Common network licensing challenges | TechTarget

Licensing has become one of networking’s most contentious topics.
For vendors, licensing equals recurring revenue and the potential for almost infinite granularity in what they can make customers pay for. For network professionals who deploy and operate networks, licensing can bring endless headaches and frustrations.

Let’s examine some common network licensing challenges, including the more significant concerns, that network managers face.

What does licensing get you?
Licenses have become the on/off switches for all matter of hardware and software functionality. Licenses control the following aspects:

Feature sets.
How many end clients can use the features.
Individual network interfaces.

In exchange, licenses entitle software upgrades, at least some level of technical support and hardware return material authorizations.

Vendors like to assign descriptors such as smart, easy and intuitive to their licensing models. In reality, current licensing network hardware and services are often anything but those. I’ve been in meetings where the network vendor’s own staff couldn’t articulate or agree on which licensing tier is required to deliver the basic functionality I was inquiring about.
Licensing is also needlessly variable. I use one vendor that requires a single license per access point (AP) or switch and another that requires six licenses for each individual piece of hardware. It’s truly all over the place.

If what a customer needs and wants cleanly falls into a bundle, the model works. But, if they need even a single feature from a higher-tier bundle, they have to pay for the more expensive package.

Bundling helps — to a point
Depending on the network component or service discussed, network teams might have to figure out literally hundreds of individually licensed features. Most vendors group subsets of licenses into tiers, such as basic, essentials, advanced and so on.
If what a customer needs and wants cleanly falls into a bundle, the model works. But, if they need even a single feature from a higher-tier bundle, they have to pay for the more expensive package. Multiply that by hundreds or thousands of switches or APs, and the price delta can sting.

Forced conversions
Few things are more frustrating than when a vendor changes its licensing structure on products a customer uses, but it happens. This conversion generally requires firmware or software upgrades and potential outages, and it usually results in increased costs at some point in the future. It is also seldom optional.

Rent what you own
Another frustrating aspect of modern network equipment licensing arrangements is that functionality ceases when the license runs out for some product sets. Regardless of whether network pros purchased the hardware, some components stop working when the license expires and isn’t renewed. In other cases, the device might keep working, but customers can no longer perform any additional configuration changes. Either way, the customer has to pay to fully use equipment it has already purchased.

Tracking licenses
License tracking is another area where vendor strategies differ. It can be simple or frustratingly complicated. The better tracking methods enable customers to coterminate the complete site for expiration on the same date. In these cases, customers receive plenty of notice when they’re within a few months of expiration, and the mystery associated with license tracking dissipates. On the other hand, some vendors expect customers to put a dedicated license-monitoring appliance on-site that tracks devices for license validity and expiration dates.

Renewals and cost management
In addition to knowing when licenses expire, it can be difficult for network teams to plan renewals. Some vendors are sympathetic to holding customer costs down to either bare minimum or no increases at renewal time. Others can be apathetic when they drop 20% to 30% increases with no forewarning.
Threatening to change vendors sometimes helps. But shifting to a new supplier is easier said than done in large environments, and vendors can take it as an empty threat. Often, a longer renewal period, if available, comes with multiyear discounts.
In all cases, when dealing with network licensing challenges, it’s important to have a solid relationship with the vendor rep or reseller. That helps customers determine the proper cost management strategy when it’s renewal time.
Lee Badman is a network architect specializing in wireless and cloud technologies for a large private university. He’s also an author and frequent presenter at industry events.