Tracking software usage for large enterprise customers can be a challenge. This new tool helps provide more accurate assessments.
Large Microsoft customers often need to get a better handle on their software usage and licensing liability. Besides keeping track of purchasing and internal use over time, there’s the problem of choosing between device-based and user-based licensing. One method can sometimes be more advantageous than the other based on user behavior.
This is especially true for Enterprise Agreements. Microsoft and enterprise-grade customers “true up” at the end of each cycle to assess what the customer owes Microsoft. They inspect the customer’s inventory and internal deployment. These days, this is more of an art than a science, because most enterprise software does not have a convenient answer to the question of how it’s being used.
To address this problem, Microsoft licensing turned to the Solution Accelerator team. One of its tools called the Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) Toolkit sounded promising as a usage-tracking platform. Then in July of this year, the Solution Accelerator team released the Software Usage Tracker feature as part of the new MAP Toolkit 5.0 on the Microsoft Solution Accelerators page as a free download.
The Software Usage Tracker capability in the MAP Toolkit focuses on tracking usage for the following products: Windows Server, Exchange, SharePoint, SQL Server and System Center Configuration Manager. The aim is to provide an account of how much use any instance of these products in the environment incurred during the most recent 90-day cycle.
The tool measures usage over 90 days because that’s the minimum time period a license must remain assigned to a user or device before it can be reassigned. The MAP Toolkit looks for unique server product access by a user from a device. This means examining all the computers in any given environment, including servers and clients and every individual user and their behavior. If a user hits a SharePoint Web page twice, it’s only counted once. However, if that same user hits that page from a different laptop, it’s counted because the Software Usage Tracker tool considers both device- and user-based data.
This would be easy if the Microsoft server products cooperated by providing these numbers. Someday they will, but they don’t yet. Instead, the Software Usage Tracker has to apply different strategies to different server products to obtain usage evidence. How does the Software Usage Tracker examine the computers and data in the network to begin with? Let’s back up and briefly examine how the MAP Toolkit operates.
The MAP Toolkit is designed to collect different types of data from networked computers. It can discover all the computers connected to the network and contact them to collect certain data from an Active Directory server, or by specifying computers directly. For a number of issues such as Windows 7 upgrade assessments, all the Toolkit needs to collect using Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) are certain facts about the existing hardware and installed software to see if the platform can be upgraded as is.
The MAP Toolkit supports many other kinds of data collection as well. It then generates proposal documents with step-by-step guidance on IT changes using the discovered data. In this manner, your IT organization can obtain a global view of the implications of a large roll out.
To track user behavior, the MAP Toolkit has to employ additional methods. Windows servers are capable of recording all log-on events to the Windows event log. You can configure SQL servers in a similar way. SharePoint has IIS in front, which can generate Web access logs.
System Center Configuration Manager and Exchange are a little different. For those two products, the Toolkit does not look at logs, only inventory. Collecting and parsing logs for usage tracking is a complicated affair for a number of reasons. Default logging configurations don’t always have the necessary information. Sometimes, the logging function is turned off. The MAP Toolkit needs additional fields in IIS logs, and relies on forwarding SQL logon events to the Windows event log. This function has to be configured separately.
Once the environment is all set up, the Toolkit performs an inventory to identify all networked machines (see Figure 1). Then it waits—logs have to accumulate events, and you have to take those events and make them available somewhere on the network.
Figure 1 The Microsoft Assessment and Planning MAP Toolkit takes inventory of the computers and applications on your network then tracks usage patterns.
You can then direct the MAP Toolkit to scour network shares for logs and parse them over time—up to 90 days worth. This can represent quite a bit of data. During this process, the MAP Toolkit console will display the progress of parsing files from the servers and will start to accumulate counts for various Microsoft server products.
After collecting usage data for weeks, you can generate reports and proposals that detail usage detected in your environment. From there, you can make a determination of the best licensing method to employ. If this seems difficult, consider how you would do this without a tool to help you. Microsoft is working to reduce the challenge of accounting for usage, as this process has changed from a matter of counting boxes to carefully examining user behavior.
The MAP Toolkit Software Usage Tracker reports are most valuable when used with a new set of Microsoft license management white papers designed to help you decide on an optimal licensing strategy. These white papers sort through the business side of licensing and how to interpret the detailed reports the MAP Toolkit provides. The white papers are being released progressively over the coming months. The first one, for assessing Windows Server Licensing, is available now.
If your organization has a Software Asset Management lead, they should also review the new tool and white papers. You can use the MAP Toolkit for many other purposes, most of which take minutes, not days. Go to the Microsoft Solution Accelerators page and download your free copy—this is an essential tool for an IT professional.
Peter Skjøtt Larsen is a senior developer on the Microsoft Solution Accelerator team working on tools and guidance spanning from Unix and database migration to Office server products and, most recently, the MAP Toolkit. He’s developed software for wireless carriers, airplane manufacturers, stock traders and model designers. Originally from Denmark, Larsen has called Seattle his home for the last 17 years.