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Why you should take notice of Microsoft's licensing rules

Microsoft's software licensing is notoriously complicated, but you can learn to tame the process, from procurement to asset management.

Many organizations try to ignore the complexities of Microsoft's software licensing. Enterprises that take it into account when developing their procedures and budgets can not only better manage their applications, but also avoid compliance problems.

Part 1 of this two-part tip looked at the requisition, volume purchasing and budgeting elements, and here we'll examine procurement, operations, users and asset management.

Procurement specialists and contract management specialists are often the first to deal with Microsoft's volume-licensing programs, so their knowledgeable input can be helpful. Procurement experts can clearly outline to business and IT management the relative merits of various volume-licensing options and their financial or IT effects.

In some cases, an organization might opt for what appears to be a more costly licensing pathway. For example, one program may offer a better discount on a large license purchase covering every employee or device, but another is less costly in total because it permits the purchase of licenses only for specific devices or users.

Procurement can also play an important role in change management. Business units may be accustomed to a particular procurement procedure such as the companywide licensing and "true-up" processes in a Microsoft Enterprise Agreement (EA). They might be uncertain about how well the transactional, only-as-needed licensing in a Select Plus agreement will work if the business drops all or part of EA.

The procurement staff can help business units understand the differences between the programs, modify their internal processes to work with Select Plus and quantify the financial benefits of the change. Explaining that a move to or away from EA could save hundreds of thousands of dollars in software licensing expenses will make business units more willing to make the required changes.

In addition, procurement staffers may be directly involved in negotiating EAs with Microsoft. Their knowledge about the organization's purchasing history, what competitive vendors might be offering, and the fit between the organization's various volume-licensing and its IT initiatives can prove critical in reaching a favorable agreement.

Microsoft does not build licensing enforcement or metering into its products, so the people who install and manage software cannot count on the product itself to alert them to possible overuse or infringement. Even Microsoft's processes to activate software for business use are aimed primarily at preventing overt software piracy, not inadvertent overuse by a customer who has purchased legal software.

As a result, operations staffers have the daunting tasks of installing software on servers, configuring it, assigning it to physical or virtual servers, and ensuring that workloads are distributed efficiently across the data center.

At a minimum, such workers should have a grasp of any relevant licensing rules and the Microsoft products they actually manage. This may not be trivial, particularly with virtualization technologies that shift responsibility for provisioning and managing desktop and server software to data center staff. Operations staff members need to be cognizant of the restrictions that apply to their organization's use of Microsoft software, or they could expose it to substantial and costly risks.

Users are often overlooked as part of the licensing compliance process, and for good reason: They have more productive work to do. Since they generally don't have access to installation media, they pose a lower compliance risk than many other employees.

Nevertheless, users can still break Microsoft's licensing rules. Common remote-access scenarios, such as connecting to corporate resources from an Internet cafe, may be technical violations of Microsoft's rules about "roaming" access, which have recently changed.

It's difficult to prevent unintentional violations of licensing restrictions for access to certain data stored on SharePoint, such as Excel spreadsheets, Access databases and Visio diagrams.

Organizations that have evaluated their software licensing risks will be able to more clearly communicate key information to end users and to design systems that minimize the chance of noncompliant users.

Asset management
Many attributes of Microsoft licenses are not detectable, such as whether or not SA has been added to a license, which users have been assigned which Client Access Licenses (to communicate with servers) and which servers are licensed per processor. A licensed product may be upgraded or downgraded, or it may be purchased through a promotion that confers special privileges. It may also be installed pursuant to the secondary use rights available for some Microsoft products. For example, there are at least 17 different ways to license an instance of Windows XP on a desktop computer.

An organization that loses track of an asset at any stage of the process may find it impossible to reconstruct how a given license ended up where it did.

Asset management is necessarily a cross-business liability. Best practices for asset management apply from the time IT receives a requisition order for the software (a good asset management program should alert procurement personnel to the possible availability of surplus licenses) to the time the software is retired by a user or IT personnel (and the license may be added back to the pool of surplus licenses).

Understanding how Microsoft products are licensed and the different sets of rights that each product may have is critical to successful asset management and incorporating licensing into business processes.

Paul DeGroot is a writer, trainer and principal consultant at Pica Communications, which specializes in Microsoft licensing strategies and policies.

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