Software asset management is key to datacentre planning

asset management

Software asset management is key to datacentre planning

An ordered approach to managing software and hardware assets is essential to maximising your datacentre.

We are all too aware that businesses typically view IT as a utility, and should therefore be able to deliver computing services at the flick of a switch. 

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Such a culture does not place IT in a positive bargaining position. It leads to licensing checks and balances being overlooked in lieu of an over-arching contract that is supposed to indemnify beleaguered IT deployment staff, and protect the business if it wants to deploy software faster than standard protocols allow.

And when IT is in an even weaker bargaining position, project-based initiatives will often take it upon themselves to buy their own hardware and software, and present central IT with a fait accomplito to ensure that the shadow IT is somehow integrated with the existing IT infrastructure – ignorant of any licensing constraints that might apply.

The consequences of supporting such a working culture are that IT has less of an understanding of what hardware and software assets are deployed in the business, who owns them, and whether or not the technologies are supportable based on current service desk knowledge.

The impact of servicing such reactive IT support is magnified when we start to look deeper into where the software is installed. A last-minute roll-out of a new desktop title could offer licence exposure in the tens of thousands of pounds. Rash deployments in the server space might only number in the 10s (as an example), but they cost every bit as much, if not more.

Mitigation

So how can we rectify these licensing dilemmas? Clearly, a shift in company mindset is required to ensure the business understands that IT is not staffed by people waiting for the business to give them work. What is needed is a structured approach that ensures business needs are satisfied, yet keeps IT in step with the business (let’s not forget that IT exists to enable the business, not to hinder it).

In the first instance, we need to acknowledge a process that is acceptable to the business. Exceptions should be accommodated wherever possible, but there need to be some constraints to ensure that corners are not cut when it comes to validating licences against any changes that occur.

Licence validation check

First and foremost, a software asset manager should act as a gatekeeper to ensure not only that a licence is in place to cover the installation/change of software, but that the architecture of a deployment does not flout the terms and conditions of the licence. One of the biggest pitfalls in this area in recent times is that of virtualisation.

Licensing impact of deploying Oracle database

For instance, Oracle has very precise criteria for allowing virtualisation with its software, so always consult an Oracle licensing and architecture specialist if you have any doubts about what you intend to do with Oracle software in the datacentre. Oracle will also qualify the cost of the licence required by factoring in a metric to accommodate the type of processor its software is run on – the Oracle core factor table can offer greater detail on what that metric is for your company. Be mindful too, of wider business/IT criteria when it comes to assessing changes.

If you require redundancy or fail-over capabilities with Oracle database software, then don’t automatically assume that the fail-over device is covered by the existing software licence. 

Finally, if the change is a new installation of an Oracle database, then make sure that performance enhancing utilities (called data packs and management options) are licensed before they are installed. A default installation of an Oracle database will install and call on these utilities unless they are expressly turned off at the point of installation. Your deployment team may view these as ‘freebies’ and think it a good idea to install them while they go – remind them that a widespread deployment of Oracle utilities could easily outstrip their annual salary depending on the breadth of the software deployment!

Microsoft database licensing

Microsoft has also recently revised its pricing model for SQL Server 2012, and started to account for the number of cores dedicated to a database – per processor licensing will fast become a thing of the past as older iterations of its database software go end of life. Equally, if you wish to virtualise SQL Server database instances, then make sure those instances have software assurance attached to them to cover such a scenario. Again, don’t be afraid to engage a Microsoft licence consultant to address the exact scenario that matches the change management request.

If the change is a transfer of a CAL (client access licence) from one user to another, then don’t automatically assume that removing the former employee’s name and replacing it with that of the new employee is going to be ok with the software vendor.

Don’t automatically assume that removing a former employee’s name and replacing it with that of a new employee is going to be ok with the software vendor

Named users

If you are licensing Oracle, for example, by a ‘named user plus’ metric rather than a processor metric, you are expected to remove former employees from the database names table. Equally, SAP has some very precise rules pertaining to the transfer of licences to use its software, and this includes staff leaving a company. Again, drill down to the nub of the change, and don’t be afraid to engage with someone who has spent considerable time getting to know SAP licensing rules. 

Microsoft also has software that requires companies to register user names against the use of its service. Aside from Office 365/SaaS offerings, MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) access is supposed to be recorded via the Volume Licensing Service Center website. ‘Under the table’ transfer of existing usernames and passwords from one employee to the next should not be standard practice (although enforcing SAM practice in the developer community is akin to rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time!)

Datacentre hardware changes

The flip side to software datacentre changes is, of course, hardware changes. If an e-commerce portal proves a roaring success for a company but users are experiencing sluggish performance from it, then a request might come in from the team overseeing the e-commerce portal to somehow improve the performance. 

If such a request reaches the datacentre and circumvents a SAM manager, the resultant recommendation might be to improve the specification of the processor. But, as explained above with both Oracle database and Microsoft SQL Server 2012 software, processor types and processor cores actively contribute to the licence calculation. More processing power brings more licence cost.

Watch out for server controls

In the desktop arena, there are also potential savings to be made. The functional/operational difference between the professional and standard versions of MS Project are negligible; however, if the change request before you requires a project team to offer concurrency locks and version control on Project documents via a Project server, then the licence terms and conditions exclude the end user using the standard version. Technically, the standard edition will still interact with the Project server installation, but this will be in breach of the licence. The same applies for Microsoft Visio.

SaaS licensing

Software as a service (SaaS) is increasingly coming to the fore. Public cloud offerings might absolve your SAM team of counting installs and then comparing them to licences, but the wider implications to your business should not be underestimated.

If you receive a change management request to move to a Saas-based product, then it should be spelt out to the requester that levels of technical support will change (if the SaaS deployment is public) and that they will need to engage proactively with the SaaS provider to ensure adequate levels of redundancy are in place to address business continuity management and disaster recovery. Will the Saas provider even offer compensation for loss of business if its service fails for more than a set period of time?

Don’t be afraid to engage with software vendors here. This is a new field for change management to address, and should be addressed before a service fails, rather than umming and ahhing your way out of a conversation when no plan B is to be found.

Prevention is better than cure. A change advisory board should have an understanding of the software licensing implications of changes it proposes. Don’t be afraid to revisit deployments after they have been made to ensure they are in line with the intended deployment. This allows you to verify that the deployment is in accordance with the licensing/contract agreements your company has in place.

Most likely if you are reading this whitepaper, your job title will have the word ‘manager’ at the end of it – a change management process should be part of your agenda. After all, you are paid to know, not to guess.

Rory Canavan is a software asset management consultant. His new book, SAM Process Kit, can be found at http://download.itassetmanagement.net/sam-process-kit/


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This was first published in July 2014

 

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