The challenges of staying compliant in a virtual environment

Virtualization is the key word for organizations that want to significantly reduce the amount of physical hardware they use and cut hardware maintenance and power costs. It also allows them to do more work on fewer machines which makes it easier for IT to manage its infrastructure. Yet, enterprises tend to underestimate the complexity of license management introduced by virtualization technologies.

Take for example the fact that with a simple click you can create, delete or move a virtual machine to another server and modify the properties of a partition or its pool of hardware resources. All of this can potentially impact the license compliance position of your enterprise. Virtualization is a powerful tool but needs careful handling and should be managed and optimized with the same diligence as the software running on an enterprise’s physical devices.

The biggest impact of virtualization is on the provisioning, licensing and support of software.  The main challenges of licensing virtual machines concern the correct application of metrics, the mobility of virtual machines, the difficulty of understanding its rules and limits and the lack of clear guidance from vendors.

The mobility of virtual machines, whilst beneficial, can lead to non-compliance since most software licenses are metered by or assigned to physical properties of the host. In this case, when a virtual machine is moved to a new host, the license remains assigned to the old host so a new license might be needed for the new one. Moreover, if the new host has different physical properties the metric might no longer be applicable, thereby requiring the purchase of additional licenses.

Traditionally, the licensing metric has been tied to the characteristics of a physical device. License agreements sometimes lack a description of how the software is allowed to be used in a virtualized environment, but applying the same metric as in a physical environment to a virtual one can be inaccurate.

To the detriment of the customer, there is no industry standard for applying metrics to virtual scenarios. Some software companies try to ignore the issue and remain in the physical realm, while others devise conversion models based on peak resource use or running instances. From a vendor’s point of view, providing additional usage rights to support virtualization might lead to clients using virtualization technologies to reduce their license requirements and expenditures, which would not benefit the vendor. Despite all of this, some vendors provide specific licenses to support virtualization. These licenses usually come with certain limitations and require the use of a metric that is tied to the physical properties of a host computer.

As clear as the benefits of virtualization are, licensing in a virtual environment is complex. Often organizations misunderstand or ignore the complexity, which puts them at risk of non-compliance.

Though IT teams may be following the best practices for managing their virtual environment, they may also lack insight on licensing complexities in such an environment.  Minor changes can cause significant licensing compliance issues that will be discovered only during a software audit.

Making the best out of software licensing for virtual machines

Virtualization is an important development and a great driver toward cost savings and operational efficiencies. It does, however, require careful handling and monitoring. Allowing virtualized software to proliferate in an uncontrolled manner will quickly lead to licensing compliance issues, audit embarrassment and financial exposure. You might think that the worst that can happen if found non-compliant during an audit is to be required to purchase additional licenses. But virtualization may magnify the degree of license non-compliance and lead to increased unplanned licensing costs.

Understanding your licenses and your virtual environment is a must. You need to be aware of your licensing agreements and software license entitlements as well as how these would apply to a virtual environment. It is equally important to understand your usage rights and metrics. You therefore should allocate time and resources to monitor and manage your usage of virtualized software. In order to implement a clear license management program you need to bring together technical and licensing experts who jointly ensure license compliance. A strong license management program not only gets you the most value from existing software licenses but it can also significantly reduce licensing costs.

Last but not least, you should talk to experts. Compliance requirements, licensing issues, virtualization and cloud services become the norm in today’s enterprises. Vendor license strategies with regards to virtualization are still changing and will most likely continue to do so.  Staying compliant in a virtualized environment requires both licensing and technical knowledge and building an in-house team to handle it can be challenging. It is a tough manual challenge for even a hawk-eyed sourcing and asset management executive to keep on top of license compliance in a virtualized world. Without constant due diligence and tools to help automate the management and monitoring of software, it’s incredibly hard to be absolutely sure you are compliant. Leveraging specialized expertise will help you remain compliant in a constantly changing environment.

If you are in need of specialist knowledge, a structured license administration and a software license management approach, feel free to contact B-lay. We will help you make software compliance an exciting opportunity to improve your business!

This article was published on 12-05-2016