Challenges and solutions for data accuracy in SPLA reporting

Service Provider Licensing Agreements (SPLA) require monthly reports re what Microsoft software has been deployed by the Hosted Service Providers (HSP). These are sent to the Microsoft License Service Providers in order to prepare the monthly invoices. This method of software licensing fits in well with the HSP business model, but when things go wrong the consequences can be significant. For example, if the HSP has been under reporting their deployments of software, the financial impact of an unfavourable audit for a HSP can, in some cases, threaten their very existence.

Even creating SPLA reports is time consuming, the licensing rules can often be open to different interpretations which cause issues in submitting accurate reports. However the fundamental issue is on the accuracy of the deployment data. In the case of SPLA reports, the old adage of “rubbish in, rubbish out” holds true.

What are the reasons of inaccurate deployment data?

  • In some cases HSPs may not know where all their servers are or even how many they have. They possibly have multiple locations or have been through mergers or acquisitions. As a result, records are incomplete. If servers are not identified, then there is no chance of knowing what software is deployed.
  • Information may not be accessible from servers if the end customer has taken the ‘platform or infrastructure as a service’. Also they may have loaded the software and not provided access to the HSP to assess what software is loaded on a SPLA basis. In some cases, the end user organisation may have loaded software from their own licensed products, but not informed the HSP. Essentially the HSP needs to be able check what software is loaded and if it is correctly licensed if it is in their infrastructure.
  • Software editions, server status, configurations, connections and number of users need to be available to ensure that the correct license type is being reported. Gaps in the information may mean that reporting of incorrect stock keeping units (SKUs) is done resulting in errors in the associated billing.

What methods are available for discovery and creating SPLA reports?

  • IN HOUSE DEVELOPED SCRIPTS.

Some organisations either develop or acquire scripts to create inventories. However these are often unsupported, are of variable quality and are not particularly suitable for ease of use in creating the SPLA reports. In addition they are not effective without user access permissions and can be considered invasive by some customers.

  • AUDIT TOOLS.

These are used by auditors often working on behalf of software suppliers. They are mainly scripts with some automated matching to SKU lists. Essentially these are designed to catch-out hosting providers who have transgressed the licensing contracts and as such are not available for hosting provider to use themselves. They create customer resistance and are expensive to deploy.

  • SKU MATCHING TECHNOLOGIES.

These products match deployment data against the SPLA SKU list from Microsoft. They rely on data collected from 3rd party technologies which are of variable quality as they do not have scanning technologies approved by software vendors. In this case, the reports can be inaccurate if deployment data is wrong.

  • AGENT BASED DATA COLLECTION.

These products rely on gathering data from hosting environments by deploying ‘discovery agents’ on the servers. They only work if agents are on all the hosts and guest servers. Agent based technologies are resisted by the HSP’s as they are considered an invasive security threat by many end user customers. Agent based technologies are often integrated with SAM tools which try to help with the preparation of SPLA reports. However if the agents have not been deployed to all the servers then obviously the reports will be inaccurate.

  • AGENTLESS DISCOVERY AND INVENTORY.

These technologies gather data from servers by first discovering all the servers and then creating the inventories of what software and configurations are residing on the infrastructure. The main advantages of this technology are that it is non-invasive because the infrastructure is discovered first, the software inventories are comprehensive and more accurate than most other methods.

Because there are no agents or scripts to deploy the set-up, and delivery of the reports can be faster and easier than with other technologies.

If you have any problem in reporting SPLA usage, contact our team today at www.businesssoftwarecentre.com. Our SPLAreporter tool, an automated solution that collates software usage data into a report — a step change technology that has the potential to deliver a 15% increase in your SPLA revenue.

(Source: The Business Software Centre- www.businesssoftwarecentre.com)