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Virtual Systems – Undermining Licensing

Virtual systems are popular. These days, wherever possible, services and solutions are virtualized. The advantages are plain to see: The services can easily be migrated from hardware to hardware or scaled up as required. Replacing a server used to be a major undertaking; now, services or entire virtual machines can be moved in an instant. Gone is that nail-biting moment upon reboot: Will the old server start up again? Life today is good for administrators – at least in this respect.

Administrators trust their data centers, and they trust the security mechanisms in place. In most cases, that trust is well-placed and well-founded. Software is installed and just works as intended. But consider the same situation from the software vendor’s point of view. When the software is installed on a virtual machine, who is in control? Does virtualization mean a loss of control? Who can stop users from cloning entire virtual machines if they want more copies of their software running?

Wibu-Systems offers several answers to these questions in the form of its licensing solutions. The first choice that deserves to be mentioned is represented by CmDongles, powerful pieces of hardware that are not particularly well-liked in data center environments. There are options, however, such as the use of dongle servers that can accommodate multiple USB dongles for access by the other hardware in the data center. CmDongles might also be the right option for single physical servers that need to be operated e.g. because certain hardware components are required in the system. Whatever the case may be, the CodeMeter license server is so resource-efficient that it can operate unnoticed alongside virtually any system.

The current most popular choice is a software-based license, or CmActLicense, which uses special cryptographic operations to bind itself to certain properties of the target system. CodeMeter naturally knows whenever it is running on a virtual system and uses a special combination of binding parameters in such cases. Some configurations allow CmActLicense to be bound to a set of properties of the virtualization system guaranteed by its provider, such as systems hosted in Azure environments. A similar option is in the works for other virtualization environments.

Container environments like Docker represent a special challenge for licensing purposes. While these environments are especially well-insulated and optimized for scaling up, there are ways to license the software running inside such containers. In these cases, licensing needs to be considered long before ever thinking about the eventual release. Licensing should be in the picture when deciding about how services are allocated to individual containers. The last issue of our KEYnote (38) explored several scenarios for this approach.

The most recent option is the use of a CmCloudLicense. Wibu-Systems operates the CodeMeter Cloud exclusively in a data center based in Frankfurt, Germany, where the Wibu Operating Services specialists work to ensure the permanent availability of the licenses. Any CodeMeter installation on a user’s system can be linked with the CodeMeter Cloud, giving software vendors and their users the full freedom to use all of the power of virtualization – safe in the knowledge that the licensing system works as it should.

There are many solutions to the challenges presented by virtualization – all you need to do is pick the one that is right for you.