From License Models

License Models and techniques to license your software.

Using Software Activation to hande Decommissioned Computers

Did your customer’s computer really crash? – using software activation to verify.

Here’s the picture:  A software publisher’s support hot-line rings. The caller reports that his computer has crashed, and that he needs another software license for a new replacement computer right away. What to do?

Software publishers strive to ensure that their customers are not inconvenienced by software licensing issues. When a computer crashes, users scramble to find a new one.  They re-install their applications and contact their vendors to obtain new licenses. Software publishers provide a new license as quickly as possible, but how do the publishers know that the old license will be permanently retired and not put back into service if the old machine is repaired someday.  This is an especially important issue for software publishers who sell perpetual licenses.

Many software publishers handle this scenario by asking their customers to sign a form that certifies that the old license has been destroyed and that it will not be put back into service.  This provides a modest hurdle to dissuade customers from taking advantage of the software vendor’s easy license replacement policy.  Other publishers require a license transfer to be associated with an order, so that there is a paper trail that the company agrees that the old license is not to be used, verified by a purchase order coming from the company.  But, today software vendors who use an Internet software activation service, such as Reprise’s Activation Pro, have better methods to handle this case and others like it.

With Activation Pro, software applications are “activated” over the Internet.  Activation performs two important jobs: delivering licenses to users 24×7, and leaving behind a record of each fulfillment. Each fulfillment record contains:

  • activation key that was used
  • user’s computer hostid to which the license was issued
  • user’s IP address
  • date and time of the first and last fulfillment using that key
  • other data that the application wishes to associate with the activation event, and
  • a copy of the license that was delivered to the user

So, how do you use RLM and Activation Pro to handle a crashed or decommissioned computer?  Using RLM and Activation Pro, applications can periodically request the status of the fulfillment from the Activation Pro database.  If the fulfillment is valid, the application runs as normal. But, if the ISV deletes the fulfillment record from the Activation Pro database because the computer was reported to be crashed or decommissioned, the application can know to deny service.

When using this model, the license should include the activation key used to fulfill the license.  This way the application can check out the license at runtime to determine if it is valid, retrieve the activation key and the hostid from the license, then check the status of the fulfillment. The application will find out whether the license is still valid, or whether the fulfillment has been deleted.

Implementation details of the method described here can be found in the RLM and Activation Pro Reference Manuals on the Reprise Website.

Using RLM Activation Pro to Support Subscription Licensing

Subscription Licensing

Software publishers are adopting subscription licensing models at an increasing rate. Subscriptions help to smooth license revenue from recurring fees while attracting customers with lower entry costs.

Using RLM Activation Pro, an ISV can sell subscription licenses that have expiration dates years into the future. When users are connected to the Internet, applications can periodically request the status of the subscription from the Activation Pro service.  If the subscription is valid, the application runs as normal. But, if the user cancels his subscription or fails to renew, the ISV marks the activation key as “disabled” so that the application can know to shutdown.  The activation record can be re-enabled if the customer reinstates his subscription later.

This method minimizes the ISV workload because action only needs to be taken when the user cancels the subscription, or fails to renew.

RLM licenses that support a subscription model should include the activation key in the license itself.  This way the application checks out the license at runtime to determine if it is valid, retrieves the activation key and the hostid from the license, then checks the status of the subscription. The application will find out whether the license is still valid, or whether the activation key is disabled.

Implementation details of the method described here can be found in the RLM and Activation Pro Reference Manual.

When do I need the RLM License Server?

The Reprise License Manager product is capable of supporting many license types. Some are appropriate for standalone, single-user licensing models and others are used to support more complex network licensing and pricing scenarios. Determining when a license server must be installed is not always clear.

So, let’s spend a few minutes talking about the various jobs a license server performs, and when it is needed to support various license types.

Uncounted v. Counted Licenses

The biggest factor that determines whether a license server is required is whether licenses are counted or uncounted.  Counted licenses require a license server because it must “count” concurrent licenses. Counted licenses are used whenever the ISV wants to limit or record concurrent license usage. Counted licenses can be identified by a positive integer in the “count” field of the license.

Uncounted licenses, on the other hand, do not require a license server because there is no need to count usage. Uncounted licenses can be identified by the word “uncounted” or or the number “0” in the license count field of the license. Each uncounted license must be node-locked to a hostid. For ease of administration at larger sites, uncounted licenses for multiple computers may reside in a license file that is managed by a central license server, but this is not required.

The other license type that does not require a license server is the “single” license type. This is also a node-locked license, but it can be used by only one user at a time (concurrent count of “1”). The enforcement of “single” licenses is done via file locking, not by license servers.

The RLM License Server

The basic job of the RLM License Server is to service license requests from RLM-enabled client applications over the network. Based on the needs of the application, the license server redirects license requests to the ISV-specific license server which actually grants or denies the request based on what is specified in the license and on the current usage conditions.

License servers also manage “roaming,” named-user, and token-based licenses. They manage held and shared licenses, and offer an admin interface, diagnostic tools, and are responsible for writing debug and report logs.

Licensing Mobile Users with RLM

Roaming Licenses with RLMLuggage

If you sell floating licenses for your software products, you can increase the value of your licenses by allowing them to be removed from the network when your users hit the road.

With RLM, you can give users a license that will allow them to remain in compliance even after they’ve disconnected their laptop from the corporate network.  Whether for a few hours, a few days or a few weeks, “roaming” licenses can be valuable to your users, and set you apart from your competition.

Increasingly, users want to take their work “on the road.” RLM’s built-in license roaming capability allows users to check out a license from a server, physically disconnect from the server and continue to use the license for a specified number of days, after which the license is automatically returned to the server when it expires on the mobile computer.

As an ISV, you control whether licenses are allowed to roam, and how long they can be checked-out in the disconnected state. No API changes are required beyond providing a special rlm_roam license to your customer.

RLM license roaming was designed to allow ‘disconnected’ use for short durations up to a few weeks.

Using Dongles with RLM

Using dongles with RLM

The Reprise License Manager (RLM) comes with built-in USB dongle support, meaning that using dongles with RLM could not be easier.  Dongles purchased from Reprise can be used as a standard “hostid” to which licenses can be locked.  The principal advantage of using dongles is to provide a convenient way for your customers to transfer licenses when machines are replaced or upgraded. Software applications, with a valid license, can be used on any machine as long as the dongle specified in the license is attached.

ISV-Defined Hostids

ISVs who prefer to support their own dongles with RLM can do so by way of an ISV-defined host ID.  ISVs can choose a simple, low-cost dongle because RLM needs only the dongle’s serial number at runtime. ISVs then write a routine to retrieve the dongle’s ID and include that routine within the RLM libraries so whenever a license is tied to the dongle, RLM knows how to call the ISV’s routine to obtain the dongle serial number. Example code is provided with the standard RLM SDK to show how ISV-defined hostids can be integrated into RLM.

Managing Renewable Licenses – A Practical Approach

Using RLM refresh-type activation to support short-term renewable licenses

Consider these licensing system requirements:

  • The system must be able to generate a time limited and trial licenses.
  • The trial version will automatically become a “full version” when the customer purchases a license.
  • Full licenses are also “time limited”, i.e. customers can purchase packages of 30, 60, or 90 days.
  • Each time the application starts, it must validate that its license has not yet expired.
  • The application must be able to operate “off line” for a specified period of time: if the license cannot be reactivated at the expiration of the allowed off-line period, then the license is suspended and the application cannot start.
  • Upon first reconnection, if the user still has a valid license (has not been terminated), the license is reactivated, the off-line allowed time is restored and the application can be run again.

Supporting the Concepts

Using the optional RLM add-on product, RLM Activation Pro, a refreshable license is one that is intended to be reactivated frequently and receive a license with a new expiration date with each reactivation. Refreshable licenses are typically of short duration (days). The ISV is assured that the maximum period during which the end user can run the licensed application is the duration of the refreshable license, say 30 days.

For example, if the ISV specifies a 30-day refreshable license, then the license will be good for 30-days after each activation. If the refresh operation fails for any reason, such as the lack of Internet connectivity, then the license is still good until the end of the 30 day period – enough time to resolve any connectivity issues.  This allows the customer to operate off-line until the license needs to be refreshed.

Refreshable licenses also give the ISV a way to revoke a license should that user fail to meet contractual obligations, for example. The ISV can simply disable the user’s license on the activation server, and refresh attempts of that license will fail from that point forward, or until it is re-enabled by the ISV.

The client side of refreshing can be automated, so it can be performed without an undue burden on the end-user. Reprise supplies a “Refresh API” for license refreshing, which the ISV can use from within the application itself, or within a separate standalone utility. Reprise supplies a generic refresh utility that can be supplied to the end-user by the ISV. The generic utility, “refresh_util”, is meant to be set up to run daily as a scheduled task.

ISV-Defined Hostids

Defining new Hostids within RLM

RLM comes with a comprehensive set of integrated hostids, but there are times when ISVs need to lock their software licenses to something else. The three most common reasons for ISV-defined hostids are:

  1. Supporting non-Reprise dongles
  2. Tying licenses to peripheral hardware devices
  3. Combining various identifying elements of the computer.

ISV-Defined Hostid

RLM provides the ability to extend the native set of hostids by using your own routines to obtain host identification which is unique to you.

In order to do this, you use the rlm_add_isv_hostid() call in your application. If you want to support multiple instances of your hostid type on a single computer, you would use the rlm_add_isv_hostid_multiple() call.

For more information on ISV-defined hostids, please consult the latest RLM Reference Manual or contact Reprise Software.

Licensing a multi-featured product with RLM

Recently we received a common question from one of our customers looking for some advice.

Q: My application is a suite of programs that can be licensed in various combinations.  What’s the best way to design the licenses in this case?

The answer depends on whether the components are always released on separate schedules or as a group.  If the former, then use a separate LICENSE line for each one.  This allows them to have different attributes, such as version and expiration.

If the components are always released as a group, then they can be licensed with a single LICENSE, with the specific set of components authorized expressed in the “OPTIONS=” attribute of the license (example below).

If you choose the OPTIONS field route, then the value of the OPTIONS attribute can be retrieved using the RLM api call rlm_license_options(). This call returns the contents of the OPTIONS string so that your application can parse it to determine which features should be enabled.

Example: OPTIONS=”pie bar scatter max_points=1000″

Options and More Options

Using ‘Vendor Defined’ Optional Keywords

Since license policy in RLM is defined largely by license keys, a single binary version of your RLM-based application can support many different license policies. Once RLM is implemented, you can address ever-changing business rules by simply varying the type of license keys that you issue. RLM can support a wide range of licensing options and policies, many of which have been covered in previous articles on this blog under the “technology” heading.

This article briefly discusses a few optional license fields. The following license keywords can be classified as ‘vendor defined’ options as they are not used by RLM to determine policy, but can be accessed by your application to further restrict usage rights or present information to the end-user, such as in a start-up splash screen. These optional fields are factored into the license’s digital signature, so they are not editable by your customers. The fields are described below:

  • Options= if your product has many separately-purchasable sub-features,
    you can list the ones which are licensed in this string. Some examples of how this might used include:  limit the number of database records that can be created or accessed, or the number of accounts that can be open, or the number of ports that can be accessed, etc.? This information can be entered into the ‘options = options_list‘  field and it must be parsed by your application.
  • Contract= can be used to hold the customer’s purchase information or software agreement number. This can be displayed to the end-user to validate a support contract, etc.
  • Issuer= could be used to identify the organization that issued the license, such as a third party distributor, or reseller, etc.
  • Customer= used to identify the name of licensed customer and can be displayed by your application. Displaying this information in an “about box” or splash-screen can be an added deterent to unauthorized use. It is unlikely that Mega South-East Airlines would want to use a license that was issued to Main St. Bank.
  • Type= used to identify the type of license and is a string containing one or more of the values:
    • “beta”
    • “demo”
    • “eval”

For example, type=”beta eval” or type=”eval”. The contents of the license type field are then used by your application to put your software into the appropriate mode of limited operation or usability.

RLM v9 Addresses Opportunities in “The Cloud”

The Reprise License Manager (RLM) v9 addresses licensing challenges and opportunities presented in the cloud.

Earlier we wrote a short article about this topic, asking “Are you ready for the Cloud?”  RLM v9 now incorporates features to help software vendors exploit these new opportunities.

The biggest industry players are driving the cloud movement. Platform vendors such as, Google, IBM, Microsoft, and are leveraging their enormous investments in computing hardware and advanced virtualization software to build on-demand computing infrastructures. Corporate users, tired of paying to maintain in-house iron, are increasingly looking to reduce costs with cloud computing, while at the same time simplifying procurement, decreasing acquisition time, and adding unprecedented throughput potential.

Users can obtain “hardware on the fly” to run any operating system on arbitrarily large servers – “in the cloud.” These virtual systems may persist indefinitely or disappear when no longer needed.  The software on them may be used for only a short burst of time – just enough to get the job done – measured in days or even hours.  Likewise, paying for “cloud-time” is easy, often paying with nothing more than a credit card.

The most common problems facing ISVs who use a software license manager to license their applications in the cloud are the following:
– license keys locked to hostids may become invalid between instances,
– license servers used to enforce concurrent or floating licenses are too complex for cloud customers to manage,
– license models that rely on usage records are too hard to retrieve.

The critical technology change in RLM v9 to accommodate cloud-based software deployment is in the ability for software vendors to easily create and manage license server farms. The idea is that ISVs create these farms on their own servers, and run multiple instances of their ISV server within the farm to serve licenses to all customers who are using cloud-based products.

What problems does this solve?

By being able to run multiple license servers on the same computer, an ISV can eliminate the problems mentioned above. Specifically, licenses deployed in the cloud point back to the appropriate license server in the farm, so no local (cloud) hostids need to be checked and the user no longer needs to set up a local license server. Also, since applications deployed in the cloud must contact one of the license servers in the farm, ISVs can easily gather license usage information used to produce periodic post-use invoices for their cloud-based users.

What’s best is that you don’t have to create a separate “cloud-enabled” version of your application. Your off-the-shelf version will work just fine because this solution is a part of RLM’s  the new v9 license server, and is governed by the license keys that you give your customers.

Of course, the value of this new functionality is not limited solely to users in the cloud.  ISVs who want to simplify the deployment of their floating licenses for their traditional customers can set up license server farms for them as well.