How to Make License Management Less Complex
Michael Alba posted on September 17, 2018 |
Oren Gabay, CEO of OpenLM, at the company’s Israel headquarters. (Image courtesy of OpenLM.)
Oren Gabay, CEO of OpenLM, at the company’s Israel headquarters. (Image courtesy of OpenLM.)

When it comes to professional software, whether for CAD, CAE, GIS, or any other three letter acronym, there’s only one thing users care about: how well the software can help them get their job done. These end users remain blissfully unaware of the invisible demon that haunts their IT department, a demon named "licensing".

Fortunately, this demon can be tamed. Many software vendors offer license management tools with their software, and many third-party vendors offer tools as well. But not all of these tools are equal, and users should be careful to differentiate those which work for their interest and those which work for their software vendor’s interest.

OpenLM is one provider of license management software that unabashedly works in the end users’ interests. Their slogan is “Stretching Your Licenses to their Limits”, and that’s exactly what they do. In fact, according to OpenLM CEO Oren Gabay, some of their customers have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars on annual maintenance costs.

“Our customer is not for the vendor,” Gabay said. “Our customer is the user. We are doing whatever possible to help the user get more usage out of their existing licenses.”

The Hidden World of Licensing

List of license servers in OpenLM license management software. (Image courtesy of OpenLM.)
List of license servers in OpenLM license management software. (Image courtesy of OpenLM.)

To get a feel for what OpenLM has to offer, let’s first scratch the surface of what software licensing is. Even if you don’t know the exact details, you probably know that your seat of SOLIDWORKS costs your company several thousands of dollars. Unlike a physical object that can change hands, a software program is just a long pattern of 1s and 0s that happens to be useful in the right context. The software vendor must ensure that this pattern is not simply copied and distributed, which would look like an act of piracy.

To combat piracy, software vendors add an extra ingredient to their software called a license manager. They might make their own license manager, but a simpler option is to buy one from a company that specializes in producing license managing software. While there are many of these, the most popular license manager is called FlexNet Publisher (formerly FLEXlm).

Developed by a company called Flexera, FlexNet Publisher is nothing more than a set of libraries that developers embed into their own applications. By doing so, developers can ensure that each seat of their software is legitimate. Once an end user opens the software, it will check in with a license server to ensure it has permission to run.

There are, however, different ways in which end users might want to utilize a license of software. For example, the license could be tied to a specific workstation. Or, the license could be checked out by anyone who needs to use it and checked back in at the end of their session. There are many more ways that licenses can be flexibly allocated, and FlexNet Publisher manages allocation through something called an Option Files.

For companies with hundreds of licenses spanning dozens of different software applications, maintaining these licenses can be a challenge. It is a challenge to which OpenLM and other license management software providers rise to meet.

OpenLM License Allocation Manager

OpenLM’s newest product is License Allocation Manager, which provides unique features in license managing, according to Gabay.

Simple example of a FlexNet Publisher Option File. (Image courtesy of OpenLM.)
Simple example of a FlexNet Publisher Option File. (Image courtesy of OpenLM.)

Remember Options Files, the allocation files provided by FlexNet Publisher? It turns out that these are nothing more than text files that can contain thousands of conditions and parameters. To edit them, you open a text editor and change some values.

“It's amazing,” said Gabay, reflecting on the nature of Option Files. “There's no interface. There's no integration with anything. We come to companies and they have hundreds of Option Files, and each one is like ten thousand words including thousands of conditions.”

OpenLM License Allocation Manager does what should have been obvious: it adds a graphical user interface (GUI) to Option Files and synchronizes them to an active directory. It gives visibility and control to the license allocation administrator.

Managing Option Files with License Allocation Manager. (Image courtesy of OpenLM.)
Managing Option Files with License Allocation Manager. (Image courtesy of OpenLM.)

License Allocation Manager offers IT administrators a comprehensive solution for license allocation. They can give or restrict access to specific users or user groups, reserve a certain number of licenses for a specific group, restrict specific features for a specific user or user group, and allow access to multiple versions of software that may coexist within their organization. License Allocation Manager will also automatically rescind access for employees who have left the company, change permissions when resources move between departments, and keep all Option Files in sync across the organization.

Needless to say, License Allocation Manager saves a lot of the manual work involved in license management.

“This works amazingly with very complex allocation systems controlling tens of thousands of engineers using hundreds of engineering applications,” Gabay said. “When you want to dedicate ten licenses to a group, let's say engineers in New York, that would be always updated. OpenLM will synchronize and update it fully automatically with no manual work. We control the file on the license server. We take the information from an organizational directory (active directory in the case of Microsoft) and we synchronize it all the time.”

The first release of License Allocation Manager is limited in one respect: it caters solely to software that uses Flexera’s FlexNet Publisher license manager—though the company offers OpenLM App Manager for software without a license manager. As we described earlier, there are many competing license managers. Future versions of License Allocation Manager will cater to the over 25 remaining license managers that are already handled by OpenLM’s core product, OpenLM Licence Manager.

License Allocation Manager is separate from more general license management software like OpenLM for Engineering Licensing or Flexera FlexNet Manager for Engineering Applications. While these programs help IT administrators maintain their collection of licenses, License Allocation Manager can be used on top as an easier way to configure Option Files. In fact, License Allocation Manager began its life as an extension to OpenLM Licence Manager. Once the team realized its utility, they wanted to offer it as a standalone that can be used in conjunction with any license management software.

It is Gabay’s hope that offering License Allocation Manager as a standalone product will allow two types of companies to take advantage of it: those that use their software vendor’s license management tools, and those that decide to build their own in-house tools.

“The astonishing thing is that our biggest competitor is not Flexera,” Gabay explains. “Our biggest competitors are, first of all, people that are doing nothing [i.e., using the built-in license management tools]. They [software vendors] give you a license manager in order to control your usage. They didn't give you a license manager, so you can manage it and optimize your usage, but people don't understand that.”

“Our next competitors ‘are people that develop a home-grown software,’” he continued. “There are many problems with that. One, it's very limited. They create the report and you see the usage level, but there is lot more to do to optimize. You save a few thousand dollars but lose the ability to save hundreds of thousands of dollars. And in many cases the person that developed it leaves the company and nobody can maintain it.”

While Gabay would undoubtedly prefer these companies to use OpenLM for Engineering Licensing, giving them access to License Allocation Manager is a positive step in the direction of easier license management.

A Changing Licensing Model

One question we couldn’t help but ask Gabay is how OpenLM can survive in a world where, it seems, more and more applications are moving towards the cloud. Take Onshape, the CAD platform that runs entirely in a web browser. In Onshape, licensing is a matter of who has an account and who doesn’t. Some types of accounts allow licenses to be distributed flexibly across a user base, but everything is handled natively within Onshape.

“It's limiting the customer's ability to use the licenses definitely,” Gabay said of the problem. He sees the cloud approach as more restrictive than the concurrent licensing model, and many end users seem to agree. For instance, it’s hard to forget the user outcry when Autodesk decided to purge perpetual licenses in favor of a subscription-only approach.

“Many of our customers said they will never give up the network licenses,” Gabay said.

Though OpenLM is exploring what they can offer for subscription models, Gabay concedes that the company is limited in what it can do for these types of customers.

“It's not that we don't support them,” he said. “We are also supporting these customers and we're trying to see what we can do, but many of the things we are currently doing are not relevant in such models.”

In the meantime, for customers of the traditional licensing model, OpenLM is doing what it can to stretch those licenses to the limit. To learn more about OpenLM and License Allocation Manager, visit the OpenLM website.

OpenLM has sponsored this post. They have had no editorial input to this post. Unless otherwise stated, all opinions are mine. —Michael Alba

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