Autodesk Eliminates Multi-User Subscriptions
Michael Alba posted on May 07, 2020 |
Named user licensing to be based on individual users; Autodesk offers 2 for 1 trade-in

Autodesk has shifted how it will license its software: multi-user licenses are going out, named user licenses are coming in. Whereas multi-user licenses previously allowed any number of engineers to share a single license (not at the same time, of course), named user licenses mean that every user must have his or her own license.

This isn’t the first time Autodesk has shifted its licensing policy. In 2015, the company endured fierce user backlash when it decided to eliminate its age-old perpetual licensing in favor of licensing that was considered perpetually-profitable by the more conservative, traditional users—the subscription model. As much as Autodesk tried to defend the change as better and more modern (subscription had indeed become the way most software was being licensed over the years), many still resented the forced switch.

Any big change in licensing is guaranteed to disrupt some users’ lives and livelihood. Adobe faced protests after their wholesale switch to subscription licensing, a move that preceded Autodesk’s. Now with the change to named users, howls of protests are heard again. Some decry the move as a cash grab by a software giant. Again, single-user is how much modern software is being licensed. And again, Autodesk is on the defensive, presenting the shift as an improvement for its customers, explaining how named user licenses will reduce downtime, streamline administration and provide better analytics.

Let’s take a look at the change and what it will actually mean for users.

No More Multi-User

(Image courtesy of Autodesk.)
(Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

Multi-user licenses are a great way to give employees access to software that they may use only occasionally. Product managers, for instance, may only need to annotate the odd drawing in AutoCAD or review the occasional model in Revit. Rather than buying a dedicated (and expensive) software license for these sporadic users, many companies prefer a flexible license that lets several employees share the software.

But that’s so impersonal, says Autodesk. “You’re more than a serial number to us.” As of May 7, 2020, Autodesk will officially launch named user licensing, and effective August 7, 2020, Autodesk will no longer offer any multi-user access subscription plans. By August 7, 2021, all current multi-user access subscriptions will expire and cannot be renewed.

What If I’m Currently on a Multi-User Subscription?

If you currently have an Autodesk multi-user subscription or maintenance plan, you have two options. The first is to do nothing–except silently fume. You’ll be answered with a 20% increase in maintenance costs on May 7 this year and the retirement of your maintenance plan on May 7 next year, or the retirement of your multi-user subscription on August 7 next year.

The second option is to take Autodesk’s trade-in offer: a two-for-one deal. If you have a multi-user subscription plan, you can trade it in for two named user plans at a “a similar SRP you’re paying today for your existing seat or subscription.” If you’ve still got a maintenance plan, it can be traded in for a subscription plan before August 7, 2020, after which multi-user subscriptions can be traded in for two named user subscriptions.

Here’s Autodesk’s breakdown of the options by plan and date:

There’s one group of Autodesk users that doesn’t have to worry about the new licensing: For now, there will be no change to multi-user subscriptions for qualified education institutions.

Will It Cost More?

Many Autodesk users, whether they want to or not, will be forced to trade in their multi-user plans for two named user plans. If we assume that costs won’t change at all, it’s clear that this will negatively impact customers whose ratio of users to multi-user subscriptions is greater than 2. They’ll either have to buy more named user licenses or restrict the number of employees who can access Autodesk software.

For such organizations, this could mean a drastic increase in costs. Here’s what one system administrator had to say in a reddit thread on r/sysadmin about the announcement:

“We have a ton of engineers, but since many of them are also PMs the number who need AutoCAD on any given day is low. Going from concurrent licenses to per-user named licenses would be a 50x increase in cost. Even with their "2 for 1" offer it's a pretty significant hit.” -reddit user FireITGuy

This may be true for some companies, but according to Autodesk, it won’t be an issue for most users. In a study looking across their entire customer base, from the smallest shops to the largest enterprises, Autodesk determined that there are an average of 1.85 users to every multi-user subscription. That means that, on average, the trade-in offer will be a gain.

“The two-for-one is a good offer,” asserted Carl White, Autodesk’s VP of Business Models and Licensing. He acknowledges that some customers “hyper-optimize” their multi-user licenses and greatly exceed the 1.85 average. He also claims that some customers overestimate how far they’re really stretching their subscription.

“For customers who don't have the monitoring environment that tells them how often their licenses are in use, it's more psychology than it is the tools,” White said. “I’ve had three or four highly tangible examples since we announced this where somebody said ‘I get 15 to 1.’ And when we ask them how they get that, they say ‘I just know.’ We had a reseller go out and talk to one of these customers. They went out and put some tools on their systems, and guess what their usage was? Less than 2.”

For those customers who do exceed the 2:1 ratio, Autodesk is considering options that may give infrequent users the flexibility to access software without requiring a dedicated license. In the meantime, White points out that viewing software may be a suitable replacement for product managers and other occasional users. Some viewers are free, but all of them are less expensive, lighter weight, and easier to use than full CAD applications. Autodesk offers a free viewer called Design Review.

What Are The Benefits?
Ten benefits of named user licensing, according to Autodesk. (Click to enlarge)

According to White, the main benefit of the switch to named user subscriptions will be for administrators. The current licensing model, he explained, is cumbersome for admins and makes it difficult to gain insights into user behavior.

“We’re looking to help administrators get more out of the licenses they're buying,” White said. “To make sure that users actually have what they need to use, and ultimately making their life easier by taking the onus of managing those servers and putting it into our cloud.”

End-users will also see more personalization with named user licenses, such as the individualized learning tools and analytics provided by other named user software like Salesforce and Microsoft 365. “Knowing who you are makes us more effective at providing you information about what you're doing with the product,” White said.

Some users, however, aren’t convinced they’ll see these proclaimed benefits:

“I don't get the user tailored experience or better admin console rhetoric. we have monitoring solutions tied into our FlexLM servers that have been providing us adequate intelligence, and have been customizing the enterprise experience locally as needed by our users in alignment with the business.” -reddit user Azaex on r/sysadmin

Autodesk’s New Normal

In the end, some Autodesk users will prefer named user licensing. White claims that several customers have requested an early change-over to the new model, and that many find it particularly helpful during the current mandate for remote work.

Regardless, a vocal crowd feels frustrated at being buffeted by Autodesk’s licensing changes. To those who may have to spend more, it’s an unrequested and disruptive change, following too closely on the heels of the similarly unrequested licensing change of 2015. But for those organizations that only had one or two users per license, it will be business as usual.

To learn more about Autodesk’s licensing change and how it will affect your organization, read Autodesk’s FAQ on the transition to named user licensing.

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