The cloud solution is going to be less expensive obviously. On premise solutions are always more expensive than cloud solutions are. Because you're service is dedicated with a traditional solution and cloud solutions are multi-tenant.

    In other words, when you build your own solution, it's like building your own car--it's very expensive to do that but it probably meets every one of your needs and wants. Alternatively, if you purchase a car that was mass produced, it will take care of 95 percent or more of your needs and wants. It's also a lot cheaper to buy rather than build because the manufacturer has the advantage of volume.

    Ken Hess

    I am for Cloud

    Availability.

    The number one reason is that to choose a traditional, locally-installed Software Asset Management solution is availability. Cloud solutions are great – until the cloud evaporates and leaves everyone twiddling their thumbs or pacing about waiting for it to reappear.

    Cloud downtimes are a pain at the best of times, but imagine that happening during a software audit?

    The biggest problem with cloud services is that when things go wrong – as things inevitably do – there's little we can do other than yell at the service provider and wait for service to resume. It's all out of out control.

    And I for one don't like that.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Not

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Thank you, debaters -- and readers

    Please check back tomorrow for our debaters' closing arguments, and Thursday for my final verdict.

    Posted by Jason Hiner

Closing Statements

How all software will be managed

Ken Hess

Cloud is more than a buzzword and it's certainly no passing fad. And cloud for Software Asset Management is not only a good idea, it's how all software will be managed in the near future. It only makes sense to move to a cloud model for SAM when major software services and "as a Service" offerings have already moved to the cloud.

Remember that SAM encompasses more than just tallying licenses. Although license sprawl prevention and compliance are significant aspects of it, it also has to do with patch management, operating system deployment and security. The cloud is the perfect location for that kind of distributed computing need. The more geographically diverse your user population is, the greater the need for cloud-based SAM. Locally installed and maintained SAM can no longer handle the load.

For all of the fault-finding that analysts do with the cloud, it's the best of all worlds from a technical standpoint for delivery, monitoring, metering and deployment.

Pick the tools that work best for you

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

While there's no doubt that Software Asset Management is a vital tool for any organization – large or small – that wants to effectively manage their software throughout its lifecycle.

The traditional way to keep track of software – from cradle to grave – was to use a locally-installed Software Asset Management tools, but with the increased interest in cloud service, companies no longer need to have the tools installed locally on their networks.

But does the cloud offer a better Software Asset Management compared to a locally-installed solution? My take on this is that we should not instantly dismiss local solutions in favor of cloud services just because the cloud is new and there's a lot of buzz surrounding it. Not only are there a number of excellent solutions out there that can be locally installed, but these might well suit your needs better than a cloud option.

Treat cloud services in the same way you treat any other software – do your research, take test drives, and then pick the tools that work best for you and your organization.

Today's best option for SAM

Jason Hiner

Ken and Adrian did a nice job of breaking down this topic and giving our readers solid guidance on making good decisions around Software Asset Management. Ken highlighted the advantages of scalability and handling device diversity that you get with cloud solutions and Adrian brought up the benefits of control, security, and flexibility that you get with traditional installed software.

However, even Ken acknowledged that fully cloud-based SAM is still a maturing solution and that the companies that are using cloud-based SAM are mixing it with traditional installed software. As a result, the best option for SAM still looks like having the control of installed software, but combining it with the power of the Internet to manage distributed devices and occasionally taking advantage of cloud-based management consoles. That will likely be the case as long as there's still plenty of traditional software in the enterprise to manage.

So, Adrian gets the nod.

Topics: Great Debate

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

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