Early bird vendors beating MS to software-tracking worm

If you don't want to wait for Microsoft's SMS 2003 to hit the market this fall, then don't. There's a raft of applications available now that can track software licenses and usage.

How desperate are you to know just what software you have, how many licenses you own and which ones are actually being used?

Here's a little bit of news to temper your angst -- you don't have to wait for Microsoft's scheduled fall release of Systems Management Server 2003 to answer these questions.

At a time when IT departments must rationalize all spending, license management software can arm admins with cost-cutting information right now, and there is no shortage of companies offering the goods. ABC Enterprise Systems, Altiris, Axios Systems, Centennial, Novadigm, Peregrine Systems and Tally Systems all offer software programs that help admins track licenses and usage.

Software license management, also know as metering, could save you money. License management software can reduce software costs by 5% during the first year of use and 3% in each of the next two years, according to research firm Gartner Inc., in Stamford, Conn. The statistics don't appear overwhelming, but they gain significance when you consider that most organizations shell out 25% of their IT money on software, according to Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group.

Customers are especially interested in keeping track of their assets, particularly in the wake of changes to the way Microsoft licenses its software, said Tyler Smith, vice president of marketing at Lindon, Utah-based Altiris, Inc.

Microsoft now sells software licenses as a subscription service. In many companies, there are so many different versions of software that IT managers find it hard to know what their end users have installed on their desks if they haven't kept an up-to-date inventory of each PC.

Word of caution

However, metering applications aren't foolproof, said Mark Liechty, a consultant based in Lincoln, Calif. He claims that the free software that comes with new PCs can throw off admins -- and their license management applications. The same is true of license model changes that occur from version to version.

Instead of accounting for every license, most corporate IT pros do their best to not pay for more than 10 licenses for every eight in use, he said.

"The goal is: avoid the situation where there are 10 copies of Office installed on 100 computers," Liechty said.

Microsoft catches up

Software metering in SMS 2.0 had network admins scratching their heads. The feature had only active and passive modes of operation when it came to software metering. Both were cumbersome, and some users complained that they didn't work at all.

For example, in active mode, if a company owned 100 licenses for Office but had 200 employees, the 101st employee logging in would be shut out. The passive mode lets anyone log in but doesn't tell the administrator who's using the software and when.

Microsoft says it is improving software metering for SMS 2003.

The company claims that it has completely rewritten the metering process in SMS 2003. No user will be shut out of an application, and administrators will be able to better track who's using software so they can buy new licenses if necessary.

"SMS 2003 metering will also be able to track applications as used by Windows Terminal Servers," said Bill Anderson, lead product manager of Microsoft's management business group, in an e-mail interview.

"This can be useful for customers that need to track concurrent application usage for shared applications on Windows Terminal Servers and capacity planning for the size/locations of Terminal Servers for users."

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Article: Energy company flips the switch -- leaves SMS in the dark

Come hear Don Jones' session on The Thorny Field of MS Volume Licensing Options for 2003 at SearchWin2000.com's free Enterprise Windows Decisions Conference in Chicago.

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