Rant: Licensing – It never gets better, it just gets more awkward

I have worked in the VAR/reseller space for over 8 years, and in that time I can’t recall a major shift in licensing that left me with the opportunity to go have enjoyable conversations with my customers.  Never did licensing get simpler, easier or seem to make more sense.

Let’s take a few examples from my career working with Cisco and see if you can spot the awkward parts of these conversations with customers?

Ancient History: We sold 4400 series controllers and they were sold with a fixed amount of licenses.  Need to go from a 4402-12 to a 4402-25? The conversation was to “buy a new controller.”

The Middle Ages:  Then we had 5508s and 2504s.  This was confusing as licensing costs varied with the volume and platform you were buying for.  Upgrading from a 4400 series?  Yeah, you’re going to have to rebuy those licenses along with the new controller.  But the bonus is that you can always add more up to the platform limit.

The Modern Age:  Now we have the 3504 and the 5520 series controllers.  You can now buy per-AP licenses, so no more blocks of licenses that you only needed 1 of.  Also, it’s Right To Use, so no awkward pak files.  Things would pretty good.  But you still need to rebuy licenses from your 5508 to get to this platform.

The Postmodern Age:  Everything in the modern age is still alive and well, but now we have this thing called CiscoOne.  It’s a licensing bundle and it decouples hardware from software licensing.  You buy it per-AP, and it includes a WLC, Prime, CMX Base and 25  ISE base licenses.  This enables portability so in the future you don’t have to rebuy licenses AND access to ongoing innovation.  YAY.  But you have to rebuy into this program from your existing 5508 or 5520 license, and the entry price is steeper.  But it includes most everything you could want.  There are a two different tiers, with different features that you can choose from. 

Today:  We still have the Modern Age, and Postmodern Age licensing. But now we have DNA licensing.  Which is also a bundling of multiple licenses, but now it’s term based. So when the term is up, you have to renew or you’re super-awesome WLAN hardware is just postmodern artwork.   Also the bundles don’t align exactly with the previous generation of C1.  ISE is missing from all but the top bundle, and now it’s 15 base licenses vs 25 before.  Also, if you bought C1, you get ongoing innovation.  At least for a while, and then you gotta rebuy into that innovation.  Now there are 3 more tiers of this licensing, all term based depending on how much of the new DNA architecture you want to go into.

Does your head hurt?  Mine has been hurting for years. What was a hard conversation is now a number of hard conversations with a ton of complexity and nuance that I am now expected to help my customer navigate through.  Every new licensing tier has areas where customers get lost, feel like they misspent money and ultimately get a call from Jake to talk about how the next generation of licensing is different and try to navigate a path forward.

Now, if you think I’m sticking it to Cisco, you are mistaken. My experience has been that the Cisco account teams have done a good job on a case by case basis to help customers with some of this pain.  I can’t say enough good things about my local account teams and they continue to help us navigate these waters.  But Cisco isn’t alone in this licensing evolution.

Aruba recently revamped their Clearpass licensing and on the surface it looks like an improvement.  But they took out the 25 enterprise licenses that you could run Onboard, Onguard, or Guest to test with.  And if you bought into the idea that enterprise licenses gave you the flexibility to a generic type of licenses that could be used for any feature (Guest, Onboard or Onguard), in 6.7 you now have to decide how you want to split them up.  And before they used to market it as it was an average of the last 7 days, so the weekends being low kept the average down for you so you really didn’t have to buy “peak” licensing, Not any longer, it’s a 24 hour window.  So while Aruba listened to their customers about their frustrations about how the product was licensed, they did very little to get existing customers over the gap between where they were and the new licensing scheme.

I’m sure the Aruba account teams will step up and help their customers, but it sure doesn’t give me warm fuzzy feelings.  Nor to I look forward to those conversations with customers who have bought into a product only to have their plans altered by new monetization models.

I hate licensing, and feel like efforts to “Make Licensing Great Again” are just ways to flip revenue from old revenue models to newer ones and don’t benefit the customers of these products.

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