Licensing for Hosted Application Services: Why it costs what it costs

Licensing for Hosted Application Services:

Why it costs what it costs

Application hosting services are experiencing resurgence in popularity these days, due to the prevalence of messaging about the benefits of a “cloud” technology model.  While hosted application services aren’t really cloud (according to cloud technology purists, anyway), they can look and feel and be paid for just like cloud solutions, so the name fits OK.  Hosted applications are desktop or network applications you access via the web, where the software is implemented and managed by a 3rd party application service provider (the host) rather than being installed on your local PC or LAN.  Some software products may be rental-licensed by the ASP, and when combined with the hosting service, the entire subscription service is more like SaaS (software-as-a-service) than the old “purchase and install” approach.

An important supporting program for application hosting service providers is the Microsoft Service Provider License Agreement program. Under a formal agreement with Microsoft or via an SPLA reseller, service providers and independent software vendors are able to license the latest Microsoft software to provide software services and hosted applications to customers. With the SPLA, service providers and ISVs can lawfully license Microsoft products on a monthly basis to host software services and provide application access for their customers. The SPLA supports a variety of hosting scenarios to help providers deliver highly-customized and robust solutions to a wide range of subscribing customers, and it’s the only valid means for obtaining subscription-based provider licensing for these products.

Because the software products being hosted are essentially desktop or LAN-based products, the underlying technology to “deliver” those applications is generally of a similar foundation.  In cases where the provider is offering hosting of Windows-based QuickBooks desktop editions or Microsoft Office applications, for example, the platforms and servers used by the service provider are almost certainly Windows-based.  This operating system, as well as the rights to allow remote user connections to it, is licensed to the provider from Microsoft under the SPLA.  These elements are referred to as “user” licensing elements.

An aspect of Microsoft reporting and licensing which is not well recognized (or frequently complied with) is the difference between user and application licensing.

User licensing, which includes the Windows server access license as well as the remote desktop user license, is a named user access license. This means that the provider need only report and settle for the user license if the user actually accesses the system during the reporting period (usually each month).  Not quite like a concurrent user model, where only the high count of users is reported, the named user model requires that the license for each user be paid if that user logged in at any time and remained logged in for any length of time during the reporting period.

Application licensing applies to the application software license acquired through and governed by the use-rights provided for and granted under the Microsoft SPLA. Rental application licensing is assigned to a specific, named user, and is to be reported fully on a monthly basis regardless of whether or not the user accessed the software. This is in direct contrast to the named user access licensing described above. Providers are required to report and settle on a monthly basis the total number of subscribed application licenses available to users, including Microsoft Office applications, Exchange, SQL and others, regardless of whether or not the user actually logged in and used the products.  The license is assigned to the user and is therefore required to be paid.

Being an application hosting service provider is a complicated business, and there is a lot to consider when developing subscription services for broad customer delivery.  Pricing is one of the complaints customers voice relating to these services, but the reality is that it takes quite a bit in terms of system resources and licensing to provide an acceptable hosted application experience.  This is one of the areas where SaaS and true cloud solutions benefit from a scale economy – where the application is designed for the platform, and one instance of the solution and platform can serve a large number of customers more affordably.

When working with a hosting service provider, it is wise to recognize that the platform and software licensing costs are there to support the type of applications being hosted.  If you have an SQL-based application, you will need the SQL licensing to support it, just like you have to pay for licensing of an Exchange mailbox or a hosted copy of Word.  Enabling only a portion of the total business software requirement may make it difficult to cost justify hosting just one solution.  However, if the business utilizes the host to manage all the desktop applications and data, the cost-efficiency of the approach can increase dramatically.  Regardless of whether the business elects to continue to run software on local PCs, or if it decides to outsource IT to a host and run it there, the company will have to pay the price for software licensing.

Make sense?


Retaining Productivity while Empowering the Remote and Mobile Workforce

Retaining Productivity while Empowering the Remote and Mobile Workforce


A lot of the marketing and discussion around why businesses should use the cloud for IT service is focusing on creating anytime, anywhere access to business data and improving overall IT performance.  By deploying applications to remote desktops and hosted systems, business owners are recognizing the benefits of outsourcing IT service management to professionals who can spend their time actually managing IT.  Focus is able to remain on the business operation and not the technology supporting it; the main office and remote locations are able to work with the same systems and information, and users are able to access information while at home or on the road. Bringing workers together with the same applications and data means new levels of productivity can be achieved regardless of where the work gets done.

Yet the perceived value of “working in the cloud” and the reality remain somewhat disconnected for many mobile business users. The confusion and frustration many users experience with connected, online working models has quite a lot to do with the realization that they don’t simply need remote access or virtual office solutions to bring them together.  Users want solutions that help them get their work done even when they aren’t working on a traditional computer.  When a computer is available, that’s great.  But users want to be able to work from their tablets and smartphones, too.  Have you ever tried to login to a remote desktop from your phone, or to see a full screen of data when the keyboard takes up more than half of the view?  It may technically function, but there’s no way to get anything useful done with that little teeny weeny screen, and that’s a problem.

It is this new multi-mode working environment which is testing the boundaries of usability for software developers and service providers alike.  No longer may the assumption be that users will perform their job functions using a desktop or laptop computer, just as it is no longer assumed that a mobile phone will be used just for phone calls.  Users want (and sometimes need) to be able to get their work done using their smartphones, iPads, Kindles, or other types of tablet, pad or surface computers.  Applications designed to run on full size screens and desktop computers often don’t work well for users accessing them with other types of devices, even when the device is connecting to a remote desktop service.

Mobile device users are starting to face these usability barriers somewhat less frequently when visiting various websites.  If you look at many reasonably modern business websites, you’ll find there is a “mobile” counterpart.  The mobile website is often somewhat less functional than the full website, providing only essential information for the mobile viewer rather than the expanded content and functionality available on the full site.  Yet the mobile site delivers a more pleasant and usable resource for the mobile device user, encouraging the user to visit the site more often.

Application software development can be approached in a similar manner, where essential functionality is presented for mobile users in a format usable by mobile devices, and where the full functionality and rich feature set might be available only in the full application interface.  Even where legacy applications are concerned – those firmly tied to the desktop and network – there are likely options for extending some manner of functionality and access to remote and mobile devices, perhaps by using 3rd party integrated or connected solutions.

Many commercial software developers are successfully viewing this “web and mobile enabled” approach as a means to capture Software-as-a-Service buyers by providing some web-based and mobile functionality with attachments back to the data and applications residing on the LAN or hosting platform.  This hybrid approach may actually present better and more options for businesses, as it embraces the concepts of mobility and device independence while at the same time retaining the features, functionality and productivity-enhancing working mode that only desktop applications have to-date fully proven… and the businesses can keep their own data to take with them and not be relegated to list-only extractions if they wish to change solutions.

This idea is not really new – the idea of providing users with the specific functionality they need (and not more) to accomplish their tasks and get their jobs done.  The concept of Service Oriented Architecture has always spoken to this philosophy, advocating that the right approach to software is the one which orients the application, functionality and view specifically and directly towards the user and their role.

The new twist on SOA is that the orientation of the application should be based not only on roles and functionality.  Modern business applications must also address device and modality, not assuming a particular form factor or platform of access, and having an understanding of the particular mode in which the solution exists or is experienced by the user.  Mobile users want a useful experience on their  mobile devices, and remote and  local desktop users want the features, functionality and performance of desktop applications.

Website designers have figured out that visitors may access the website using any variety of computing devices, including smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops.  Understanding that each device has a different capability in terms of displaying and interacting with content, site developers have begun to include mobile site designs as a standard offering with business website services.  Users accessing the site with smartphones and tablets are able to effectively navigate and view information on the site because it’s been formatted to fit the screen, and navigation and other action options are accessible from smart menus that are sized and placed for touch screen access.  This approach is now finding its way in many business applications now that the applications are also “living” on the web.

The growing number of web and SaaS products on the market clearly demonstrate that mobility is a big consideration in modern application design.  Unfortunately, productivity losses due to sluggish interfaces or complicated operating processes often offset the benefits of the solution, even though it may be both desktop and mobile “friendly”. Software companies rolling out new SaaS models to their existing desktop product user bases are finding that the desirability of the subscription model web-based solution may be somewhat less than expected.  This may be attributed to the fact that users have become not simply accustomed to how they can make the desktop software work for them – they’ve become reliant upon that ability.  Initial experiences with transitioning from desktop applications to SaaS has left many businesses with frustrations founded in overall productivity loss.  I’ve even heard the term “productivity-sucking”, which I don’t think describes either a feature or a benefit.

There must be a balance found, where productivity is enhanced for both desktop and mobile users and where critical functionality is not sacrificed in order to facilitate a mobile capability.  The goal is to empower the remote and mobile user to be as productive as the non-mobile user, and to do it without forcing changes which may impede rather than improve productivity of the overall organization.

Make Sense?


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