The Rise of the Embedded License


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Embedded licenses are not new, but they are becoming a vital mechanism in this digital age where hardware and software products are merging into a single offering. We are all used to purchasing a desktop or laptop with a pre-loaded operating system and office software, where we see the software as part of the deal. This approach is extending to everything in our connected world. Smart homes and the devices they contain, wearable devices and smartphones are just some manifestations of the blending of hardware and software. When we download an app to our phone from the Apple or Google store, we don’t think twice about the licensing implications, the app may even be free, and is monetized by carrying ads that we accept in return for not paying for the app. Intelligent refrigerators and washing machines are commonplace; we wear fitbits to measure our vital signs for health and sporting measurements. All of these devices require some software to fulfil their purpose, but, as a consumer, we do not think of the software as being separate from the hardware; that is, until it malfunctions.

Traditional concurrent or dedicated software licenses are not the right vehicle for measuring compliance or checking on entitlement, and this is why embedded licenses are coming into their own. Another key factor in the adoption of embedded licenses is the growth of virtualization and cloud computing. If a user is employing licensed software on a virtual device, or working in the cloud, conventional licenses may not be the answer.

How the Embedded License Assists Device Manufacturers

The real value of an embedded license for a device manufacturer is in its capability to tailor the entitlements and features associated with devices down to an individual level. This enables the device manufacturer to cut down on the number of variants and models of a particular device, because these can be controlled via the licensing software. For instance, let us say a company manufactures a sensor for water measurement, which can measure:-

  • PH levels
  • Oxygen carrying capacity
  • Water temperature at 1 meter
  • Water surface temperature
  • CO2 levels
  • Methane Levels
  • E Coli prevalence
  • and 20 other permutations.

The customers for this sensor will want to measure some of the variables, but maybe not all of them, while they may have a specific requirement that is not currently measured. Instead of producing an array of sensors that fit the customer’s requirement (and having the maintenance overhead of keeping the specs on that model for future orders) the features that are needed are provided, and those to which the customer is not entitled are excluded by the embedded license. The extra features can always be added by modifying the license. In addition, any software upgrades that need to be applied are managed automatically by the embedded license. The vendor needs to manufacture only one, or possibly a few sensor models and can rely on the flexibility provided by the embedded license to tailor the product for the customer, right down to individual devices and users, if required.

Other Benefits of the Embedded License

Added Security

In order to protect the embedded license from cyber threats, as well as prevent unauthorised use of the software the license is managing, it will generally have security features installed that block hacking attempts. Not only does this protect the license, it also assists in protecting the vendor application(s) embedded in the device. One of the major suppliers of embedded licenses is Gemalto, specialists in cyber protection. Flexera’s embedded license product also features encryption and what they call “code obfuscation”.

Long Term Support and Availability

Purchasers of embedded licenses often get superior product support. For example, Microsoft guarantees a life of at least 15 years for all products sold via the Windows Embedded Channel, a benefit not extended to purchasers of other license types. Users of legacy products such as NT 4.0 can still rely on product support through the Embedded Channel, although it has passed its sunset date. The embedded license also ensures that upgrades are applied as and when needed, without impacting the customer.

Engage with More Environments and Operating Systems

The embedded license is very versatile and most license management companies have ensured that it can be used for a variety of operating systems, including mobile and open source. Where it is especially useful is virtual environments, such as the cloud, and can recognize virtual CPUs and check on their validity, rejecting virtual clones and other threats.

Take Advantage of more Licensing Models

In order to engage as many customers as possible, the more license options that are available, the better. Apart from traditional subscription and purchased models, the device manufacturer can provide pay-per-use licenses. These licenses can be very granular and identify and differentiate usage per feature.

Proactive Management and Predictive Analytics

An embedded licence functions pretty much in the same way as an IoT device, in that it sends data back to the licensor in real or near time. This data can be harnessed to better understand how the hardware and software is being used, which can be analysed in turn to identify new products and markets.

Licensing in the Future

The main license management organizations have recognised that license management needs to be more automated and more responsive to licensed customers’ individual needs. End customers do not want to spend their days managing a variety of licenses, worrying about costs, optimization, upgrades and renewals. They also do not want the threats of non-compliance hanging over their heads, especially when the “user” is a device, rather than a human.

Device manufacturers want to monetize and protect the software they provide with their devices, as well as manage their customer base. Ease of upgrades is facilitated via embedded licenses and data is provided that helps the company refine their offerings and identify new opportunities. Most of these organizations have been on the receiving end of license management for software products they use daily, such as CAD and PLM, so they have a keen understanding of what licensing features work best both for them and their customers. Where the embedded license is offered as a system development kit (SDK), they have the ability to tailor new and interesting license models.

End users of the embedded licenses may welcome their flexibility, but they now have a more complex licensing landscape, with a blend of perpetual, subscription, pay-as-you-go and other license types. This is where OpenLM can assist, as it recognises embedded licenses and their features in addition to the other traditional licenses, and can provide comprehensive management and reporting of these disparate license types across vendors and products, providing an easy-to-use single interface. Consult with our support team on how OpenLM can make your license management and administration simpler and more effective.

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