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5 software licensing challenges in the next generation network

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Understanding changing network business models and how to adapt your IT operations.

Every day we hear how the network is changing. Virtualization, Cloud, Software-defined Networking, the Internet of Things — it’s clear big transformational change is happening.   The technical aspects of these solutions seem to get the most attention, but if you manage IT/Network cost and delivery for a living, your success may depend more on understanding the changing network business models that accompany these new technologies and how to adapt your IT operations.

I’ve assembled below what I think are five of the top operational challenges facing IT managers in the next generation network. Some of these are blocking and tackling fundamentals (excuse the seasonal American football analogy), while others are more strategic in nature. I’ll present a short rationale for why these are my top 5. I’d love to hear your perspective.

Why the software licensing reference in the title? Simply put, the next generation network is an intelligent software-defined network and the traditional monetization/cost driver for software is licensing. Entitlement management will be critical in the next generation network, much like it is today and has been for some time in the IT/Application space.

1. Support contract management to include network software license management

IT/Network managers and their Partners have long managed support contracts to ensure their network is covered from a technical support (TAC) and software update and upgrade capability perspective. The challenge is that this information is often device or even user-centric. With network software being monetized separately from the hardware it runs on, and with license portability, term and co-term considerations, it will be more important than ever to manage software license entitlements and who has the rights to consume them. Newer cloud-based network services provide more information from a software entitlement perspective, but it is not easy to get to a common view across the entire production network.

2. Single IT entitlements view; ITAM/SAM best practices    

The challenge here is getting a single dashboard view of all network entitlements –- hardware, software and service/support for a given organization or business entity. Ideally, there would be one rolled up entitlement view across all IT departments to highlight upcoming renewals and any compliance exposure. This is where I believe there is an opportunity to introduce ITAM/SAM best practices into network operations.

3. Perpetual and subscription network software licenses that entitle on-premises, cloud and hybrid cloud network services

This is a bit of a mouthful, but it’s about managing the transition to the next-generation software-defined network. And it’s not just about managing perpetual and subscription licenses; it’s about managing those entitlements for both on-premises and cloud network service delivery models. For example, subscription licenses may be portable between on-prem and cloud delivery environments for a given entity or user base, while perpetual licenses may be restricted to on-premises deployments.

4. Transition from traditional node-locked to more flexible and intelligent pooled network software licensing technologies

In addition to the on-premises to cloud transition, we have a transformation in the network licensing technology itself away from node-locked and toward pooled. It’s not like this transition is optional either –- new virtualized and cloud/SaaS network service delivery models demand more flexible and responsive licensing technologies where entitlements can be quickly re-purposed and re-used as virtual instances are stood up and taken down. Classic labor intensive license re-host processes will not support the speed at which zero-touch user-deployed virtualized network capabilities need to be provisioned.

5. Implications of a network subscription licensing business model on future IT costs and budgets

This is one of the biggest strategic challenges for the IT/Network team in my view. There are near-term savings to be had as network vendors provide incentives to move to a subscription license model. The longer term implications are less clear. There are lessons to be learned from the software application industry where the transition from perpetual to term subscription licensing has already taken place, or is well underway.