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Three Technology “Gotchas” That Can Derail Your License Management Efforts

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We all know that relying too heavily on technology can be perilous. And while most IT pros recognize that software asset management tools in and of themselves don’t represent a “silver bullet” for managing one’s license position, they generally have a long way to go toward establishing, communicating, and enforcing the SAM processes necessary to address the gaps inherent in any technology. What may surprise you is that even if you believe you have effective SAM processes in place, you’re still not necessarily in the clear.

Let’s assume you’ve finally got all your ducks in a row: You’ve consolidated all your historical license information, established procedures by which new software purchases and entitlement details are thoroughly documented, developed a sound software usage policy, and configured your SAM tool to reconcile all that licensing information with installed software. You feel confident, and you’re ready to tell your boss that your new SAM program is officially “up and running.”

Not so fast. Despite all your best efforts, there may be gaps in what your technology can actually provide that may come back to haunt you if you’re not aware of them. Here are the top three ways SAM technology can misguide you into believing you’re properly licensed.



1. Incomplete software recognition

Many SAM tools rely on registry entries and/or file header analysis to identify what’s installed on your machines. But such methodologies often can’t make critical differentiations among executables they discover (find out why in this article). For example: SQL Server and SQL Express (the free version) have identical executable names, which could lead you to a variety of incorrect conclusions depending on what you have installed. Let’s say you have licensed 100 copies of SQL Server, and you have copies installed on 100 machines. In addition, you have copies of SQL Express installed on 50 different machines. Your SAM tool, which relies on the file executable, will indicate you have 150 copies of SQL installed on distinct machines, leading you to erroneously believe you have a compliance issue. Without a more accurate analysis, you could easily end up purchasing 50 more copies in attempt to “true up” unnecessarily.

This same technology shortcoming can also lead to much worse consequences in the other direction; if your SAM tool can’t properly identify software, you likely have software installed on your network that your technology simply doesn’t recognize. And if any of that software is unlicensed, you may have a very serious problem.

2. Software usage data derived from the registry

Software usage analysis, as we all know, is a cornerstone of effective software asset management, offering a means of eliminating spending on unused or underutilized licenses. And usage analysis may be about more than just cost savings – compliance for usage-based licensing models such as concurrency require it. However, SAM tools that rely on usage statistics obtained from the registry are limited in their ability to truly help you manage your licensing costs and compliance status.

First of all, usage data contained in the registry is extremely vague insofar as you can only get a general sense of frequency of use versus actual application launches on individual machines. This lack of granularity can potentially lead you to erroneous conclusions when it comes to staying compliant with usage-based license agreements and/or the extent to which your software investments are, in fact, being utilized—and by whom.

Additionally, usage data from the registry is not “real time,” which means it’s impossible to monitor usage in such a way as would be required to manage concurrently-licensed applications. Without real-time usage statistics, you have no way of ensuring that peak usage isn’t exceeding allowable limits at any given time.

3. Lack of support for virtualized environments

Although virtualization has been around for a while, the licensing complexities associated with running virtual machines and software are still often poorly understood, and as a result, too often ignored. Most SAM technologies have a long way to go in terms of achieving full support for licenses running in virtualized environments.

It’s therefore important to recognize that when it comes to your virtual environment, only YOU can ensure that the licenses are properly accounted for. For example, most SAM technologies won’t automatically recognize the presence of virtual machines or, by extension, the software residing on those machines; normally a client must be deployed to virtual machines in the same way it’s deployed to physical machines in order to properly account for the software installed on them. Failure to properly inventory those machines will result in under-counting of software installations—and potentially lead to an incorrect conclusion that you’re properly licensed.

Another problem endemic to many SAM technologies is that they can’t recognize the relationship between virtual machines and their parent machines. For example, many server versions of Microsoft Windows allow for OS installation on one or more virtual machines under the same license as that being used by the physical machine. If this is the case and it’s not properly accounted for, it may lead to the erroneous belief that you’re under-licensed.

The situation gets even murkier when your environment uses virtualized software streaming technologies to provide applications to user desktops. Few SAM tools are able to monitor usage and enforce peak usage limits under this software delivery model.


Admittedly, all these “gotchas” may seem daunting—but as with any other technology, processes can and should be established which take these tool limitations into account. It’s simply a matter of educating oneself on the strengths and weaknesses of your SAM tool, evaluating the tradeoffs, and ensuring that any gaps in the above areas are recognized and compensated for within—yes, we’ve come around full circle!—your SAM processes.

No SAM technology is a panacea in all areas related to software license management, and any vendor that claims its product will “automate license management” for you should be regarded with a healthy degree of skepticism. But if you do your homework, know where human intervention and additional analysis are required, and establish careful, comprehensive processes, you should be able to come pretty darn close.