Originally published in the March 1995 issue of Advanced Systems.


first impression

Arming system administrators

By Cedric Higgins

I'm about to reveal a valuable new secret of the trade, so if you are not a system administrator, you must stop reading this review.

OK, sysadmins, now that we're alone, let's talk. Don't you hate getting pestered to install software you know will be used only once? But once you install it, you can't rm the package because you're not certain your users have given it up for good? And let's not forget audits. I'll bet many of you would sleep easier knowing exactly how many users are accessing certain apps.

If this strikes a chord, then I suggest a license tracking package from Globetrotter Software (Cupertino, CA), Elan Software (Mountain View, CA), or Central Design Systems Inc. (CDSI). I put CDSI's LicenseTrack 3.3 through the paces at Advanced Systems for a month to find out if installing and administering a software package to watch our software was worth the trouble. At $7,000 for the starting price, you need a passel of users to justify the cost. But for the money, a system administrator gains tremendous insights into which software is used (and when), which may result in savings down the road.

Hound dogs not included
LicenseTrack is not a license manager, such as FLEXlm from Globetrotter Software, which limits the maximum number of users an application will support. LicenseTrack is a true client/server application. It consists of configuration files, wrappers, log files, two daemons, and a couple of administration tools that reside on the server (the total install size is 14 megabytes). No software installation is required on LicenseTrack clients.

There are two ways to access the software: through the GUI or through the command line. My testing concentrated on the GUI, but I used the command line with no complaint.

The GUI consists of six pull-down menus and two selection areas. To track an application, you need to "register" it with the software by providing information about the executables composing the application, whether you wish to control the number of concurrently running copies, how exceptional conditions such as network failures should be handled, and other administration. Alas, LicenseTrack lacks omnipotence in the form of restricting certain users or groups from using an application.

When an application package is registered, its executables are moved to a different location. Each executable is replaced by a wrapper with the same name. When a user invokes a registered package, the wrapper contacts a regional daemon to obtain authorization to run the executable. It then invokes a mechanism (which uses an RPC architecture) to monitor the application and, finally, fires off the application. The regional daemon routes authorization requests from wrappers to the central daemon, and approvals or denials from the central daemon to the wrapper.

Monitored apps need not be local to the LicenseTrack server, nor where the central and regional daemons reside.

After registering several applications, it was time to monitor their usage. Having the option to monitor particular users, hosts, and packages, I opted to monitor everything. Using the GUI, information is presented in the form of line graphs or bar and pie charts that are color-coded for easy interpretation of an application's status. All monitored applications are written to a log file. I found little use for the pie chart and learned from CDSI that the next release will be retooled to convey more useful information, including how much load an application generates.

You can print LicenseTrack's reports, but you can't e-mail them to users for badgering purposes ("Hey, I thought you really, really needed this application") or fellow administrators for comic relief ("Look how much more popular Doom is than 1-2-3"). CDSI needs to make report generation less cumbersome, though we like the ability to save information in a user-defined (i.e., database or spreadsheet) format. LicenseTrack collects software use in dollars, peaks, averages, denials of requested applications, and others.

After wrapping and monitoring several applications at Advanced Systems, I was pleasantly surprised to learn most users actually employ the apps they insisted I install. I learned which were used most (Doom and Mosaic), who was using them, and their average use over time. More importantly, I found which apps were unused, languishing as binary dust bunnies.

LicenseTrack isn't perfect, however. While peeking at my users' app predilections (generating a report), LicenseTrack core dumped. A CDSI technician reproduced my steps to identical effect. The bug will be fixed in the next release, which should be available by the time you read this, and will also contain some GUI enhancements and improve the reporting features. My wish list includes the ability to make applications available for certain time periods in a day, hypertext help in the GUI, and man pages for the command line interface.

LicenseTrack supports Solaris 1 and 2, IBM AIX, and HP-UX. Clients supported are Solaris 1.x and 2.x, IBM AIX, HP-UX, DOS, Windows, and Windows programs under OS/2. Pricing starts at $7,000 and includes two daemons and supports up to 50 clients on a single subnet. n

Central Design Systems Inc., 2346 Bering Dr., San Jose, CA 95131, 408-383-9399, 408-383-9395 fax,

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Last updated: 1 March 1995.