Virtualised firms risk falling foul of software licensing rules, claim experts


Every company that has embarked on virtualisation needs to urgently review the state of their software estate to ensure they are not under-licensed.

This is the view of software asset management firm License Dashboard, who claims firms that have gone down the virtualisation route may not appreciate the effect this has on the number of software licenses they need.

Speaking to IT Pro, Sean Robinson, managing director of License Dashboard, said virtualisation kit is becoming increasingly "dynamic and sophisticated", which is making it harder for end users to keep track of their licensing requirements.

Virtualisation may cut hardware costs, but the added licensing burden can end up costing you a lot more over time.

"Initially, a straight transfer from physical to virtual [servers] had little impact on your licensing," he said.

But the emergence of dynamic provisioning technologies in recent years, such as VMware's Distributed Resources Scheduler (DRS), means this has changed.

These types of tools allow servers to automatically select a new virtual machine to run a software application on if others are taken up with different tasks.

As a result, companies often end up operating many instances of the same application on multiple servers, and unless they have a license covering each one they can end up falling foul of software licensing regulations.

"People have traditionally viewed virtualisation as a way to reduce hardware costs," he said. "This additional functionality suddenly adds a huge impact on the licensing requirements...[meaning] virtualisation may not end up being as attractive as it first appeared," said Robinson.

"Yes, it may reduce your hardware costs, but switch on that additional functionality and suddenly the licensing can end up costing you a lot more over time."

As an example, he highlights the case of an unnamed company License Dashboard has dealt with recently, who claimed to have saved 2 million by virtualising their infrastructure.

"When we came and did a reconciliation exercise, we discovered a 3 million shortfall in licensing because of what they had done," he claimed.

In a statement to IT Pro, VMware said users can alter the settings of DRS to ensure compliance with licensing rules.

"DRS automates workload placement and load balancing by adhering to resource allocation policies set up by the customer. Customers can define host affinity and host anti-affinity rules that direct and constrain DRS's workload placement," the statement said.

"These rules enable customers to benefit from DRS's optimisation and intelligence while also helping them to comply with their business policies, such as per-CPU-based application licensing constraints."

Even so, Robinson said it is in end users' best interests to ensure compliance, as software vendors are increasingly clamping down on unlicensed firms, which in some cases can result in hefty fines.

"There has been a massive increase in vendor [software audits] and, in nine times out of ten cases, it is in the virtual space where the issues arise," he said.

However, he admits the complex and ever changing rules governing most software licensing agreements can make it difficult for end users to tell if they are compliant or not.

"Every organisation that has a virtual environment should review their licensing requirements now because they're at risk," Robinson added.

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Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.