Licensing servers in a virtual environment

Don't get distracted by the flashing lights of your virtual environment -- beware unexpected costs from a poorly managed software estate, says this licensing expert.

Everybody is talking about data centre server virtualisation -- it has the potential to transform the way organisations utilise software resources, but a poorly managed virtualisation strategy can obscure software licensing obligations and contribute to unexpected costs, if you do not know about licensing a sever in a virtual environment.

A recent Forrester Research Inc. survey of 2,600 technology decision makers in the U.S. and Europe found that 54% of enterprises have implemented server virtualisation or plan to in the next 12 months. Research firm Gartner Inc. has also suggested that virtualisation will be the trend with the highest impact in changing data centre infrastructure in 2012.

The green data centre agenda
It is easy to suggest that the green data centre issue has swept virtualisation onto the IT and finance directors' "must-tackle" agenda. Environmental and sustainability concerns -- and the potential to save power within the data centre -- have certainly been catalysts. But there are other reasons: An increasing demand for fast deployment and resilience, compliance, security, growing infrastructure complexity, mushroomingenergy prices, and limits on power availability.

Understanding virtualisation
Virtualisation is undoubtedly collapsing the amount of hardware organisations need to install, and it has completely changed the landscape for the IT Director and the industry. However virtualisation has disrupted the accepted link between software and hardware, and this means that both vendors and users alike now need to find new ways of licensing software. Many vendors in the software industry have been looking at this and debating how the licensing servers' process might work.

One of the problems in take-up has been the lack of a co-ordinated response to virtualisation from the vendors and it is unlikely that a common virtual software licensing standard will evolve over the next few years. There will certainly be more responsibility on customers to track, monitor and prove metrics on virtualised systems, as many vendors will lack the tools to monitor true virtual licensing on severs. Therefore, in some ways, the industry is moving ahead with virtualisation at one level and struggling at another.

In terms of licensing a server, there is no doubt that this has to be fair for the customer. If you are using a server from a third party, and just using 15 minutes in a monthly pay scheme, you could pay the same as someone using it every hour, every day under the same scheme. It has to be said, discussions like this, which involve complex virtualised licence pricing models strike fear into customers and vendors alike. This is because neither contingent feels it has enough information to venture into a model that breaks with former licensing tradition and potentially introduces many unknown components.

Virtualisation has disrupted the accepted link between software and hardware - both vendors and users need to find new ways of licensing software.

Phil Heap,
Head of Consultancy Products and ServicesFAST Ltd.

Understanding the benefits
Rest assured there are benefits to be gained from virtualisation, including more effective management and disaster recovery. There is a management benefit too. Instead of taking a day to duplicate a server, organisations can do this in ten minutes. In fact, it becomes so easy to create another server it can become too easy and customers need to be wary of this.

Buyer beware
Although many organisations are now looking into ways of using virtualisation, there is a risk that organisations are already adopting it for the wrong reasons -- for example, the Finance Director seeing virtualisation as a way to save money -- or are falling into bad practices, with a breakdown in security a considerable risk.

Process, procedure and policy are critical. Companies must not get distracted by the flashing lights of the virtual environment. Poorly managed virtualisation can obscure software licensing obligations and leave an organisation exposed to unexpected costs. Software Asset Management and more importantlySoftware Licence Management need to become real-time disciplines that can manage increasingly dynamic virtual environments.

IT Asset Management becomes twice as important, when licensing severs, because physical and virtual assets need to be managed together consistently and the dynamic relationship between the virtual and physical must be tracked and auditable.

Phil Heap is the Head of Consultancy Products and Services at FAST Ltd and a Contributor to SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.uk

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