Products that simplify software license management

Monitoring the legal use of software throughout a Windows NT enterprise network is an important aspect of systems management. The systems administrator typically must determine what and how much software the organization needs, recommend the optimal number and type (per server or per seat) of software licenses the organization must purchase, and decide which workstations and servers to install the software on. Purchasing one license for each PC doesn't make sense when you can share licenses under a concurrent usage agreement, but managing concurrent licenses so that you never have more users than the number of licenses you own presents another administrative challenge.

Why bother being so precise with licensing agreements? According to information from WRQ's Web site, in 1992 and 1993, the Software Publishers Association (SPA) took action against 1324 companies, resulting in $7.5 million in fines. Ten unauthorized copies of Microsoft Office 95 constitute a felony offense that carries up to $250,000 in fines and 5 years in jail.

Systems administrators have enough to worry about. Helping to eliminate one worry, metering packages can analyze software usage, identify trends, restrict access, and prevent inactive applications from tying up valuable resources. Two such time- and money-savers are WRQ's Express Meter 3.5 and Tally Systems' CentaMeter 2.7. Let's review how these two software packages meter and track license usage and examine each product's features.

Express Meter 3.5

Express Meter 3.5 from WRQ is a comprehensive program designed to ensure legal software usage and maximize software savings. The product works with any Windows or DOS shell. The Express Meter Audit Kit contains an installation CD-ROM, a well-written 144-page System Administrator's Guide, and a Quick Start Manual. The Quick Start Manual contains step-by-step installation instructions, although much of the installation is automated.

To install the product, you first install the Applications Library on the server. The Applications Library's only function is to store installation files and metering information. Next, you install the Express Meter Editor on the systems administrator's workstation; you use the Express Meter Editor to configure metering and reporting options. (Screen 1 shows the Express Meter Editor's main window.) Finally, you install the Express Meter Client on the user's workstation.

You can also perform automatic and remote workstation installations. readme.txt on the CD-ROM gives instructions for automatic workstation installation, and other helpful information. Express Meter's Detached Client lets you meter software usage on a laptop.

The CD-ROM includes Adobe Acrobat Reader, which installed automatically when I accessed the online Help documentation. The Automatic Add feature (which you can disable) adds applications to the library as you run them. You can manually add applications through menu commands or by dragging an application to the Express Meter Editor. Once you add an application to the library, you can use the Editor to select metering options: You can set the number of licenses and suite licenses, toggle metering on or off, enable crash detection, write custom warning messages, and include the price per license.

Express Meter tracks software usage according to your licenses. When a license violation occurs, you can set the product to respond in one of three ways. You can lock out access to the application and place the user on a waiting list; you can let the user access the application and warn the user that all concurrent licenses are in use; or you can issue a password so that the user can override a lockout.

Express Meter lets you collect statistical data, control access to applications on your network, and generate both graphic and tabular reports (including 32 preconfigured reports). You can view statistical data by current or cumulative usage of all applications, by user, and by cost savings. You can request usage reports by application or individual user to show the number of times an application was locked out or the user was warned because all available licenses were in use, and you can identify the number of times the user was put on a waiting list. I produced a Peak Usage graph that displayed the number of users running the same application at the same time, for each hour of the reporting period I specified. This information is useful in helping me determine whether I have enough or too few application licenses.

WRQ follows a try-before-you-buy policy: The trial Express Meter Audit Kit contains the complete Express Meter 3.5 program, with a time limit. To upgrade to a full version, you just call a WRQ technical representative and arrange a password. This procedure works well because you don't lose the information that you created in the Applications Library during the trial period.

The product requires 12MB of free disk space on the NT server for installation and reporting, and 70KB of memory for the Express Meter Editor. The price of Express Meter User Licenses ranges from $12 to $20 per PC, depending on how many licenses you purchase.

WRQ provides free, unlimited technical support over the telephone and its Web site. Dispatchers forward callers to a technical engineer. The engineer I spoke to was knowledgeable in both network technology and Express Meter. If an engineer is not immediately available, WRQ queues your question and guarantees an answer within 24 hours. WRQ's Web site provides a lot of information about Express Meter. Besides marketing information, you can download a free 30-day evaluation copy of Express Meter, read product reviews, and access a helpful collection of FAQs.

WRQ reports that a few large WANs running NT Server have experienced a problem with Express Meter: The workstations visibly slow down when they access network data. At press time, WRQ is working with Microsoft to correct the problem. Despite this problem, Express Meter 3.5 is a great package for managing your software, staying legal, and saving money.

CentaMeter 2.7
CentaMeter 2.7 from Tally Systems lets you meter and track all license usage in a network to better manage software costs. CentaMeter's main features include determining the optimal number of software licenses, freeing up valuable licenses by sharing them across servers, and restricting the use of applications during certain times. The basic package contains the installation diskettes (you can also get the product on CD-ROM), an information brochure, and a user's manual.

CentaMeter requires at least a 386 computer with 8MB of free disk space for the administrative and reporting PC; on the server, you need 12MB of free disk space plus 13KB per metered application, 512 bytes per license, and 15KB to 30KB per monitored PC. For example, a network monitoring 2000 PCs, 4 metered applications, and 1000 licenses needs about 72MB of disk space on the server.

Installing CentaMeter to the network server was fairly easy. CentaMeter contains two main parts: the Manager, which you use to define applications and manage the monitored data, and the Agent, which detects and monitors applications. The user's manual is well written and stepped me through the installation in a logical sequence, but the manual would be more useful if the information in some of the tips appeared in the main text instead.

After I installed CentaMeter, I used the Manager to identify the applications I wanted to meter from a predefined applications list and determine the number of licenses available. CentaMeter 2.7's application list did not include Microsoft Office 97, but Tally Systems will include it in the next release of the product (CentaMeter 2.72). Within 10 minutes, I created test licenses for Microsoft Office 95 and DOS applications and began to monitor my test systems.

The Manager provides several formats for information about the network applications. The main CentaMeter window (shown in Screen 2) is a summary table that lists the defined applications, total available licenses, used licenses, inactive licenses, free licenses, and how many users are waiting to use a license. You can produce reports in tables or graphs and display peak usage for one day or for a range of days. CentaMeter saves the results to a database, which you can export as a text file. You can also generate reports for an individual user, server group, or workstation (the user's manual explains how).

I encountered only a few problems with this software, and Tally Systems' technical support resolved most of them. (I used the product's online Help library, Tally Systems' telephone support, and email to tech_support@tallysys.com. The company also offers a 24*7 support BBS at 603-448-9254).

For example, I found a few ambiguous references to the server and workstation in the user manual during the installation steps. Tally Systems informed me that it has updated the manual to eliminate these ambiguities.

Second, even though I could define my DOS applications for monitoring, CentaMeter didn't meter them. Searching the online Help, I found an advisory with some very important warnings--one stating that you cannot meter DOS applications under NT. Tally Systems reports that it plans to support DOS metering in a future release.

The only other problem I experienced was the program's tendency to lock up the administrative PC when I sent reports to the network printer in landscape orientation. When I reinitialized CentaMeter, the printout succeeded in landscape format, but the metering didn't function properly. The only way I found to correct the problem is to shut down and restart the administrative PC--and not print out reports in landscape format. Tally Systems' technical support thought the problem resulted from my initial setup on the server.

CentaMeter gave me the metering information I needed and let me restrict application usage during certain times of the day (much to the displeasure of the Solitaire players and Web surfers on my test network). And by monitoring application inactivity, I was able to warn users who were tying up resources that I could use elsewhere (e.g., users who started Microsoft Word 7.0 in the morning, yet never opened a document).

I liked the capability to share licenses across servers according to demand (e.g., one department needed to use PowerPoint, so the product transferred the licenses from another department). When all the licenses for an application are in use, CentaMeter lets you lock out the application from a user, or issue a warning but still let the user run the application.

CentaMeter's price ranges from $40 per PC for 5 PCs to $10 per PC for 2000 or more PCs connected to the server where CentaMeter is installed. Tally Systems provides free unlimited technical support for the first year and provides updates to the CentaMeter Program Manger at least twice a year. You can get technical support contracts for additional years at a price of 18 percent of the current license charge.

Express Meter 3.5
WRQ * 206-217-7100 or 800-872-2829
Web: http://www.wrq.com
Price: Varies depending on quantity purchased
*Client component is Intel only
CentaMeter 2.7
Tally Systems * 603-643-1300 or 800-262-3877
Web: http://www.tallysys.com
Price: Contact Tally Systems for pricing information