This article has been contributed by Neil Leigh, Marketing Manager at OpenLM.
Bentley Licensing – the Small Print
License administrators who are tasked with the stewardship of engineering software licenses have had to deal with some very disruptive changes in licensing models offered by major vendors recently. The trend, partly because of the growth of the cloud-based market, has been to move away from perpetual licenses to pay-per-use and fixed-user or machine models. For this reason, the stated intent of Bentley Systems to stay with perpetual licensing, at least for the near future, must be very reassuring.
As one of the most established purveyors of engineering software for all engineering disciplines, there can be few users who have not encountered Microstation for both two-and three-dimensional CAD design, underpinned by Assetwise and Projectwise for managing project assets and progress, somewhere in their career. While these generic solutions are the best-known Bentley products, there is a whole toolbox of other applications, ranging from Bentley Rail Track (previously InRail) to STAAD for structural analysis and design, that are widely used globally.
Bentley’s Licensing options
The licensing options offered by Bentley would appear to offer the best of both worlds; customers can buy a perpetual license, a term license or a combination of both, in order to satisfy normal demand and additional short-term demand created by projects. There is a Bentley license server that manages usage of both options on site.
- Perpetual license. Bentley claims to have no intention of dispensing with the perpetual licensing model. The customer agrees to purchase a predefined number of licenses on an annual basis. This suits situations where there is a large, fixed license base, such as a drafting office, where a set number of users log into the software regularly but not all at the same time. The perpetual license is based on concurrent usage, also known as pooling. In light of what other vendors have done, customers have expressed concerns that Bentley may discontinue the concurrent user model, but the company has put out reassurances that they have no intention of discontinuing concurrent usage. Bentley’s assessment of what constitutes concurrent usage can be a little complex to grasp; we will return to this later.
- Term license. A term license is a subscription-based license, which is based on pay-per-use. This is a short-term alternative that works well for increased demand caused by a new project, where that demand is expected to dwindle once the project is completed.
- “Select”. Bentley has configured its “Select” license server, which can manage a portfolio of licenses, in order to provide an option where customers can use a combination of the two models. Users have to register as a Select user in all circumstances and license monitoring is reported to one or more Select servers, which are installed on site.
Reading Between the Lines
In theory, this sounds like a good deal for all users, where the best of both worlds can be purchased. However, there have been some adaptations to Bentley’s concurrent usage model that may seriously disadvantage the company that does not manage the new methods of determining costs.
The Ten-Minute Rule
During each day, the license server monitors the number of licenses that are booked out for each ten minutes of each hour of the day and records this usage. There is a concession in that special allowance is given to very short-term and accidental usage. If a user books out a license in error, or for less than 10 minutes, those first ten minutes are excluded from the license count. Previously, this calculation used to be based on usage per-hour, for example, from 8:00-8:59. Now it works from 08:00-08:09. The change has caused confusion among customers who were used to the previous timeslots, and can seriously escalate costs. The server aggregates all usage per 10 minute period and determines the peak number of devices concurrently using the software in that day for a particular timeslot. This peak usage is used by Bentley for billing purposes, and some customers have found that this is a very inflated estimate of their real use during any one day. All it takes is for a couple of users to book in a minute early, or overstay their welcome one minute past the timeslot to generate a peak usage number in excess of any real use.
There is a video on Bentley’s site which you can watch to get a more detailed understanding of this system .
Traditionally, Bentley has only granted perpetual licenses per country, and this restriction still stands, which may make the management of concurrent usage simpler, with a Select Server per country. How issues such as daylight saving changeovers and multiple time-zones are handled is not clear, for instance, where there is an office running on Pacific time and another office using Eastern Standard time.
How the Marketplace Feels
One of the limitations of Bentley’s license management is that it does not issue a denial of service when a new user pulls a license above the concurrent usage maximum contractually agreed upon. Secondly, it does not proactively advise the customer of licenses that have been booked out and are lying idle. Thirdly, and most importantly, using the highest peak usage as a basis for billing does not align with true pay-per use. So, while Bentley believes that their method of calculating concurrent usage is equitable, this view is not shared by all its customers, and is exacerbated by the lack of license management features mentioned above.
What is more, customers are not keeping quiet about this, and have expressed their feelings on the Bentley community website. One customer explained how they used only ten of their 24 licenses concurrently during one day. However, if one user finishes working moments after the start of a ten-minute period, and another user books out software (i.e. pulls a license) a moment before the end of the same ten-minute period, both of these are counted in the calculation of concurrent usage for that period. At first sight that may not look like such a big deal but when you consider the fact that the busiest 10-minute slot of the month is used as the basis for the billing, it becomes far more significant. In this instance, Bentley calculated a peak usage of 16 licences. Another customer claimed to have been billed for usage on a computer that is not registered anywhere in his network; whether the claim is justified or not doesn’t change the fact that customers are expressing doubts about the accuracy or fairness of the billing algorithm.
Managing the Costs of a Bentley Relationship
The challenge of limiting costs when using Bentley tools has some administrators keeping a very tight rein on who can access the tools as well as maintaining a watchful brief on idle licenses that have been booked out. Bentley does give pointers as to how the customer can monitor and optimize usage, which requires changing some settings in the Bentley set-up, and there is reporting after the event which can be used for future trimming of costs. However, this doesn’t give the customer full control over the licensing costs. Customers would be happier if they could get functions like
- monitoring usage per license per minute
- warning when concurrent usage is at its maximum
- “harvesting” idle licenses, by suspending the session and freeing the license.
- providing accurate usage values so that the administrator can optimize the bouquet of licenses held, and determine whether term licenses may not be more appropriate in some cases.
So it seems there are some rumblings from customers that Bentley needs to address, especially in the light of their recent initiative to convince Autodesk users to swap to Bentley, now that Autodesk has changed its policy on perpetual licences. While there are some customers who say the model works for them, its success and equitability is very dependent on the type of engineering concern and how they work. The fact that Bentley does not limit usage over the agreed base does not make life easier for the customer.
A Rough Passage
The license management at large sites that employ many engineers, draftsmen and spatial analysts have had to cope with changes to Autodesk and ESRI licensing models that discourage concurrent usage. This is a major problem where efficiency and cost savings are attained by close attention to the ration of licenses to authorised users, as well as efficient use of the license while booked out. On the surface, Bentley seems to be offering a safe harbor in turbulent times. However, there are some tricky currents and rocks to navigate, in the form of the ten-minute time slots and Bentley’s method of calculating peak usage, that require the license administrator to be vigilant at the helm, if he does not want costs to escalate. The shortcomings in how the Bentley server manages the licenses that have been identified by customers indicate that companies need to have their own version of the truth, using their own license management tools.
This article has been contributed by Neil Leigh, Marketing Manager at OpenLM.
About Martin Thompson
Martin is also author of the book "Practical ITAM - The essential guide for IT Asset Managers", a book that describes how to get started and make a difference in the field of IT Asset Management.
On a voluntary basis Martin is a contributor to ISO WG21 which develops the ITAM International Standard ISO/IEC 19770.
Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.