Monday, October 12, 2015

Software License Enforcement

So you manage a few hundred or maybe a few thousand computers. What do you do when it's time to buy software? If you buy too many copies, you wasted money. Too few copies means you're vulnerable to an expensive lawsuit. How do you ensure that you're in compliance and not wasting money?

I solved this problem about a decade ago and sometimes forget that others still face this challenge. If you're one of them, this article was written for you.

If you find yourself in this situation, I highly recommend having a conversation with the folks over at Sassafras Software about their K2 (a.k.a. KeyServer) product. I've been a happy customer for years.

Their customer support is knowledgeable, thorough, and friendly. I've never been on hold for more than 2 minutes or so. In fact, it is kind of like calling a buddy for advice -- no customer number to remember or case number to track. You just get through to them and start talking about your situation.

The product itself is great. You can install it on Windows or MacOS quite easily. I even did an automated install to hundreds of Macs via FileWave without problems. (This should work on Munki, Casper, etc. as well.) This customized installer is already configured with my KeyServer's address, so it connects as soon as it is installed. The computer then shows up in a list of monitored computers. As end users run programs, those programs are added to a list of "discovered" software. You can also add purchases, products, computers, and policies manually.

Here is a recent real-world example from my job. We purchased 500 installations of Microsoft Office 2016 for Mac. I told KeyServer that we had a new product and it checked in with Sassafras about what constituted "Office 2016" and set up some criteria for me. For example, if the user runs OneNote 2016, that computer is considered to have a license to Office 2016. So it is entitled to run Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook as well. Another computer might run Word 2008, but K2 knows that is a different version and doesn't count it as Office 2016.

Then I told it that we had purchased Office 2016 and filled out a form telling KeyServer it was 500 units of single-computer installations, that it was an original license and not an upgrade license, what it cost, my organization's purchase order number, that it didn't expire (i.e. that it wasn't a subscription,) etc. This is great data for tracking the licenses during a future audit. I could pull up a list of every time we purchased this product, how many "seats" we bought, which purchase orders to pull out as proof for the lawyers, and so on. It also helps calculate costs for supporting different products in the future. These kinds of hard numbers can help you make calculations and drive discussions about maintaining products in the future.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, KeyServer will let you choose how to monitor the license usage. It can passively track installations, track frequency of usage, or even enforce licensing. In the previous example, I configured it to allow the first 500 Macs to run Office 2016 to be automatically registered as users of it. After that, the 501st Mac to try to run that particular version of Office would receive a message saying that they weren't licensed to use it. So if someone was "helping out" and installed it when they shouldn't, that would turn up rather quickly. We could then choose to buy additional licenses or have a conversation about who really needs the software. If it turns out that one of the 500 to grab the license automatically shouldn't have it, we could withdraw that license and assign it to someone else. Next year, when computers are replaced, I can move the licenses around. A few years later, when the next version of Office is released, I could run a report to see how many computers actually used the software and factor that into future buying decisions.

There are a lot of features and situations that I didn't cover in this example. My point was just to show how K2 can make many common situations much easier. Given what we pay on it compared to the manpower (and the salary) wasted on walking around doing manual audits, I think K2 is a huge time and money saver. It saves even more time and money if you use the utilization reports to find licenses to move around or drive budgeting of upgrades.

If you manage a few hundred Windows PCs or Macs, I highly recommend a look into what Sassafras Software could do to help you.