Tech & Work

Lock IT Down: Tracking software usage with SMS 2.0 Software Metering

Track applications, ensure compliance with software license agreements, and monitor software usage with Microsofts System Management Server 2.0 Software Metering.


If you need an efficient way to track and account for software usage, you’ll want to take a look at Microsoft’s System Management Server 2.0 Software Metering. The Software Metering feature lets you track applications from network servers, local disk drives, the Internet, or even from offline computers. You can use Software Metering to ensure compliance with software license agreements for your applications. It also provides ways to monitor and respond to low- or out-of-license situations, and you can track software usage on mobile clients. In this Daily Drill Down, I’ll show you how to use the Software Metering feature.

Configuring Software Metering
You have to configure the Software Metering feature before you can use it. You must:
  • Configure the Software Metering Component.
  • Configure the Software Metering Client Agent.
  • Designate a Software Metering Server.

You can configure Software Metering’s properties using the SMS Administrator Console. Navigating through the console tree, first select Site Database, then Site Hierarchy, and your site’s name, followed by Site Settings, until you see Component Configuration. In the details pane, you’ll see several icons, including the Software Metering icon. Right-click the Software Metering icon and select Properties. When you do, you’ll see the Software Metering Properties box.

The Software Metering Properties dialog box contains four tabs. The General tab allows you to meter a software application with a Full Registration (applying only to the exact version specified) or Partial Registration (applying to any version partially matching the specified version). In the Program Name Policy area, you specify Standard (which uses the name displayed in Windows Explorer) or Original (which uses the name stored in the header information of the program’s executable file). With the Standard option, if someone renamed the Microsoft Solitaire program from Sol.exe to Game.exe, Software Metering would not meter the usage. If you use the header information of the program’s executable file, it does not matter if the file has been renamed; its usage will be metered.

Next, you must configure the Software Metering Client Agent so that it’s installed on the client computers. You can find the Software Metering Client Agent icon in the Client Agents leaf of the Site Settings branch of the console tree. Right-click the Software Metering Client Agent and select Properties.

On the General tab of the Software Metering Client Agent Properties dialog box, select the Enable Software Metering On Clients check box. The Software Metering Client Agent recognizes when .exe, .dll, .scr, .mod, .tsk, and .bin files are run. The agent is active even when computers are used offline. When a computer has been offline and is reconnected to the network, the agent reports the offline usage information to the software-metering server.

If you have multiple sites, it is important to note that the first site in the client’s site list must have Software Metering enabled. If the first site has not enabled Software Metering, the component will not run even if other sites in the list do have Software Metering enabled.

The Software Metering Server Service runs on a site system that has been configured as a software-metering server. The software-metering database is maintained separately from the SMS site database. It is possible to have both databases running on the same computer, but this arrangement is not recommended for most sites. A very small site or a site with minimal software-metering activity could probably use one server for both databases.

Alpha sites
SMS Alpha sites and NetWare servers do not support Software Metering. SMS Alpha sites also cannot receive or send software-metering data from their child or parent sites. In order for Alpha computers to have the client software loaded, they must be running supported 32-bit operating systems and a Microsoft TCP/IP protocol.

Registering software
Software metering can help ensure that your company is in compliance with your software license agreements. You can also define software licenses and track the use of applications on all servers and workstations on your network. You can monitor the use of applications that you register in Software Metering and control their use. You register software using the Software Metering tool. To start Software Metering from the SMS Administrator Console, navigate through the console tree and expand Tools. Right-click on Software Metering, click All Tasks, and then select Start Software Metering, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A
Select All Tasks, then click Start Software Metering to start Software Metering from the SMS Administrator Console.


Registering new products
You can register new products in one of two ways: You can import registration properties from a license policy or register it manually. Some software vendors provide license policy properties for their programs, which are stored in a policy (.mif) file. In those instances, you can register the product by importing properties directly from the policy file.

Once you have opened the Software Metering tool, you can add a new product by clicking the icon located on the right of the window. For our example, we’ll choose to create a new product. There are several steps involved in creating a product manually. First, right-click the Licensed Software window and select Add. You’ll then see the Add Product Wizard. Make sure the Create New radio button is selected and click OK.

In the New Product window, you must supply information about the product as well as the program. If you select the Enforce The License Limits For This Product check box, the Software Metering tool will use the number you provided in the Number Of Licenses box to comply with the number of legal copies. You can also specify whether the product is the parent of a software suite. In our example, we’ll have the Software Metering tool monitor the usage of Microsoft Internet Explorer, as shown in Figure B. Enter the information requested in this window and click OK. You’ll then see the new program appear in the Licensed Software window.

Figure B
In the New Product window, you’ll enter information about the properties of the program you want to license.


SMS allows you to control many different aspects of the metered software. To make changes to a licensed product’s properties, right-click that product in the Licensed Software window and select Properties. Then, in the program’s Properties sheet, you’ll see these tabs:

Identification—This tab contains information you entered on the New Product window. It also allows you to define the applications suite if the product is part of a suite. In our case, Internet Explorer is not part of a suite.

Permissions—You can use this tab to specify which users have permissions to run the application. You can even specify times that the application can be used. This feature also lets you control access to software loaded on the client computer, network server, and so forth.
  • Alerts—This tab is used to define the events that will generate an alert for a product and to specify what happens when computer inactivity is detected.
  • License Balancing—The site server sends information about excluded programs and registered products and the available licenses to each of the software-metering servers. Each software-metering server can request licenses from the site server, which then sends any available licenses. If a software-metering server has more than the minimum number of available licenses that it must keep, it sends the extra licenses back to the site server. By default, the option Do Not Enforce The License Limits For This Product Until A Trend Has Been Calculated is enabled. This ensures that license limits are not actively enforced before a trend is established. Clearing this check box to enforce the license limits immediately might result in a large number of denials, because load balancing is not fully functional until the site server establishes a trend. The initial trend is calculated with information gathered in the first seven days; subsequent trend data is based on license use over 30-day periods.
  • Rules—This tab lets you specify how you want offline data for software registered, enable concurrent licensing for the product, and allow license extensions. It also contains license check-out options.

When Software Metering is enabled for a site, the site server collects the information from each software-metering server. Then, it collates the information and produces data for the entire site. Individual usage records are summarized into totals and then discarded.

Reports
From the Tools menu, you can create the following types of reports:

Report Wizard—Enables you to generate reports to track the use of licenses on your network.

Graph Wizard—Enables you to generate graphs to track the use of licenses on your network.

Excluded Programs—Enables you to specify the programs to exclude from software metering.

Resource Manager—Enables you to manage the use of software by users, user groups, and computers on your network.

For our example, we’ll create a report using the Reports Wizard. Several types of software-metering reports are available, such as Callback Priority (lists the callback priority levels in use and the users who are assigned each priority), Detailed Product Use (Grouped By Product), Detailed Product Use (Grouped By User), and Single Site Summary. For our example, we’ll choose the report Total Use Of Product (Grouped By Product). After you click Next, you must select the site and the user you wish to monitor. The third window in the Report Wizard allows you to choose the time frame from which to produce the report. The wizard will then display the final report on your screen. You can print the report from this window.

Excluded programs
Excluded programs are specific programs that you want Software Metering not to monitor. You might also have files whose use you do not want to monitor—for example, standard utilities such as Notepad. You can use the Excluded Programs tool to create a list of files that are excluded from Software Metering. Creating such a list provides the following benefits:

The Software Metering tool operates more efficiently, because it does not create transactions for programs that do not need to be monitored.

Queries are easier and reports are more meaningful, because they contain data only for the products you want to monitor.

Conclusion
Ensuring that you are in compliance with your license agreements is an important administrative task. You also want to make sure that you do not purchase more licenses than you need. The SMS Software Metering feature enables you to monitor all applications running on the computers in your organization and to detect and monitor unregistered or unsupported software. You can also keep track of concurrent software usage to verify that you are within the license limits and allocate software usage to client computers according to the policies you specify. Software Metering security allows you to restrict application usage by license, quota, user, user group, or computer. You can support mobile users with license check-in and check-out. If you’re using SMS only for software distribution, you’re missing out on a big part of the product.

Troy Thompson, MCSE+Internet, has worked in the automation field for 15 years, dealing with a variety of systems: Wang OIS, Unisys BTOS, UNIX, Windows 3.11, Novell NetWare, Windows NT 3.51, and Windows NT 4.0. He’s also worked as an administrator of a Novell and NT network, as well as a systems analyst for an IBM mainframe. Currently, Troy is the Information System Security Officer at the Information Management shop at Fort Knox. If you’d like to contact Troy, send him an e-mail.

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein, but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

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