Software is an increasingly valuable element of a modern company's assets. But managing software licences is becoming complex, especially as the onward march of virtualisation gathers pace, breaking the ties that used to bind software to hardware.
Controlling software licences is a key element of IT asset management. So when Ben Grimes, chief technology officer of Avocent, the vendor of IT management software LANDesk, visited the UK recently, ZDNet UK took the opportunity to grill him about his views on software licensing.
Q: What are the core software licensing problems that enterprises are facing? Do you have any research that shows the scale of the problem?
A: I can't quote any research, but from the conversations with CIOs I've had around the world, the core issues are gaining control of licence fees. I see policies and procedures being put into place to add rigour to the environment, so the CIO can understand what they have, rather than buy new licences.
The problem is that so many things have happened from the point of view of technology sprawl, that the licence fees people pay have expanded and don't necessarily correlate to the software that's installed.
What about devices such as smartphones? These are a software licensing problem too, but you can't stop users bringing them in.
Smartphones are an issue and it speaks to problems about security. Smartphones are just small laptops that can load any software and they create a security problem. So, for example, they track email and use enterprise software, so IT managers need to make sure they're secure.
IT managers need to limit these devices by locking them down. It means policies and procedures have to be put in place to ensure compliance. In the industry it's starting to look like you need policies to have access to data but not store it on the device.
The question is: how can I remove physical content from mobile devices including laptops and keep it in a secure environment, and still have usage of an infrastructure as if it was right there with me.
How does virtualisation affect software licensing practices? For example, many licences are issued on a per-processor basis.
If you look at large software vendors, they've all changed their policies quite a bit now. You're starting to see policies changing to a per-virtual-machine basis or to different models to address the virtualised world.
So what can enterprises do to reduce what they pay, and how are they responding in practice?
Enterprises need to take a management perspective of their assets. You need to put policy around the asset: the software.
You need to look at, for example, how I put rigour around the software so you can understand what exists out there, how much of it is being used and where is it running. How many servers does it run on? If you don't do this, you run the risk of paying much more than you need, by paying for licences you never use.
How much could a typical company save?
We have done studies which show that up to 30 percent of IT equipment is not fully understood by IT managers. They don't know what it does and what it contains, and that includes software.
What happened was that they needed a function, so they installed a server and the application, threw it in the rack and left it there. When it comes to counting for licensing purposes, they just count servers...