All About Licensing

Nothing strikes fear into a CADD manager’s heart like those five little words…  no, I am not talking about “We Need to Upgrade Again.” I am thinking much worse, the dreaded, “I Can’t Get a License!”

As a CADD manager, your number one priority, along with software compliance, is to ensure that your users always have a license and can continue to work on billable projects.

Stand-alone Versus Network Licensing

The easiest way to make certain your users can find a license is to use a stand-alone license for the software.  Positive aspects of stand-alone licensing are that it’s less expensive to purchase compared to a network license, and your user is guaranteed to always have a license regardless of LAN, WAN, or Internet connections. As long as there is electrical power to the office, then your users are working on projects.

But stand-alone licensing has pitfalls as well. While the cost to purchase a stand-alone license is less expensive than a network license, you need to place a stand-alone license on every workstation that has Autodesk software loaded on it, meaning even your part-time users need to have a license allocated specifically to their workstation.  You will need to pay close attention to serial numbers.  You not only need to make sure that the proper serial number is loaded onto each workstation, but you need to track and account for all of the legal documentation that proves you own the software.

While stand-alone licensing is a valid solution, it is probably not the best licensing solution if you have more than a handful of full-time users or you have part-time users where a shared network license can serve multiple users.

Since most business decisions are driven by cost, a network licensing solution is usually the preferred licensing method to share licenses within a LAN, WAN, or Internet (more on Internet licensing later).

While it’s true that network licenses are about 25 percent more expensive to purchase than stand-alone licenses, network licenses provide the immediate return of having the ability to legally load and use software on any workstation in your office.  In addition, there is a single serial number to track and manage for a network license, meaning you can use the same software deployment on all your machines, and account for a single serial number when auditing.

Let’s look at an example of an office with 10 AutoCAD® users. Half use the software full-time and half use it part-time (50 percent).  You may think that it is more cost effective to install stand-alone seats on the full time users’ workstations, but think again.  Consider that during the year those full-time users may take three weeks of vacation or personal time off work, take another week of sick time, and another two weeks or more to work on non-CAD-related items such as training, conferences, meetings, proposals, plotting, and so on. Figure the best case scenario is that your full time users are not using AutoCAD at various times for at least six full weeks out of the year, and consider that you have five full-time users, so now you have a seat of AutoCAD that is available for 30 weeks out of the year!

If these are network licenses they can be used among the part-time AutoCAD users in the office, so maybe you need one additional network license to satisfy the demand of the part-time users.

Suppose AutoCAD costs 100 units for a stand-alone seat and 125 units for a network license (25 percent increase). If you purchased 10 stand-alone seats the cost would be 1,000 units, but if you could meet demand with only seven network seats, then the cost would be 875 units.  Obviously, the total number of licenses required is dependent on usage, but typically the larger group of users, the better the savings in network licensing versus stand-alone seats of software.

LAN, WAN, and Beyond

When managing your Autodesk software portfolio it’s important to standardize your licensing with as many people as possible.  Suppose you have Autodesk software users in 20 different offices (or sites). Do you want to have a license server in each location (that’s 20 servers) or do you want just a primary and a backup server? 
The best-case scenario is a primary license server and a backup server.  The fewer the number of license servers the better—it’s less work to maintain, easy to standardize software distribution, and much easier to prove you are compliant since all workstations are configured similarly.  Of course, you will need a reliable WAN or Internet connection in the offices. (More on that Internet connection later.)

When managing a group of users it’s important to enforce a couple of golden rules. These rules apply to both large and small groups and are critical to make your network licensing a success.

No Stand-alone Licensing – If you come from a company that has used stand-alone licensing this may seem extreme, but in order to reap all of the cost benefits it’s critical for all users to use the network licensing.  Consider a person who uses software for just four hours per day. This means that a stand-alone license is sitting unused the remainder of the time.  Software is too expensive to let sit idle.

Restrict License Borrowing – The first thing a person from a stand-alone software environment inevitably asks is to “borrow” a software license.  Think about it—if that license is 100 percent dedicated to the borrower on that computer, it’s just like a stand-alone license… except it’s a network license and it costs 25 percent more than the stand-alone seat. 

In some cases you will have to allow license borrowing, but the group should be restrictive by product name and version, the duration of the borrow period, and the user who is allowed to borrow the software.  Your most expensive products should be borrowed the shortest length of time. Maybe that’s 48 hours, maybe a week; you need to decide what works best and train your users to the process.

Remember, network licensing is 25 percent more expensive than a stand-alone seat, but if you can share a network license with two users instead of just one, then you are saving money and making the bean counters happy.

These two simple rules can greatly reduce the number of licenses your organization needs. Converting a stand-alone license pool to a network license environment combined with the restrictions on license borrowing can easily cut the total number of licenses needed by 50 percent.  While Autodesk will most likely not want you to reduce your seats on Subscription, consider it money in the bank since you may not need to purchase additional licenses until all the network licenses are in use.

Take Advantage of Technology

Autodesk uses FLEXlm software to manage and share their licenses with users on the network.  One of the first items you need to do before moving to a network licensing environment is to develop a plan. Where will your license servers be hosted and what type of license server model do you want to implement?

FLEXlm offers a Redundant License Server model and a Distributed License Server Model to host network licenses.  In order to use the Redundant model you need at least three servers on the network, and each of the servers hosts all of the licenses in your license pool.  In order for a Redundant license server to share licenses it must be in contact with at least two other Redundant license servers.  If the server cannot see at least two other servers, then the server will not share licenses.

In theory, this sounds like a great model since all licenses are seemingly everywhere at the same time, but suppose you have a license server at one of your primary facilities and the office drops off the WAN. That server will no longer share licenses until it can contact at least two other servers, so the redundant method is not the best alternative for failover.

The recommended method for sharing licenses is using a Distributed License Server model.  The Distributed model allows the license pool to be split up and “distributed” among as many license servers as you wish.  These license servers will always share the licenses they have available and they do not need to be in contact with another server in order to do so.  If a Distributed license server is located in an office that drops off the WAN, the users in that office can still access licenses from the license server. Putting Distributed License Servers in your largest offices also provides immediate redundancy to your largest group of software users.

Autodesk software can be configured to look at a group of license servers in a particular order so you always have access to the entire license portfolio. This means you look at the primary server first, and if a license is not available or the server is unreachable, then the next license server in the list is searched, and so on until a license is granted or there are no additional servers on the list.

Autodesk recommends using the ADSKFLEX_LICENSE_FILE variable to define the license server search path.  The LM_LICENSE _FILE and LICPATH.LIC file are also valid methods of defining the license server, but the ADSKFLEX_LICENSE_FILE will always take priority against these other methods as it delivers more consistent performance.

If you choose to move to a Distributed License Server model you will also want to make friends with the FLEXLM_TIMEOUT environment variable.  This variable works to give the license server an extended period of time to share the software license with the client.  Setting the FLEXLM_TIMEOUT variable to 200000 (about 2 seconds) should resolve most latency issues, but we have set the variable as high as 500000 in some extreme cases, mostly for Autodesk® Revit® products.

GNUL, MultiFlex, and the Internet-based FLEXlm Server

One of the advantages of working for a large, global firm is the opportunity to work with Autodesk to pilot different types of licenses on different types of license servers in our quest to “Take Advantage of Technology.”

There are two different licenses offered by Autodesk that we have used with great success.  The first is the Global Network Use License or GNUL as it is commonly known.  There is no real difference in a GNUL license versus a regular license from a technology point of view, except that Autodesk authorizes the GNUL seat for use in different countries as a true 24/7, “follow the sun” license. 

Imagine having users in the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Kuwait who all need to use AutoCAD.  Previously, we needed to purchase a license for each country, or six different licenses, but now with GNUL licensing we just need to supply a single license for all of those users.  Of course, GNUL licenses are more expensive, but not so expensive that we do not save a considerable amount of money and resources using the GNUL licensing.

The other license we have implemented is called a MultiFlex license.  This is very similar to the “suite- based” licensing that Autodesk is currently selling, except the MultiFlex license covers almost the complete Autodesk product line.  Instead of having separate licenses for AutoCAD, Revit Architecture, 3ds Max Design, Civil 3D, or any other product, a single MultiFlex license will issue a valid token for any of those products.  Once again, the MultiFlex licensing is more expensive than any other product, and Autodesk will only sell it as part of an overall license management scheme, but the returns are tremendous in terms of cost and labor savings.  There is no need to balance the license pool as users migrate from one product to another, and the MultiFlex is a GNUL license so it provides any license, anytime, anywhere.

The beauty of GNUL and MultiFlex licensing is that it greatly reduces the number of servers needed for host licensing across your global WAN.  But what happens if an office loses its WAN connections, or what about project or joint venture offices that do not have access to the corporate WAN?  How can you take advantage of technology to provide additional redundancy and provide licensing for sites?

One option is to create a backup license server for each office location, but this might not be the best solution because you will have to manage the individual servers, the FLEXlm software, and coordinate license files for all of your locations.  However, there are other options and one agreeable method we piloted with Autodesk is to create a virtual FLEXlm license server and use a virtual player, such as VMware, to initiate the virtual server as required.

By setting up a task to monitor if the local office dropped off the network, we automatically start the VM player and the instance of FLEXlm to share licenses with the local office staff.  Once the task monitor indicated that the network connection was restored then the VM player is automatically turned off and users once again accessed licenses from their primary license servers.

Because the VM player is configured to be on the LAN and does not reside in Active Directory, the virtual servers are never recognized by the WAN and the same FLEXlm server instance can be used in all locations, meaning less work to maintain just a single system.

If there is a negative aspect to using the VMware for a local office backup, it is that you must copy a license for Microsoft Windows Server 2008 for each location where you intend to run the VMware player. 

Another option for providing addition redundancy to licensing is a very simple approach, but once again we worked closely with Autodesk to pilot this solution.  While WANs are typically sealed tight as a drum to the outside world, imagine if you had access to a FLEXlm license server that was available via the Internet.

Imagine being anywhere in the world and as long as you can connect to the Internet you can access a network version of Autodesk software from your corporate license pool.  This is the perfect licensing solution for project offices, staff traveling or at a client site, or even a standard office that loses its WAN connection and is on a backup DSL line to the Internet. 

Once again, this FLEXlm Internet solution was piloted under the guidance and full approval of Autodesk. Hosting a FLEXlm license server on the Internet works, and works great!

Obviously, the main issue with an outwardly facing server is security, and since the FLEXlm server will be available to the public how can you best limit access to your precious Autodesk licenses? 

Going back to one of our golden rules, restrict license borrowing on the Internet license server, lock it down so tight that nobody can borrow a license.  The other item you need is to define the LM_PROJECT variable on both the Internet license server and the client workstation.  This variable must be defined on both the server and the workstation, if the variable does not exactly match then the server will not share a license with that workstation.

The LM_PROJECT variable can be defined on the server so that you can have multiple “projects” defined at any one time, meaning you can have a different value defined for each project office or even down to the individual user if you need to limit usage at that level.  The variable can be reset as often as needed, and can also be used to track and report on usage by “project.” When a project ends, you just remove the variable on the server and the client workstations will no longer have access to a license.

One final, important note: any change in your current licensing structure should be discussed and approved by Autodesk prior to making any changes on your system.  We discuss many good ideas in this article, but they cannot be used without express approval from Autodesk.

Software Compliancy

Software compliance is serious business. It is your responsibility as a CADD manager to ensure that your workstations are compliant.  Simplifying the management of your licensing is a great step in the right direction, and combined with a plan to run regular reports from the Autodesk Software Management Toolkit, you are well on your way to ending those dreadful “I Can’t Get a License!” complaints.

Franklin R. Ryan is US CADD Services Manager for Parsons Brinckerhoff in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, USA.

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