Cisco Smart Software Licensing: Overview
In a move to simplify software license management for our customers, Cisco has implemented Cisco® Smart Software Licensing, a flexible software licensing model that streamlines the way customers activate and manage Cisco software licenses across their organization. Smart Licenses provide greater insight into software license ownership and consumption so customers know what they own and how it is being used. Gone are the days of lost or unknown PAKs. Cisco Smart Licensing establishes a pool of licenses or entitlements that can be used across the entire organization in a flexible and automated manner.
Smart Licensing represents a major change in the way that Cisco software license management occurs across all Cisco product families. The previous methods in which software licensing worked was to use either:
1. Strict enforcement: Customers are provided with a Product Activation Key (PAK), which they must then associate with a specific hardware implementation.
2. No enforcement: Using honor-based or Right-To-Use (RTU) technologies, customers use software as needed and are responsible for ensuring that they have the licenses required. There is usually no auditing mechanism provided with this model to ensure compliance.
Cisco Smart Licensing works in a completely different manner. Instead of using PAKs or license files, Smart Licensing establishes a pool of software licenses or entitlements in a customer-defined Cisco Smart Account. The Smart Account provides a central location where you can view, store, and manage your licenses.
Since licenses are not tied directly to a specific installation, they can be easily moved around the customer’s installation base, including covering the need for replacing hardware products through Return Materials Authorization (RMA). Since information is provided on actual usage, typical honor-based issues resulting from not understanding a customer’s actual licensing needs are also addressed.
Smart Licensing is typically deployed on products in one of two ways:
● Smart License only: These products support Smart Licensing as their only licensing option. Association of the licenses to the Smart Account is mandatory before the customer can successfully license their products.
● Hybrid: These products had previously shipped with an older licensing model, such as Product Activation Key (PAK), Right-To-Use (RTU), or other proprietary license model. They will default to using their old licensing model, but the customer may opt into activating Cisco Smart Licensing on this product when ready.
How does Smart Licensing work?
In its simplest form, Cisco Smart Software Licensing provides an inventory management-based approach to keeping track of software licenses. Individual licenses are not installed on individual Cisco products. Instead, a pool of software licenses is defined within a Cisco Smart Account, and individual devices use whatever licenses they require based on their configuration.
An inventory ledger is visible within the Cisco Smart Software Manager (CSSM) interface on Cisco Software Central. When new licenses are purchased using commerce tools such as Cisco Commerce, the licenses are automatically deposited into the customer’s Smart Account. As new licenses or entitlements are added, the number of licenses the customer has available increases. As licenses expire or are terminated, the number of licenses the customer has available decreases. With Smart Licensing, you will always be able to answer the question: “How many licenses or entitlements do I own and have available?”
Cisco product instances are activated and configured by generating a token in CSSM. Once the device is turned on and the token is entered, the device will perform a “call home” to their Smart Account to report how many licenses they need. The Smart Account connects back with the device and gives the status of whether they are in compliance or not. Users will then receive a response back stating if they have enough licenses to support their current usage. The response they will get back will be one of the following:
● Authorized: The License Pool has enough licenses to support the current license usage across all devices in the pool.
● Out of Compliance: The License Pool does not have sufficient licenses to support the current license usage across all devices in the pool. In most cases, this means that the product will continue to function normally but will send notifications that there are not enough licenses. After 90 days in this state, the products affected may limit configurability for new services until the license issue is resolved.
All information is collected in the Smart Account and displayed as messages to the user in the Cisco Smart Software Manager (CSSM) portal.
Figure 1. Representation of how Smart Software Licensing creates a “living-audit” of customer software usage by tracking data of both asset ownership from Cisco Commerce and asset usage from actual product deployments.
Benefits of Smart Licensing
Cisco Smart Software Licensing focuses on providing useful and appropriate data to customers when and where they need it. The benefits of this approach include:
● Bridging the information gap between procurement and operations
● Ability to use software wherever you need it, whenever you need it
● Flexible, automated pooling
● Real-time and historical Information on where your assets are deployed
● Ability to make smarter purchasing decisions — you can see where you need additional licenses and where you have an oversupply to prevent duplicate purchases
● Availability of all information in a cloud-based centralized view
Different deployment options for different security profiles
With Smart Licensing, you control the level of security required for your environment. There are multiple options for usage reporting — Cisco understands there is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to security. Customers may choose one deployment option or a mix-and-match approach of the various deployment options, based on what is most convenient for them. The simplest deployment method is direct cloud access where a Cisco product sends usage information directly over the Internet or through an HTTP proxy server. For a higher degree of security, customers may choose on-premises license management where Cisco products send usage information to a locally installed VM-based satellite server, which replicates the cloud-based user experience but keeps all communication on the customer premises. For the highest degree of security, Cisco offers full offline access through License Reservations. In this environment, all license changes are processed manually.
Figure 2. Smart Licensing has different deployment options depending on the level of security desired.
Customers can choose one deployment option or a mix-and-match approach of options based on what is most convenient and best suited for the organization.
Table 1. Supported deployment models
Direct cloud access (80% of deployments)
Cisco products send usage information directly over the Internet or through an HTTP proxy server. No additional components are needed.
Why would I choose this?
This solution is by far the most common deployment model and is chosen by most customers for its ease of use. Most deployments are simple, with Cisco devices having easy connectivity to Cisco.com over the Internet.
Requires no additional configuration steps – works “out of the box.”
Requires devices to have connectivity over the Internet either directly or through an HTTP proxy server, which may violate the security profile of the customer.
On-premises license server (15% of deployments)
Using a free VM-based download, a customer or partner can deploy the Cisco Smart Software Manager (CSSM) satellite, which replicates the cloud-based user experience but keeps all communication on premises. Once a month, the CSSM satellite and CSSM will synchronize databases either with an automatic network-based transfer or an offline manual transfer.
Why would I choose this?
For customers who like the operational simplicity of the cloud-based approach but want to keep all communications local to their own protected network, the CSSM satellite solution offers the perfect solution. This approach is most often used by financial institutions, utilities, service providers, and government organizations.
● Same experience as Direct Cloud Access, but with higher security
● Works for all products
● Requires additional equipment
● OpEx of installing and maintaining the software application virtual machine
● If manual synchronization is used, OpEx of completing manual data exchanges
Full offline access – License Reservations (5% of deployments)
License Reservations use copy and paste information between the product and Cisco.com to manually check licenses in and out. The functionality is equivalent to node locking, but with Smart License tracking. This option is not recommended.
Why would I choose this?
For customers who need to have a full air-gapped environment but may not yet receive the operational advantages of using a Disconnected CSSM satellite, this option may be more efficient.
If deploying more than about 30 Cisco devices, the Disconnected CSSM satellite deployment model is recommended instead.
● Requires no ongoing communications
● Requires no additional infrastructure
● Only available on a subset of Cisco products
● All license changes must be processed manually, including RMAs
How does enforcement work with Smart Licensing?
Smart Licensing is not meant as a strict enforcement system the way that older traditional node-lock technologies work, but instead provides real-time monitoring and accounting of how software is used. While Smart Licensing does not lock licenses to individual devices, it does provide monitoring and light enforcement capabilities for overuse of licenses and subscription/term expiration in the following ways:
● License Pools are a reflection of how many licenses are available at a given moment. If a subscription for five new licenses begins, five additional licenses are added to the pool. If a subscription for five licenses expires or is canceled, then five licenses are removed from the pool. In near real-time, the Smart Account provides information on exactly how many entitlements the customer has.
● As long as the number of entitlements in the pool is greater than or equal to the number of licenses being consumed, the product will always understand they are in an “authorized” state.
● When the number of licenses in the pool is less than the number of licenses being consumed, either because additional licenses were consumed by new deployments or because the number of licenses decreased due to expiration of subscriptions/terms, then the pool is moved to an “Out of Compliance” state.
● For each new deployment or device check-in (at least once per month, though it may occur more frequently, depending on device activity), the devices will receive at “Out of Compliance” state, which then allows the device to begin taking action.
The action taken by the product when it receives an “Out of Compliance” response is device specific. To determine what action your product takes, please refer to the specific product documentation.
Using Smart Licenses in Evaluation Mode
Products support a built-in evaluation period ranging from 60 to 90 days. Evaluation allows licenses to be trialed by a customer before connecting to Smart Licensing directly and can also serve as a bridge between when the product is first installed and when it is licensed.
Evaluation modes can never allow for the use of Export Controlled functionality due to compliance with U.S. Export law. Otherwise, most hardware-based products will allow for full functionality during the evaluation period, while most software-only products allow for very limited functionality during the evaluation period. For more details on the action that each product takes, including actions when the evaluation period expires, please reference the specific product documentation.
What notifications will I receive when operating in Evaluation Mode?
Customers will be notified when new devices are brought up and initially begin using Evaluation licenses from their Cisco products. Since there is no connection to software.cisco.com for unregistered devices, there will be no notification or alarms on Cisco Smart Software Manager directly, but the Cisco product itself will display the appropriate information on its user interface.
In addition, Syslogs will be sent out from products that are either in Evaluation or Evaluation Expired state with the following frequency:
1. While in the Evaluation time period:
● 60 days before expiration
● 30 days before expiration
● Every week in the last 30 days
● Every day in the last week
● Every hour in the last day
2. After Evaluation has expired:
● Once a week until issue resolved.
What happens when I am Out of Compliance?
Customers and Users/Administrators of Customer Smart Accounts will be notified in two ways when a Virtual Account is consuming more licenses than they have purchased, putting the Virtual Account into an “Out of Compliance” state:
1. Cisco Smart Software Manager will display a “Major Alarm” on its primary “Alarms” interface as well as within the Virtual Account itself. This alarm will provide information on what licenses are required and the quantity needed for each license with a shortage.
In addition, the Smart Account User/Administrator may elect to have a daily email digest sent to them with any “Out of Compliance” issues for their attention. Out of Compliance information will also be provided in the offline license report obtained by using the Report tab in the Cisco Smart Software Manager (CSSM).
2. Once the Cisco device receives a notification that it is in an “Out of Compliance” state, it will display the appropriate notifications on its user interface. In addition, Syslogs will be sent out as follows: Syslog %SMART_LIC-3-OUT_OF_COMPLIANCE will be sent once a week per device.
Please note that all devices consuming licenses from this Virtual Account License Pool will be reported as Out of Compliance and not just the most recent devices to consume from it.
For more information
To learn more about Smart Licensing, go to: https://www.cisco.com/go/smartlicensing
To learn more about Cisco Smart Accounts, go to: https://www.cisco.com/go/smartaccounts
To set up/manage a Smart Account or manage Smart Licenses, go to: https://software.cisco.com
For a current list of available Smart License-enabled products, including versions of first support and links to specific product activation documentation, visit: https://www.cisco.com/go/smartlicensing