by December 5, 2002 0 comments

Software piracy comes in many shapes and sizes. One is using more copies of a software than the number you bought. For example, buying one legal copy of Win 2000 or Office from Microsoft doesn’t give you the right to install and run it on each and every machine in your network. To have all machines on your network run Office 2000 simultaneously, you need to buy that many licenses from Microsoft. This obviously will cost you more money. So legal implications come into play when companies don’t buy the number of licenses they intend to use. 

So what do you do if you want all machines on your network to be able to run a particular application (say, Microsoft Office)? One way is to buy licenses for all users on your network who need the application. Depending upon the application and the number of users, this would cost a lot of money. However, the problem is that not all users would be using the application at the same time. So while you might have paid for 500 licenses, you might actually be utilizing 100 at any given point of time! Is there any way to save on buying so many licenses? Enter license metering.

How it works
The basic concept behind license metering (also called software metering) is to monitor the number of users simultaneously accessing an application so that it never exceeds the number of licenses you’ve bought. All you do is buy a fixed number of licenses and let the metering software take over. This software will monitor the usage of this application over your network and keeps a count of the number of users simultaneously accessing it. Thus all users trying to access the application beyond the license limit would be prevented from accessing it and, ideally, be put in a wait queue and allowed access as and when the licenses are freed up.

The fact that the license metering software is monitoring your current application usage can help you save future costs as well. Using this software its very easy to find out who is using the application when, where and how often. 

This information can be real helpful when, say, its time to order licenses for next version of that application. For example, you have 100 licenses of a program. But the license metering software reports that the maximum number of users accessing this program at any given time during the past one year has never exceeded 30. So when going for the next release of this program you might well be advised to buy not more than 50 licenses. This 50% save in costs would, in all probability, have never been possible without metering.

Basic functions
Any decent license metering software will have the option to be installed to the desired clients from a single workstation itself. You won’t need to install software on each and every machine personally. This software then runs on each of these workstations and reports the usage information back to the server, which hosts the controlling software. The server hosts all the licenses for the application and accumulates the information sent by the various clients. It is using this information that the various checks are done and the necessary reports etc. prepared as and when required. You can configure the client software to report only the usage of selected programs to save yourself the unnecessary overhead. Good license metering software can also monitor and manage nodes running on different platforms (Windows, DOS, OS/2, Mac etc) within the same network.

Other desirable features in a good license metering application include global licensing, suite licensing, administrator notification and license reservation. Global licensing is the ability to automatically share licenses between servers across the network, ie, for the metering software to monitor license usage on each of the servers and to ‘transfer’ licenses from the ones having free licenses to the ones running short. Licenses are often sold for application suites rather than individual applications. MS Office is a suite consisting of Word, Excel, Access and other apps. So, when a user fires up Word he’s using the license for that entire suite–in other words you cannot have 100 simultaneous sessions each of Word and Excel with a 100 license Office pack, though a 60:40 scenario would be fine. The ability of a metering software to view certain applications as part of a suite and thus managed by a single license is called suite licensing. Administrator notification is to alert the administrator when the license limit has been reached, exceeded, or some other similar condition. Finally, license reservation is keeping aside a few licenses for critical use by administrators or other super users so as to guarantee them anytime access to the application.

Throughout this article we’ve referred to the commonly used concurrent (or floating) licensing model, which counts the number of licenses needed as the maximum number of users that would simultaneously access the application. Other popular licensing models like the user based and the node locked models use the total number of users in the network and the total number of nodes in the network, respectively, to calculate the number of licenses that would be needed. Different products use different licensing models, depending upon whatever they might deem fit for their product, but most license metering software support all of these models.

What’s available
Many applications already have some bit of license metering built-in. A network operating system for instance, would be able to monitor the number of users accessing it simultaneously. When this exceeds the maximum number of licenses that have been purchased, it will prevent the next user from logging in. The same thing is there in some enterprise applications as well, such as ERP or CRM. However, there are still lots of other applications that don’t have this facility. That’s when it becomes important to use a licensed metering software to audit the applications running on your network. 

Some of the more popular license metering software out there are License Broker and Integrated Auditor (both Windows only) from System Integrators
(, KeyServer (all Windows and Mac OS versions) from Sassafras software
( and SofTrack ( from Integrity Software.

License metering provides you great cost benefits while it leaves you with no-excuses to justify piracy. But the question is, do you have the will?

Kunal Dua

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