Well-managed software for flexible and resilient IT

Managing software assets is vital for maintaining a flexible and up-to-date IT platform. We look at best practices for software asset management

Just as intelligent management of a datacentre’s hardware assets is critical to ensure that IT delivers business value, managing software assets is vital for maintaining a highly flexible and up-to-date IT platform.

But more often, software is purchased by the IT department out of necessity – and then forgotten due to its intangible form.

As software asset management (SAM) tools evolve into complex systems, using them correctly can help organisations maintain their software purchases to better meet business needs while remaining compliant with their software contracts.

As with hardware, the first step in software management is to carry out a full asset discovery. The majority of systems management tools will be able to carry out this task, but the capabilities of the systems may not provide exactly what is needed.

For example, some systems will look only within the datacentre. While this may be useful in identifying the number of licences being used across a specific software, this will only touch a small proportion of the applications and licences an organisation has.

Auditing software

Trawling through a total estate of servers, desktops, laptops, tablets and other mobile devices has become a difficult task, particularly with the rising popularity of bring your own device (BYOD) schemes, where licences may have been bought directly by the user. Yet building up a full picture of what is being used has many different advantages.

First, patterns of use can be built up. For example, is a specific group of employees using a specific application? Are employees carrying out the same tasks using different applications? Second, the issue of licensing compliance can be addressed.

Once a full picture of the application landscape has been established, IT managers can assess how these have been licensed. In many cases, organisations will find that they have a corporate agreement for licences, yet departments and individuals have sourced their own software, with licences costing much more than if they had gone through a central purchasing capability.

Bringing these licences into the central system could save a lot of money and help businesses remain compliant.

Bringing licence agreements from several countries together under a single contract could help save money and time taken in managing the various contracts

Clive Longbottom

However, it may well be that “golden images” have been used with corporate licences without any checks as to whether the number of seats implemented is within the agreed contract. Although this software discovery process can lead to extra costs for the organisation in bringing the contract into line with the number of licences being used, it will be cheaper than being fined should a software audit be carried out by the likes of Fast (the Federation Against Software Theft).

The software use patterns identified may help IT save costs in another instance too. Many SAM tools will be able to report on when an application was last used by an employee. In some cases, this may have been weeks, even months, ago – in many cases, it will be apparent that the employee installed the software to try out and has not used it since. Harvesting these unused licences can help to offset the need to change existing contracts.

A third advantage is that, as long as the asset discovery tool is granular enough, it will be able to ascertain the status of the application – its version level, what patches have been applied and so on. This allows IT to bring applications fully up to the latest version and ensure that patches have been applied where necessary.

When combined with a good hardware asset management system, the overall hardware estate can be interrogated to ensure that it is capable of taking the software upgrades. Where this is not possible, the machine can be upgraded or replaced as necessary, or marked as a special case with the software to remain as is when further software updates are scheduled to run.

How to pick SAM tools

Good SAM tools should also be able to map the dependencies between software, tracking how a business process will use different applications as it progresses.

Again, through the use of suitable rules engines, these dependencies can be managed – to prevent the updating of one application from causing a whole business process to fail, for example. Also, possible problematic areas can be identified – for example, where software has a dependency on the use of IE6, and so introduce security loopholes that could be exploited by hackers.

For most organisations, the main strength of SAM tools will, however, reside in the capability to manage software licences against agreed contracts. In many cases, this is not just a case of counting licences and comparing them against how many are allowed to be used. The domain expertise built up by suppliers such as Flexera and Snow Software means that the nuances of contracts can be used to the best advantage.

For example, through identifying all licences that are currently in place and the use patterns around them, it may be possible to use concurrent licensing rather than per-seat licencing, whereby licences can be allocated based on the number of people using an application, rather than on named seats, so bringing down the number of licences required considerably. If this is not an option, then it may be that by bringing all licences under one agreement, rather than several, a point may be reached where a new discount level is hit.

For an organisation with, say, 1,000 seats, which has 600 licences under one agreement and four other contracts for 100 seats each, hitting the 1,000 seats under one contract may optimise the costs considerably – not just on licences, but also on maintenance. For international organisations, this can be exceedingly valid, as bringing licence agreements from several countries together under a single international contract could help save large amounts of money, as well as the time taken in managing the various contracts.

Clive Longbottom is founder of industry analyst Quocirca.

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