Virtualization and software licensing infringement

CNR is reporting an interesting news about the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) which is discussing implications of virtualization in software licensing:

The group consists of FAST members Centennial Software, Computacenter, CSC Computer Sciences, HP, Hitachi Europe, ManageSoft, SMS Services, Rocela, Salans and Symantec/Altiris.

John Lovelock, chief executive of FAST, said: “Virtualisation is one of the hottest topics on everyone’s mind right now but there is a big gap in understanding what it really means for organisations looking to adapt the technology – both in terms of the impact it has on the day to day running of the business, the possibility of cost savings as well as the potential for ambiguity over licensing agreements with the software publishers.”

He said there is not currently an easy way to measure usage on virtual environments and that technically it is possible but a discovery agent has to be deployed there to identify the software’s presence…

It really seems that virtualization represents an opportunity to refresh the business for everybody, no matter what.

Software licensing tracking inside virtual machines presents today identical difficulties than in physical infrastructures. There is no difference at all.

On the contrary virtualization will allow, on the long run, to more effectly enforce software licensing in at least two ways:

  • transparently tracking installed software, monitoring activity inside virtual machines from the host level
  • enforcing licensing limits and expirations through virtual machines security wrappers like VMware ACE or Sentillion vThere

Members of FAST should care of two classes of different problems instead:

  • facilitating the first phase of the software licensing reform for those vendors who are not yet virtualization-friendly (Oracle is a very good example, despite the launch of its own hypervisor)
  • start considering a second phase of this reform, to fairly handle software cost in application streaming scenarios, where a customer doesn’t use a specific application all the time.

Unfortunately virtualization represents more an economical and political revolution, rather than a technological one, so this will take a lot of time.