License to Drive: Adding Users to Your Business Server

As your company and staff grow, so will the number of licenses required for your server, the operations center of your business. This can be a knotty and confusing task, so you should anticipate the challenges and understand how to whip them.

“Life with your computer server would be easy if you were the only user it ever knew, and if your business didn’t change and grow. But as your company takes on new dimensions and staff, licensing new uses — and users — is an essential part.

This can be daunting for a lot of startups. The only thing many people like less than computer hardware is computer software. And licensing is all about regulating access to the software that makes your company hum.

Here’s how to anticipate the complexities of user licenses and stay ahead of the game:

Understand the basics

When you buy operating system (OS) software for your personal computer, such as Windows, you’re also buying a license to use it, and have to register it with the designer (Microsoft). The same goes for you and anyone else who uses your server.

You can buy servers from Dell (a StartupNation sponsor) and others with the OS software already installed and licenses ready to go. One of Dell’s pre-installed offerings is Microsoft Small Business Server software, which includes licenses for several users and offers five-packs of additional licenses you’ll need as you grow.

“Until you get pretty big, for the most part licensing can go smoothly because you’re using arrangements like these we have with OEMs,” says Leland Means, director of small-business enterprise marketing for Dell. “We pre-test, pre-load, and pre-configure the operating system onto the server you buy so you’re ready to go.”

It’s worth pausing a sec to define OEM. The acronym shows up everywhere in computerese, and can add to the confusion. An Original Equipment Manufacturer, depending on who’s doing the talking, can be either the computer/server maker, or the designer of the software that comes pre-installed when you buy the machine.

When Means refers to Dell’s “arrangement with OEMs,” he’s talking about Microsoft and its server software. But, at the same time, Microsoft refers to Dell as an OEM.

More users mean more variables

“We’ve heard feedback that licensing is confusing,” says Steven VanRoekel, director of Windows Server Solutions for Microsoft. “And we know there certainly are some complexities.”

If you’re adding a couple of employees one day, for example, it may be a few days before you can get them licensed to use the two or three suites of applications that will be essential to their work.

So you should try to anticipate your added licensing needs. It helps that software licensing rules don’t change much for most small companies. “It’s not until you expand to somewhere between 25 and 50 employees that you qualify for volume-license agreements,” Means says.

But you can also run into trouble if you plan too far ahead for new licenses, because some access rights expire in 30 days.

The most savvy software companies are using the Web to smooth the process as much as possible for customers, so it might be a good idea to seek them out, depending on your application. “The best companies are coming up with intuitive solutions to this, such as Web licensing,” says Shane Schiller, president of Emerald Coast Computer Services, in Destin, Fla.

Microsoft, for one, tries to make things easier for you by providing Web access to an update on the licensing status of your server software, including how many licensed users you have, who they are and how many slots are left on the license package you’ve bought.

Applications add complications

There’s a good chance all you’ll ever need on your server are such applications as Microsoft Office, Microsoft Office Accounting (a StartupNation sponsor) or QuickBooks (some of which are already included in the Microsoft Small Business Server software you can get pre-installed on a Dell server). But you may need to add more — and the licenses for them.

“Licensing might be straightforward for the operating system, but it can be an issue when you’re adding an application to a server that is specific to helping you run your particular business,” says Joshua Feinberg, co-founder of Computer Consulting 101, in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Let’s say you run a health club and you want to use a member-management software package specific to your industry. You’re dealing with a different vendor with its own licensing requirements, procedures and packages. So study before you buy to be sure you know what’s involved, or get advice from an IT expert.

Don’t, repeat, don’t try to out-slick your software providers

For both practical and ethical reasons, think again if you’re tempted to try an end-run around your licensing frustrations.

“Small companies are always looking for ways to shave costs and, unfortunately, sometimes pirating software is a way they use,” Feinberg says. “But you should know that it’s getting more difficult to do.

“And if you’re cheating on licensing or trying to cheat, don’t forget that a disgruntled ex-employee could have something on you in that. You don’t want to put yourself in that position.”

Our Bottom Line

Licensing your server users is one of the unavoidable tasks of keeping up with, or ahead of, your business growth. But plan ahead and do it right, or the day may come when a new staffer needs to get into your server, and finds the door locked!

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