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Mobility breeds software license management complexity

Vendors want IT to think software licensing in the mobile era is flexible, easy and simple, but that's not always the case.

Vendors want customers to believe that in the mobile era, software license management is simpler, but that couldn't be further from the truth.

Mobile applications can be delivered in a variety of ways -- all of which have different licensing schemes. Companies can deliver mobile apps from the cloud and pay a subscription licensing model, deliver them from a virtualized environment and pay licenses based on cores or memory, or deliver from on-premises servers and pay per-user or per-device.

"These companies love to use the word 'simple' all the time for their innovations and products, but they do know they need to simplify the process and make it less painful during renewal time," said Eric Klein, senior mobility analyst for VDC Research Group Inc. in Natick, Mass.

In some instances, licensing has to be complex to give customers what they want, said Amy Konary, research vice president for software licensing and mobile enterprise applications at IDC, an analysis firm in Framingham, Mass.

"Customers are unhappy because they can't understand [the licensing]," Konary said. "But the reason we have complexity is we want flexibility. If you only have one option for buying something, it's not going to meet a lot of your needs."

Flexibility comes with a cost and IT has to use resources to compensate for the complexity that comes with flexibility, said James Gordon, first vice president of information technology at Needham Bank in Needham, Mass.

"As IT professionals, we brought this upon ourselves," Gordon said. "If you look at Apple, it couldn't be less complicated. You buy a device, you get a license. Yet the penetration with classic Macs isn't there and there's no Apple server environment."

Whether it's unlimited [licensing], per core, per memory -- it gets complicated awful quick.
James GordonIT vice president, Needham Bank

Virtualization created scenarios which no one previously thought of and that leads vendors to license their products differently, Gordon said.

"Whether it's unlimited [licensing], per core, per memory -- it gets complicated awful quick," he said.

In addition, many licensing plans now follow a per-user model as opposed to a per-device model. While this theoretically makes tracking software easier, in general the per-user model is more expensive for customers than per-device. In theory, the vendor is selling fewer licenses to customers on a per-user basis compared to per-device.

IT pros need software license management tools

What's helpful for IT pros is to have an auditable method of keeping track of licenses, both in terms of how many licenses exist and how many are actually being used, Gordon said. But that's not always what IT gets from software vendors.

"All too often the portal they give me is confusing and there is no good way to identify the number of licenses I'm actually using," Gordon said.

Because of that, IT often has to rely on third-party vendors to keep track of licenses. For example, Needham Bank utilized services from CDW Corp., a technology services provider of Vernon Hills, Ill., when it went through a recent Microsoft audit.

"CDW was part of every conference we had during the audit," Gordon said.

Companies that go through a merger or acquisition could be more likely to face a licensing audit, Konary said. It's also possible IT could "run afoul" of licensing stipulations if it migrates to a public cloud environment from on-premises, she said.

While there aren't any specific tools specific to enterprise mobile apps, companies can use third-party tools such as Flexera Software LLC, Aspera Inc., 1E Inc. and Snow Software Inc. to improve software license management, Konary said.

Jake O'Donnell is the news writer for SearchConsumerization and SearchVirtualDesktop. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @JakeODonnell_TT.

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