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Don't Let Software Licensing Cause A Virtual Disaster

When a company employs server virtualization, the rules of the software licensing game can change dramatically. In this case, what your IT staff doesn't know can definitely hurt you.
When a company employs server virtualization, the rules of the software licensing game can change dramatically. In this case, what your IT staff doesn't know can definitely hurt you.A recent editorial at Processor.com shines a badly needed spotlight on virtual server software licensing issues. As it points out, licensing in a virtual environment is usually far from straightforward: In the days before virtualization became so common in data centers, software licensing was fairly straightforward: Software could only be used on one physical computer. When you needed to install software on another computer, you had to buy another license.

With virtualized servers, software licensing became much more complex. Software vendors dont always have clear rules governing how many times an application can be installed on a server that might be used for multiple instances of the same server OS (say, one for quality assurance and one for production) and, in some cases, do not distinguish well between the physical computer license and the instances of an OS. One analyst observes that vendors have a strong incentive not to make virtual licensing too easy -- or, more to the point, too cheap. Many employ various mixes of per-instance and per-CPU licensing, and it is also common to build "license enforcement code into their software that prevents multiple instances from running on a single physical machine."

Obviously, it helps to read software licensing agreements carefully before embarking on a server virtualization project. It is also important, however, to test software in a realistic virtualized setting to check for license-enforcement gotchas.

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This isn't just a matter of avoiding IT management headaches and project delays. When a company violates a licensing agreement -- intentionally or otherwise -- it is also violating the law. Critics routinely (and accurately) slam enforcement groups like the Business Software Alliance for bullying and heavily fining small businesses that may have no idea they are stepping over the line.

There are plenty of ways that server virtualization can boost your company's bottom line. Cutting corners on software licensing rules definitely is not one of them.