Your money or your licence

TORONTO – Chances are, if you’re using Microsoft products, you’re wasting thousands of dollars.

The fault doesn’t lie with the products themselves, or even with Microsoft, said Nauman Haque, an analyst with research firm Info-Tech. Buying licenced software is a complicated undertaking, he said, and organizations that aren’t armed with the most up-to-date knowledge of the licensing programs available may be spending more on IT than necessary.

Haque, who spoke at a session called “Optimizing Microsoft Licensing” on Thursday, provided some tips on how to navigate licensing agreements and make the most of the software licences you already own.

Too often, organizations ignore the most basic of precepts, said Haque. “These are things you can achieve without firing anyone . . . without compromising new technology.”

For example, don’t buy shrink-wrapped software. “It seems intuitive – don’t buy retail – but it happens,” said Haque. A person within the company may require a new piece of software to complete a project, so their boss sends them off to a store and tells them to expense the purchase back to the company. Eventually, other employees either want or need the same package, so they also buy their own copies and add them to the company’s account.

Spot purchases can be avoided by planning ahead and being aware of the software that’s already in-house, said Haque. In almost every case, bulk purchase is a cheaper alternative. “You can save up to 40 per cent by volume licensing agreements.”

A needs analysis will help an organization determine the best kind of licensing plan to pursue. Microsoft’s Software Assurance plan, for example, was controversial when it was first introduced, but is appropriate for organizations that upgrade at least once every three years, said Haque. Microsoft charges a premium for the service, but provides subscribers with discounts and guaranteed upgrade paths. “You may even have rights to upgrade you don’t even know about,” he said.

Some IT departments get tripped up by the terminology that Microsoft applies to its various licensing programs, said Haque. A common mistake is to assume that enterprises of a certain size can automatically be slotted into pre-determined programs. It’s important to examine the advice of Microsoft and its resellers, he said, since ultimately their goal is to sell SKUs.

Mike Palmer, IT coordinator for the City of Langford, B.C., said in a separate interview that he tries to balance his own research with the information he receives from his Microsoft reseller.

Palmer runs a Microsoft-heavy environment, with approximately 60 users running Microsoft Office Pro on Windows XP. Langford uses other Microsoft products, like SQL server, and tracks its IT assets using Microsoft’s Systems Management Server (SMS).

“For me, it’s not rocket science,” said Palmer. “We have a standard workstation build which has a certain amount of software on it and everybody gets that same build. It basically boils down to how many machines we have. I can see how it would be a lot more difficult for other offices that have a huge variety of different software products.”

By keeping to a certain standard, Palmer said he’s able to remove some of the uncertainty around keeping IT up to date. Langford upgrades Microsoft products whenever new ones become available, he said, and uses Software Assurance across the board.

Organizations may be able to save money on licences by being aware of individual user’s requirements, said Haque. Not everyone, for example, will take advantage of the all the features of the professional version of Office XP. Cheaper licences are available for more stripped-down versions.

Palmer acknowledged that this is one area where he could be paying more attention.

“Out of convenience, we’ve been keeping everyone on Office Pro,” he said. “As a group, we use all the products but there are those individuals who don’t use some of those products as much. I haven’t look into it as much as I probably should, but being busy, you kind of put that stuff off.”

One obstacle in the way of upgrades is Microsoft itself. Product release schedules should only be viewed as guidelines, said Haque, since the Redmond giant is often late to its own party. Windows 95 was delivered 14 months past its initial release date. Windows 98, six months; Windows ME, 12 months; XP, four months; Vista, three months and counting.

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