Software Compliance in a Virtual Desktop Environment

Thought Leadership for
IT Service Management Professionals

Software Compliance in a Virtual Desktop Environment

Posted by Steph Velte

Wed, Jan 09, 2013

Software Asset Management continues to be a primary driver of the IT Asset Management industry. Minimizing licensing costs while at the same time ensuring compliance and limiting audit risk is an area that most organizations still do not have a good handle on. It’s easy to understand why.

All one has to do is look at the ever-changing IT landscape to realize that the parameters affecting software compliance and license costs are a moving target in the most literal sense. The growing popularity of Virtual Desktops and thin clients adds a layer of complexity whereby unique software installs requiring a single license can no longer be discovered. Additionally, vendors continue to modify their licensing terms both to keep up with changing technology and to maximize profit.

So how do organizations manage software costs given the complexities and ever-changing environment? Obviously, there is no silver bullet or this would not be such a huge topic of analysis and discussion in the ITAM space. That said there are some simple things that organizations can and should do to help.

First and foremost, companies would do themselves a huge service by simply improving communication and collaboration between the Contracts, Procurement and IT Asset Management departments. I have been working in the ITAM space for ten years now, and I am still baffled by the number of companies that initiate asset management programs and purchase asset management software without coordinating efforts between these departments. Anyone that has read even the most basic overview of Software Asset Management (SAM) understands that minimizing costs and mitigating compliance risk involves three steps:

  1. Understand what you own
  2. Understand what you’re using
  3. Compare the two

More often than not ITAM/SAM projects are technology driven and initiated by the IT Department. After all, it’s IT assets we’re trying to manage. With respect to SAM, the IT department may actually have the least important role. Understanding what you own can only be determined through contracts and purchasing. Whether it be through process and manual effort, or integration, it is critical that software contracts and license/rights information be captured at the time of acquisition and entered into your IT Asset Management system. If this is done as the first step of a SAM program as opposed to the last, the likelihood of success will be significantly improved.

Understand that discovery is an important piece to automating some SAM processes, but discovery alone does not constitute software asset management. Discovery technologies can typically discover the software installed on your PCs and servers. However, discovery cannot determine whether you have a valid license or right to use that software. That can only be determined through purchasing records. Additionally, discovery typically cannot determine what type of license is even required for the software that is installed. For instance, is that software license based on the processor type? Discovery is obviously a key component. Without discovery, it would be virtually impossible to know what software is deployed and being utilized, but having that information does not mean you are managing compliance. Only by comparing the discovery data with licensing data can you get the true picture. The challenge lies within that comparison complexity. The first step to tackling the complexity is to understand the licensing terms and determine what data is needed to manage adherence. Discovery will often help, but not always.

Virtual environments can provide many benefits and there are many technologies today providing on-demand software applications or spinning up virtual desktops on an “as-needed” basis. They certainly simplify the management of software and software version upgrades from a delivery and support standpoint, but what are the compliance implications? Very often the Asset Management problem is brushed aside in favor of agility and instant provisioning.

Traditional discovery solutions discover physical PCs and the installed software. Discovery of VMs is now also a capability of many leading discovery solutions. Discovering on-demand software and thin client desktops is another matter. For the most part, these cannot be discovered on an individual basis. Within these environments, it may be necessary to manually collect software and user data to manage compliance. Regardless of the technology used, most of the legacy tools used in this space were designed for a non-virtual environment. New tools that focus on a virtual environment often don’t work well on legacy assets. In 2013, those of us who are trying to solve the problem of Software Asset Management must think about both of these worlds. 

That means that solving this problem may only be possible with integration from virtualization management databases and your ITAM system. This integration can minimize manual efforts and errors. Consider as a target integration one that pulls information from the virtual management database into your ITAM system as a means of automating collection compliance data beyond traditional discovery.

Are you following the three simple steps above in your organization? Are you using Citrix XEN, VMware VDI or other technologies? Please share your thoughts and/or experiences with regard to managing software compliance in virtualized environments. Use our online form to contact me with your feedback. I will discuss some of your comments in a future blog post.

About the Author

Walt Hadermann
ITAM Practice Manager

Walt has been with Evergreen since it was founded in 1997. He has spent most of his career helping customers implement IT Service and Asset Management solutions. Walt is ITIL Foundation certified and is a PMP. He currently leads Evergreen's IT Asset Manage practice where he oversees the delivery of ITAM solutions. This practice focuses on leveraging HP Asset Manager and DDMI Technologies to help customers improve the IT Asset Management processes.

Topics: Service Catalog, ServiceNow, Automation, Cloud, ITAM, Runbook Automation, Automation Use Case, Asset Management, SAM

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