License model? License muddle is probably a more accurate description of how most large companies acquire and manage their software. The fact is that keeping tabs on who has got what application in any organization is a logistical nightmare.
To keep it all straight, every company should have an asset manager responsible for ensuring (at the very least) that all software is licensed and therefore legal. But, in practice, it's often not clear whose job this really is, and responsibility gets passed on to you guessed it the network administrator.
What's Out on the Network?
The first problem facing the network manager, then, is figuring out what software (and even what hardware) is out there. This is far from straightforward because IT departments buy software from many different sources, and often there are also rogue departments buying software for themselves independently. Many organizations would be hard pressed to say how many PCs they have within about 30 percent of the actual number and what cards and other peripherals may be attached to them is anyone's guess.
Fortunately, life has been made easier thanks to the availability of sophisticated automated inventory management products from the likes of Hanover, N.H.-based Tally Systems and many others. These product scan the network and look for computing devices and the applications loaded on them. These can provide a definitive answer to the vital question: "Do we have unlicensed and therefore illegal software?"
Aside from avoiding license hassles, network managers who keep tabs on the applications running over the network also have the opportunity to reduce security risks. "You need to understand the structure of your IT infrastructure, because if you have a piece of rogue software, this may not be just a security issue, but also a corporate liability issue," said Glen O'Donnell, an analyst at Stamford, Connecticut-based research house META Group.
Perhaps most importantly, solid inventory control can lead to significant cost savings, in both obvious and less obvious ways. The obvious way is by eliminating payments for licenses for software that has not been deployed. These savings can be large: Without a reliable inventory management system it's often tempting to overestimate the number of licenses required in order to stay legal. The alternative is the tedious and time-consuming job of walking around an organization with a clipboard visiting each PC and recording its contents.
But there is another more subtle way of creating savings, and one that inventory management software vendors are increasingly recognizing: By monitoring software usage to keep tabs on which applications are actually being used, and by whom, and how often.
The benefits of rock solid software usage statistics, rather than simple inventory numbers, are hard to overestimate. At the most basic level, why pay for a license for an application sitting unused on a hard disk? The same is true of rarely used applications, especially in organizations that support a wide variety of applications that do similar functions.
META Group found that one of its clients was supporting more than 1,000 applications, although some of these applications were used by fewer than 10 staffers. By consolidating applications, it reduced the number of applications supported by more than 75 percent. This can have huge cost reduction implications, not only in terms of support and configuration, but also in terms of simplification of network traffic and time saved implementing patches and upgrades.