Managing your assets

by Kay Ewbank

Kay Ewbank talks to Snow Software about the importance of software asset management and looks at your options.

HardCopy Issue: 68 | Published: February 26, 2016

How do you keep track of the software on your computers? If the answer involves an Excel spreadsheet that someone from Accounts dreamed up, then there are products out there that will make life a lot easier, and very probably save you money.

Software Asset Management (SAM) is one of those topics that sounds like it’s only relevant if you have thousands of computers, but while it is definitely needed if that’s the case, smaller companies can benefit from it too. SAM gives you the means to manage your IT infrastructure; to see what’s being used from a software perspective; to make sure you’re only using what you’ve licensed; and equally importantly, to highlight what you’ve paid for but aren’t using.

Dell Asset Manager

Dell Asset Manager can be used on its own or alongside Microsoft System Center to manage software and hardware details, matched with the licensing details for SAM. Dell Asset Manager can gather the details of software installed on real and virtual assets, either by being installed as an agent locally on devices, or by using System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) data. The software also lets you import inventory data from sources such as spreadsheets. The information is then checked and updated to reflect what’s really installed. If you have usage data in the external data file, Asset Manager can tell you where to uninstall software and re-harvest the licences. If you have Active Directory installed, you can use Organisational Units (OU), Group, and Site information from it in compliance reporting.

The support for virtual environments is one of Asset Manager’s strengths, letting you manage software in VMware, Microsoft and Citrix Virtual environments for tracking licence use.

Dell says that Asset Manager can successfully identify and categorise more than 85 percent of all software automatically. This figure is based on an underlying database that contains the details of more than half a million software packages, including what differs between different bundles of software. You can also import licence agreements and link them with the applications that Asset Manager has identified. This includes identifying upgrade, downgrade, and second-use rights. Once identified, software use can be tracked with passive metering so that underused or unused software can be removed and used more effectively. You can also use active metering for situations where you need to meet concurrent licence agreements. This would mean that if you had licences to use 50 concurrent copies of an app, the active meter would prevent more than that number being launched.

Dell Asset Manager Screenshot

The need to manage software holds true whether it’s something you’ve paid for, leased, written in-house or downloaded for free; you still need to be able to manage it, because it all has an impact on your business. Most companies do begin by focusing on the licensing, and given the amounts of money that are involved, this is understandable. If you’re spending money on something, you need to get value out of that asset. However, it’s equally important that you don’t breach the terms of your contract when you install the software on a machine somewhere on your network. You have to know what is installed out there, what’s being used within your environment, and then you need to apply the licensing on top of that so you’re legally compliant with the terms and conditions you’ve signed.

The added benefit is that you know how your licences are being used, so you’re able to say “we’ve installed this on ten machines, but it’s not being used on two of those.” You can then re-harvest the licences for people who actually want to use the software, and so make cost savings.

The other element of SAM and licence management is risk mitigation. You have to ensure you’re compliant not just with the terms and conditions from the original supplier, but also with the legal requirements of your particular type of company. For example, companies working in finance might need to comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) regulations which require they identify where software is installed and which parts of the company are using which pieces of software. Another time when it’s important to know who is using what is when part of the business is sold off, so that it’s possible to identify exactly what software is included in the deal.

 

Key Indicators

Everybody needs to carry out SAM; what alters is the level of management you need. A very small company might be able to get away with noting it down on an Excel sheet. The challenge arises as the company becomes bigger, and the software use more complex. One key indicator that you need to use SAM is if you’re running virtual servers. The problem with virtual servers is that there’s no physical way to check how many you have, so it’s all too easy to miss software that’s installed on them.

For most companies, a major benefit of SAM is the way it helps prevent problems with software audits. When you buy software, you sign up to the terms and conditions, and every single contract says that the vendor can come in and audit your company. When they do the audit, you have to be compliant with the terms and conditions, and the only way to be sure you’re compliant is to use SAM.

To put things into perspective, according to figures from Gartner, a company with 2,000 seats can expect an average of four inbound vendor audits a year. It doesn’t matter who you’ve licensed the software from; all the major companies will do audits to check that you’re using the software within the terms and conditions, and that there’s no piracy going on. Some of the vendors outsource their auditing to licensing specialists, but no matter who knocks on the door, they’re going to go over your organisation with a fine tooth comb.

Software Asset Management Specialist Jelle Wijndels from Snow Software

Jelle Wijndelts is Software Asset Management Specialist at Snow Software.

According to Jelle Wijndelts, Software Asset Management Specialist at Snow Software, it’s quite common for companies to be audited by ten different vendors in a single year: “There are multiple reasons why this happens. They might have grown or shrunk as a company, bought another business or sold part of their own. In addition, the larger vendors have a rotating schedule for auditing customers. Larger customers can expect a visit from each of their software vendors every three or five years.”

Smaller companies aren’t immune from audits, either. As Tony Lapuerta, Strategic Alliance Manager at Snow Software, points out, “If you have half a dozen Oracle servers installed without the right licences, you could be facing a compliance bill of hundreds of thousands of pounds, so it’s no surprise the vendors are keen to check what we’re all up to”. What the company actually does can increase the amount at stake, says Lapuerta: “An engineering company, for example, is probably facing an AutoCAD licence fee of £2,000 per employee. Add in the costs of Windows, Office and ‘normal’ software, and the cost for each and every employee could be at least £10,000. That’s a lot of investment in software.”

Snow Software

Snow Software has a range of SAM products, with Snow License Manager at the hub of the platform from where it gives a unified view of all your software and hardware assets, licence entitlements and how the software is actually being used. It covers Windows, Windows Phone, Mac OSX, iOS, Linux, Unix and Android devices, and will also track the use of cloud-based applications on a per-user basis. Virtualisation support is good, with the ability to manage software on Microsoft Hyper-V, VMware and Citrix environments.

When you’re starting to put an inventory together, the software lets you import multiple inventory sources, which is a great help if you’ve got data on different platforms organised separately. When used to automatically identify software in use within your organisation, Snow offers a 100 percent software recognition guarantee, claiming to recognise all the commercial software it discovers on your network. The underlying database covers more than 50,000 software companies and 324,000 applications. You can also track your software licence expenditure to highlight any areas where the spending is out of control.

As the name suggests, and unlike some of the other products covered here, Snow License Manager has been designed specifically for licence management, so tasks such as creating Effective Licence Positions (ELPs) for specific software vendors is very straightforward. The software is also good at dealing with different licence types. While most software recognises per-desktop licences of the type popular with Microsoft, more complex options used by companies such as IBM, Oracle and SAP are also handled, so the report produced should satisfy the supplier of your licence situation.

Even if you’re a very small company and taking part in self-declaration of software use, if you’re not filling out those forms, the software companies will come and audit you. It may not be as prevalent, but they will still come and audit, says Wijndelts: “From the vendor’s viewpoint, it can be a quick win when they audit smaller companies. They can turn the audit around in a matter of months, whereas auditing a larger complex enterprise can take years.”

Lapuerta says smaller companies are recognising the benefits of doing SAM well: “We have customers with as few as 25 people in the company, all the way up to the ones with hundreds of thousands. If you want to optimise your software usage, ensure compliancy, and only pay for what you’re using, then SAM is a necessity, not a nice to have.” He says that for most companies, the software licensing environment is getting ever more complex: “How many companies have people working on business smartphones with apps on them, or where employees have personal mobiles with business apps? In the case of the business smartphone, can it access personal contacts? Does the employee share business contacts with their personal phone? It all effects your licensing agreements and increases exposure to data risks.”

The need for SAM is clear if you look at something like Microsoft Office; in most companies you’ll find it not just on desktops but on mobiles, laptops, and tablets, and one employee might have four or five different devices on which they use that family of apps. Without SAM it’s difficult to be sure you’ve got the right licences and the right number of licences.

The bottom line, according to Lapuerta, is that software audits are increasing year on year. The drivers are clear to see; for some of the major vendors, 25 percent of their licensing income comes from audits and compliance programmes, so they’re going to keep doing it. If an audit happens and finds you’re not compliant, at the very least you’re going to get a bill in front of you for the ‘missing’ licences. Whether you also receive a fine or not depends somewhat on just how non-compliant you’ve actually been.

Microsoft System Center and InTune

It wouldn’t make sense to choose Microsoft System Center solely as a SAM tool, but if your company is already using Microsoft System Center 2012 for other reasons, its Configuration Manager can be used for asset management thanks to its Asset Intelligence Catalog. This uses information collected on both hardware and software, and the information collected can be viewed in a set of pre-defined reports. The technology driving the Asset Intelligence Catalog was added to System Center after Microsoft acquired AssetMetrix, which used to run a hosted asset management service. The service inventories hardware features such as CPU and RAM, and catalogues the details of hundreds of thousands of applications, including version numbers and licensing information.

There are 60 reports that you can use to view the information contained in the Catalog, many with links from top-level general reports through to more specific reports. You can create simple queries and then click through to see more detailed information. It is possible to customise the Asset Intelligence Catalog so you can create your own custom software categories, or show hardware requirements. The information in the Catalog can be updated from System Center Online.

While the Asset Intelligence Catalog covers software from a variety of suppliers, the information on your Microsoft software can be reconciled by importing software licence information into the Configuration Manager site database, allowing you to match up your software licence usage with details of the licences you’ve bought.

Microsoft InTune is the other SAM tool in the Microsoft box. It’s a much simpler proposition than System Center, being cloud-based and designed to provide a simple way to manage PCs and mobile devices without relying on an existing management infrastructure such as Active Directory.

The emphasis by Microsoft is on the mobile side, but InTune also lets you manage desktop machines, and has facilities for tracking what software is installed and matching that up to Microsoft licences from your Volume Licence agreement. The information can be viewed using built-in reports, or exported. The software management runs across Windows, Windows Phone, iOS, and Android. InTune can be administered from a cloud-based management console or integrated with System Center 2012 Configuration Manager.

 

A good plan

Lapuerta says that the most important thing is that you have to genuinely want to make SAM work: “The classic time a company starts a SAM programme is when they’ve just been audited and decide they need to do something to prevent further problems. So they set up a project, put a tool in place, and think that’s them covered. Unfortunately, they then go into ‘business as usual’ mode. What’s needed is an active programme that’s continued throughout the whole life of the company. You have to keep control over all the changes that take place on your network; handle new users starting or employees leaving; deal with someone downloading something. Be active and you’ll maintain compliance. Too many companies approach SAM as a project with an end date. It can’t have an end-date, it has to be part of normal business discipline.”

While SAM won’t prevent the audit taking place, it will reduce the potential impact on your company of any audit, both in terms of the time it takes and the problems it causes. The audit will go faster because the data is already available. When you get a letter of intent about the proposed audit, you’ll be able to give details of your SAM solution and the processes you’re carrying out. It’s rare that this will prevent the audit going ahead; in most cases the auditors will still want to do a verification to ensure you’re doing what you’re meant to be doing. The advantage you will have is that in most cases the auditors will know the toolkit and will accept the data it produces as part of the audit programme. By having SAM, you make it less likely you’re going to get a large number of problems; you may encounter some from that virtual server that never got logged, but overall the figures should be a lot lower.

One final point, according to Wijndelts, is that it’s important that you don’t wait for the audit to be announced before checking you’re compliant: “Audits will happen, so be proactive with your licence management. That way you can buy your licences on your terms, not when you’re over a barrel in an audit scenario with no room to negotiate prices.”

Find Out More

For more information and advice on software asset management see the Grey Matter website at www.greymatter.com. You can also call us on 01364 654100 or email maildesk@greymatter.com.

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