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SaaS for speedy relief of licence headaches

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Managing software licensing has to be one of the least fun aspects of an IT professional’s life. For one thing, it is medically proven* that there is no better means of inducing a headache than trying to read the whole of a software licence.

And that is before you get to the logistics of managing the things: making sure they are up to date and that random members of staff are not bringing in pirated versions.

And that assumes all your staff are in one place. As Microsoft’s Gill le Fevre notes, an organisation of 2,000 people in one location is much easier to manage than a global organisation of the same size with smaller offices in different places.

“You have the budget for the same size tech crew, but they are responsible for overseeing licensing in every office,” she says. “Including geographies where people are more likely to buy software from a market stall than to go througha formal procurement process.”

Arresting thought

Even if software vendors feel inclined to pursue this level of copyright infringement, the cost of enforcement would probably be higher than that of the lost licence fee. But the cost to the firm caught without all its licences in place would be far higher.

Le Fevre acknowledges that she has a vested interest, but contends that this is a strong rationale for software-as-a-service (SaaS).

Far from complicating asset management, a cloud service means the IT department can be sure it is complying with licensing obligations, and that its network isn’t being contaminated by malware-infested pirated software, she argues.

Adrian Steel, head of infrastructure management at The Royal Mail, agrees with the simplicity angle for SaaS, but says it will push companies like Microsoft into offering “more granular” licences, allowing customers to specify what they pay for and how they pay for it.

“De-provisioning took about half an hour”

Alan Lee-Bourke, chief information officer at Glasgow-based charity the Wise Group, sees another benefit: flexibility. He moved his organisation’s 600 mailboxes over to a cloud deployment of Microsoft’s BPOS back in 2009, and is beta testing Office365.

“Around the time we started using BPOS, the company doubled in size,” he says. “Provisioning an extra 200 people took about an hour: you just go to the management console, type the names in and press ‘go’. The extras show up automatically on your next bill.”

Lee-Bourke explains that recently the company missed out on a contract and had to cut staff. Although losing people was hard, the administration side of it was pretty painless.

“De-provisioning was just as simple,” he says. “It took about half an hour. All that cost was removed from the business within a week and we had no infrastructure costs to worry about.”

Life in the slow lane

Meanwhile, Steel argues that SaaS will inevitably change the way companies manage their infrastructure, too. After all, what would be the point of having a load of redundant hardware kicking around the office?

“Hardware rental? Absolutely, yes. The trend we are seeing is commoditising hardware. It is not uncommon to rent or lease a PC or a BlackBerry,” he says.

At the Royal Mail, the PC infrastructure is already on a three-year managed service lease deal, with CSC. But, the organisation is at the point of diminishing returns with PC upgrades.

“The step-change in performance just isn’t necessary any more,” Steel says. “And this is only getting more profound if you are running virtual machines.

“The bottleneck isn’t the processor, it is the connection. And it is a bottleneck we’re used to at home from surfing the web.”

He goes even further, predicting that soon companies will give employees a hardware allowance as part of their employment package, similar to a car allowance.

“Certain people will need super-secure dedicated hardware, of course, but for most people it will become normal to show up at work with their own asset, especially if all they will have on the machine is a screen scrape.

“Most companies struggle with asset recovery anyway, so maybe we need a new approach.”

*Not really proven. Even if you are Richard Dreyfuss. ®

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