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PIRACY IN THE DATA CENTER
Software piracy was long viewed as a problem rooted in the client device; users would download applications or digital media to their individual systems for personal use either at home or in the office. But times have changed.
Lately, solution providers such as Marathon Consulting have seen more pirated software in the data center -- where unlicensed software can be hidden, so to speak, instead of on a client device tied to one particular employee. "There are a lot of shady IT guys out there building data centers with cracked versions of Windows and other server software," Marathon Consulting's Wilson said. "We've seen that happen quite a bit in the data center with SQL server software and applications."
Piracy in the data center is costly in more ways than one. Not only does it pose serious legal and security risks for the client, it also creates a number of headaches for solution providers. Wilson explains a common scenario when coming into a client's IT environment for the first time as an MSP. "You find out the previous IT guys didn't care much about software licenses," he said. "We've definitely been in customer environments where the server software has been unlicensed, and that's a big problem because it's not cheap and that causes your price to go up."
As a result, the solution could become cost-prohibitive for the client and the solution provider could end up losing the deal altogether. So why is pirated software more common in the data center today?
Kevin Lalor, founder and CEO of Business Intelligence 101, has an idea about that. Lalor started the company in 2004 and for several years, Business Intelligence 101 made traditional software delivery and on-premise integration a big part of its business. "We saw pirated software a lot," he said. "And some of those conversations with customers weren't very pleasant."
Specifically, Lalor said most of the pirated or unlicensed software was found in the backrooms of dark server closets and icy data centers. In his experience, individual employees were less likely to have pirated software on their office computers for two simple reasons: any unlicensed material would be easily discovered and traced on a single user's machine, and because most desktop or notebook applications are affordable and likely to be approved by management.
On the other hand, unlicensed or pirated software was rampant on servers behind closed doors, Lalor said. If the number of people in a client's IT staff is high, then it becomes harder to pin down who was doing the downloading. And if the data center is large, it's much more difficult to find the unlicensed software and figure out how many people are using it.
"When it comes to the IT teams, they have budget restrictions and the server software is more expensive so they'll download the stuff to cut corners and save money," he said.
The situation can be frustrating for solution providers, too. Ridding a customer data center of unlicensed software is far more challenging than client devices.
"Once [unlicensed software] gets into an organization, it spreads virally and it becomes very difficult to remove," V.I. Labs' DeMarines said. For V.I. Labs, sorting through software in the data center is made even more of a challenge because of virtualization. "Virtual machines are a big challenge," DeMarines said. "It's tough to enforce licensing if the application is being cloned on several virtual machines."
Therefore, virtualizing a desktop and pushing it out to several different users may or may not be a violation of your end user license agreements (EULAs), and wading through all the terms and conditions to figure it out can be difficult. "It can be very complex and hard to understand," said Andrea Godfrey, president and CEO of Entre. "We're lucky we have experts on staff that know licensing very well and understand the virtualization model."
However, most businesses don't have that luxury. So how do customers and solution providers know what's permissible with the software they purchase?