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Not long ago, Entre Computer Services visited a new client in its region of Rochester, N.Y., and made a rather peculiar -- but no longer uncommon -- discovery. The IT assessment team from Entre performed a top-to-bottom review of all of the client's assets and infrastructure and, as part of the process, Entre tracked and cataloged all applications and operating systems to match corresponding software licenses. There were approximately 100 employees at the company, and when Entre reviewed the client devices, it found little to no discrepancies between installed software and the client's licenses. In other words, the desktops and notebooks were free of pirated software.
But when Entre looked at the client's servers, it was an entirely different story. The customer's data center was filled with unlicensed software: desktop applications, office programs, expensive server software and more.
Mark Lucas, executive vice president of Entre, said finding pirated software in customer environments is fairly common these days. "We see it all the time," he said, "and we see it as our responsibility to inform them of the risks of piracy."
What's more, Lucas, like many other solution providers, said the majority of today's businesses, even in the age of technology, don't understand the intricacies and complexities of software licensing. "You wouldn't believe how ignorant of this issue people are," he said.
The face of digital piracy has been that of teenagers downloading popular music, movies and TV shows from BitTorrent sites, but solution providers say the problem of commercial software piracy is real and abundant in the corporate world -- whether it's illegally downloading software from the Web or simply "overusing" legally purchased software by installing the same program on too many systems.
"We've seen big organizations – multimillion-dollar manufacturing companies -- that were overusing software with the understanding of the executive leadership," said Victor DeMarines, vice president of products at V.I. Labs, a software vendor that specializes in software license compliance and piracy protection tools. "It happens much less in North America than overseas, but it does happen."
The software piracy problem is made even more complicated in the corporate world, thanks to virtualization, cloud computing and the bring-your-own-device trend. And instead of pirated software being localized to a few client machines, it's often lurking behind the closed doors of the data center.
Scenarios such as the one Entre encountered can be uncomfortable for solution providers -- and pose potential legal and ethical problems as well. Are solution providers legally bound to report clients using pirated software to the authorities? Are MSPs accomplices to a crime if they manage or service unlicensed software? Are Microsoft Certified Partners, for example, obligated to notify Microsoft if they discover pirated versions of Windows or Office in their customer's environment? These are the questions a solution provider should be asking today, as it's become exceedingly easy to find pirated software and download expensive programs from the Web free of charge.