Author: Matt Christiano

My License Server Reports too many licenses in use

One situation we hear about on a regular (but infrequent) basis is similar to the following:

“My license server reports multiple licenses checked out from the same person, yet I know that this person is only using one license.  Why is this?”

As a general rule, this results from users removing laptops from the corporate network, then re-attaching later.  But it could occur any time a machine is either removed from the network, or shut down improperly.

The reason this happens is that the license server machine does not detect that the client side of the connection has been terminated.  This is an unfortunate aspect of TCP/IP, and it will vary on different platforms.

Fortunately, there is a simple solution to this problem – the TIMEOUT option in the ISV options file.

If this happens only on a single product, you can add a line similar to the following:

TIMEOUT 3600 the-one-product-with-the-problem

This would cause licenses for “the-one-product-with-the-problem” to be timed out after 1 hour of inactivity.

Alternately, if this happens to many products, you could add the line:


This line would cause all products from this ISV to time out after one hour of inactivity.

Either of these lines would be added to your ISV options file – by default “isvname.opt” (where “isvname” is the ISV server name), contained in the directory with the license server binaries.  Alternately, you can specify any option filename you like on the ISV line in the license file.   Don’t forget to do a reread on the license server after you edit the options file.

One last thing – your ISV can control the minimum timeout time for any individual product.  By default, this is 1 hour in RLM (3600 seconds).  However, if the ISV specifies:


in an individual license, then that minimum time would apply even if you attempt to set a shorter timeout time.

Reprise Licenses 300th RLM Customer

This month Reprise Software licensed our 300th RLM customer.

We wanted to take a moment to thank all our customers for making Reprise successful, and thought this would be a good time to take a look back at the history of RLM and FLEXlm.

Back in the FLEXlm days, we had about 300 customers in 1993/1994, when GLOBEtrotter took over the FLEXlm product from Highland Software.  That was 6 years into the life of the product.  We ultimately got to about 2000 customers by 1999.   So we added about 300 customers/yr (on average) for those last 6 years.  Or 25/month.

It has taken Reprise 5 years to get to 300 customers.   Last quarter (Q1/2011) we added 24 new customers which was the largest number for any quarter in our history.

The other comparison is that in the FLEXlm days, nearly all of our customers were new to license management,  since license management was a new technology at the time. At Reprise, about 65% of our customers are new to license management, and the other 35% are switching from another technology.  We are pleased that companies both new and old to license management are selecting RLM as their licensing solution.

So, once again, thanks to everyone for another great milestone in Reprise Software’s history.

It was 20 years ago today…

Well, approximately.

Happy Birthday, FLEXlm!

February, 1988 was the month when I started the development of FLEXlm. I recall that, at the time, we all felt that we might have a good 3-5 year run with the product before someone like Sun or HP came in and took away the market.

We never would have expected it to be going strong 20 years later. I certainly would not have thought that some of the same code would be in the product now. But, as my son likes to say, “I can predict the future – I’m just usually wrong”.

At any rate, here’s a big “Happy Birthday” to FLEXlm!!!

Redundant Servers – Step Away From That Ledge, and No One Gets Hurt

Redundant Servers. Seemed like a good idea at the time. But are they still?

(Note: this post refers to the use of redundant servers in a license management system, similar to, say, FLEXlm(R) from Macrovision.)

To answer that question, we have to step back to 1988. Do you remember 1988? Back then, PCs ran DOS. Unix was the Next Great Thing. And disk drives and systems failed – and stayed down for days at a time. Hard to imagine now. Well, that was the environment when I designed redundant servers for FLEXlm.

It was a good idea at the time. I don’t think anyone would question that. No one wanted to put all their licenses on a system that might be down for a couple of days at a stretch. In fact, no one even wanted to split their licenses across a few servers where one might be down for several days.

But there was a cost. Instead of managing one server, you were now managing 3. (The original FLEXlm design allowed for up to 11 redundant servers, but we pared that down to 3 very quickly!)

And it was easy to mis-configure your license servers and end up with no redundancy – for example, by NFS-mounting a license file from a single file server that all 3 servers would read, in order to simplify configuration. Of course, this leaves you with a single point of failure, which completely defeats the purpose of redundant servers. Another more subtle way to defeat redundancy is to have all 3 servers writing log files to the same filesystem. In short, it was fairly easy to make a small mistake and have no redundancy as a result. Most of the work and none of the benefit.

But times have changed. It’s now rare to see a system down for days at a time. I maintain that redundant servers long ago outlived their usefulness. Today, partitioning licenses across 2 or more servers prevents total loss of licenses in the event of license server hardware failure, and simplifies administration.

It’s like the old joke: Patient: “every time I smash my head against the wall, it hurts”. Doctor: “don’t do that.”

Redundant servers – their time has long passed.

A Brief History of License Management (part 4)

History of License Management: The Market Matures (2000-)

By the year 2000, all the original players who had experienced reasonable success in the License Management business (GLOBEtrotter, Elan, and Wyatt River) had been absorbed by public companies. By this time, the FLEXlm product was the clear winner with over 80 or 90% market share.

The next several years were marked by a slowdown in innovation as the original entrepreneurs who had defined the market and developed these products were replaced with larger development teams and more of a “management by committee” process in the larger companies.

In my view, innovation slowed down for 3 reasons: first, the early period of rapid product development and customer acquisition had passed; second, the people who enjoyed working with the product and the market were gone, and finally, while the early market was dominated by private companies who were focused on the product and their customers, after 2000 this changed to public companies who were focused on their shareholders and quarterly revenue and profit.

By the end of 2005, many ISVs and end-users had grown tired of having no real choice for a license management solution. By starting Reprise we gave them another choice and we believe that the resulting competition will make innovation move a bit faster.

History of Software License Management (part 3)

Software License Management: The Golden Years (1990-2000)

The 1990’s were the years when License Management really became accepted in the ISV community. From a start of fewer than 50 ISVs using commercial license management systems, by the end of the decade there were over 2000 ISVs shipping products with embedded commercial license managers. The adoption of license management, however, was primarily among vertical-market applications, as opposed to the more general desktop productivity applications.

In 1990, TCP/IP was primarily used on Unix systems, with Netware dominating on DOS systems, and a viable Windows OS still a few years off. Most commercial license managers were based on the TCP/IP stack. To the best of my knowledge, FLEXlm was the only license manager that used TCP, others used UDP or some kind of RPCs.

The early 1990’s were a time of many system vendors building workstations and servers running one variant of Unix or another. I recall in the early 1990’s supporting FLEXlm on over 40 Unix platforms. (The good news is that the Unix/Linux market has consolidated, and the vast majority of these systems are gone today.)

As the decade wore on, the users of license-managed software began to realize that there was value to them in having a license manager embedded in applications which they purchased. With an embedded license manager, end-users no longer needed to worry about keeping track of their license agreements to ensure that unlicensed users were not using the software – this was now built into the software they purchased. In addition, end-users were able to get usage data on purchased software, which enabled them to predict future software purchases and in some cases bill software usage to various departments within an organization.

As the decade wore on, license management capabilities for end-users became more and more sophisticated, allowing them finer control over how and where licenses were used.

Once end-users saw the advantages of a license manager, it moved from being a burden an ISV imposed on their customers to a more normal course of business. This, in turn, accelerated the adoption of License Management among ISVs.

For part 4 of this article, click here

A Brief History of License Management (part 2)

License Management – You Can’t Tell The Players Without a Scorecard

There have been quite a number of players in the License Management Market over the past 18 years. This is the story of some of them.

While there are many kinds of software and hardware solutions which might be called software license management, I want to make it clear that I’m describing license management systems that ISVs build into their software, as distinct from Software Metering products (which, while similar, are voluntarily used by end-users), or any kind of copy protection such as key disks or dongles.

Apollo Computer had the first commercial license manager, the Network License Server, sometime in late 1987. Apollo was later acquired by Hewlett-Packard, the product was renamed NetLS, and shortly after that, it was licensed to Gradient who developed and marketed it through the 1990’s. This product became IBM‘s LUM in the late 1990’s or early 2000’s.

NetLS’s claim to fame was that it used DCE (Distributed Computing Environment), which had the “Global Location Broker”, which allowed a client to find the license server wherever it was on the network. Unfortunately, reports from the field indicated that the Global Location Broker was difficult to configure and unreliable. Most NetLS customers eventually converted to FLEXlm, I believe largely because of the Global Location Broker.

The second commercial license manager was FLEXlm, from a partnership of Highland Software and GLOBEtrotter Software. Highland did a great job of getting FLEXlm adopted early-on, and by the early 1990’s, it became clear that FLEXlm would be the technology of choice among ISVs for Software Licensing. Unfortunately, as the product became successful, there were disagreements between Highland and Globetrotter, which led to the eventual purchase of Highland’s interest in FLEXlm by Globetrotter in Jan, 1994. GLOBEtrotter then continued with the product until Aug 2000, when the company merged with Macrovision Corp. The GLOBEtrotter name disappeared in 2002, and FLEXlm was renamed to FLEXnet Publisher in 2003.

Several companies were able to gain a foothold in the market during the 1990’s. Among these were:

Elan Computer Group had a product called ELM (The Elan License Manager), starting around 1989 or 1990. This was a good product which gained a substantial amount of market penetration (their largest customer was AutoDesk). Elan entered into a partnership with Rainbow Technologies in 1995 to re-sell ELM (under the name SentinelLM), and in 1998, Rainbow purchased Elan.

Another small company was Viman, who later merged with Wyatt River Systems. The Viman product, while less popular than Elan, had some acceptance especially among small EDA companies. Wyatt River was purchased by Rainbow in 1998, and the Wyatt product became the next version of SentinelLM.

Rainbow Technologies was the largest player in the hardware key (dongle) business. Rainbow had a network license manager which they called SentinelLM. They replaced this product with the Elan product in 1995. Then, in 1998, they replaced the Elan product with the Wyatt River product. In 2004, Rainbow was sold to SafeNet, who continue with the SentinelLM product line, now called Sentinel RMS.

Aladdin Knowledge Systems was the #2 dongle manufacturer who released a license management system called Privilege in the late 1990’s.

From about 1989 onward, there were other competitors who appeared, but only the ones listed above were able to gain much of a foothold into the License Management Market. Some of the companies/technologies which appeared during this time, but have since disappeared were:

  • Sun with SunNet License
  • Digital Equipment Corp with PLS
  • Cooper Systems

Of this last group, Digital was perhaps the most noteworthy, having licensed PLS to Microsoft. However, in the end, Microsoft never used the PLS product, Digital was sold to Compaq, and the product disappeared. PLS was the first (and so far, the only) product to put virtually all license policy into the license key itself, removing it from both the application and the license server.

In addition, there were a number of attempts made to standardize one or another part of license management. None of these went very far, either. Among these were:

  • Software License Working Group (late 80’s)
  • LS API (mid-90’s)
  • Unix International (mid 90’s)
  • X/Open (mid 90’s)
  • COSE (late 90’s)

In 2006, I brought several members of the GLOBEtrotter team back together to from Reprise Software, Inc. We developed the Reprise License Manager (RLM), which began shipping in 2006. Our goal was and is to use our experience building and supporting FLEXlm for over 2000 ISVs in order to build a better product.

For part 3 of this article, click here

A Brief History of Software License Management

The Early Years of Software License Management (1988-1992)

When I talk of Software License Management, I am thinking of Network Licensing or Concurrent Use Licensing. The kind of license management made popular by FLEXlm(R) from GLOBEtrotter Software. (Note: FLEXlm is now a registered trademark of Macrovision Corp. following their acquisition of GLOBEtrotter in 2000.) And of course, everything contained in this document is my view and opinion of the history of license management.

Having said that, let’s begin.

Floating Licensing became popular in the late 1980’s, as networks of engineering workstations came into widespread usage. To understand why it became popular, we only really need to understand what it replaced.

In the early 1980’s the number one method of software licensing was “do nothing and hope for the best.” In addition, on PCs, a number of copy-protection technologies were popular (I say popular in the sense that they were used a great deal, not that people loved using them.) On engineering workstations, software was often “node-locked” so that it would run on only one computer, usually identified by a machine serial number (or “host ID”) which was an integral part of the workstation.

The story of floating licensing begins in the Engineering workstation world, where software licenses would often cost upwards of $50,000 each. (Today that number can be well over $1,000,000 per license.) These higher-priced packages were the ones most likely to be node-locked, and at the same time, corporations were not willing to buy a license for each designer’s workstation, especially if only a few would be in use at any one time.

As more and more packages employed node-locking, the users of the software grew tired of having to move to a particular machine in order to do their work. This was the environment into which the first two commercial license managers – “Network License Server” from Apollo Computer (1987), and “FLEXlm” from Highland Software/GLOBEtrotter Software (1988), were born. (Note: The Frame license manager, used by the popular Framemaker publishing software was also developed around this time. Many people thought Framemaker used FLEXlm, but in fact it was their own proprietary license manager.)

Once commercial license managers were available, end-users were able to share licenses on their networks without the inconvenience of moving to a different physical location. At the same time, Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) were able to charge different amounts for a node-locked, as opposed to a floating license. Since the floating license provided more capability than a node-locked license, many ISVs charged a bit more for the floating license. End-users benefited by being able to purchase the lower-priced node-locked licenses for people who used a product intensively, and the more expensive floating licenses could be shared by several people who used the product occasionally. In this way, both ISVs and end-users benefited from this new licensing technology.

In the early days (let’s say 1988-1990), there was quite a bit of end-user dissatisfaction with license management. This was due to the fact that it imposed management overhead without much benefit to the people who had to manage it. The actual software users and corporations benefited from ease of use and more effective software utilization, but the system administrators who had a new technology to manage were not terribly happy. This began to change as it became clear that most ISVs were standardizing on FLEXlm (so that the sys admins only had to learn one system) and as FLEXlm added management capabilities which not only made management easier but provided new capabilities to control access to the software and report on software usage after the fact.

I’ll leave this off here, around 1991-1992. At this time, license management was still largely used on Unix and VMS systems, as networking was still very fragmented in the PC world. With 20 or 30 different TCP/IP vendors and Novell, there was no clear universal standard for PCs like TCP/IP for Unix and DECnet for VMS.

For part 2 of this article, click here