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Adobe Creative Cloud – A Look into the Crystal Ball

Looking into the future of Adobe Creative Cloud Licensing

Looking into the future of Adobe Creative Cloud Licensing

Adobe Creative Cloud – A Look into the Crystal Ball is a guest post from John Tomeny, VP of Sassafras Software


Adobe has announced an important change for Creative Cloud licensing in Australia. Historically such changes in the Australian market have been precursors to change in the USA and EU markets.

Adobe’s Licensing ecosystem can quickly become a confusion of acronyms and purchase plan descriptions if you don’t pay close attention. So I’ll start by separating three topics from one another so we can have a clear focus on the one I’ll be discussing the most.

Obviously I am discussing software licensing, but when we introduce the topics of compliance and license optimization, the part of licensing that becomes most important is the “license model” – or the rights and limitations by which compliance is measured (sometimes called “product use rights”) – and not the volume purchase plans that are the selling vehicles for licensing.

Stating the obvious first; a software product is the “asset” that remains the property of the publisher after they have sold you a license entitlement to use it. Volume licensing plans are the methods used to sell software licensing. I’m going to describe these only briefly, but my primary focus will be on the implications of Adobe’s software license models – those rights and limitations that define consumption of software licenses and the “metrics” by which compliance is measured.

Adobe currently offers Two Licensing Plans for Business Computing

  • “Creative Cloud for Teams” is Adobe’s ultimate hope for the world.  This is the direction that Adobe will eventually take all of their software licensing as the world of IT becomes increasingly virtualized. This is a per-user licensing model under which Adobe grants a license for each individual user (rather than for each computer). Adobe also applies device restrictions to this licensing plan. For academic computing, Adobe allows a single user to install on two computers but I could not find evidence of rights to install on multiple computers for business licensing.
  • “Creative Cloud for Enterprise” is often misunderstood. Anytime a publisher uses the word “Enterprise” to describe a licensing plan, some customers begin calling it a site license.  But an Enterprise license is not always an unlimited site license to deploy to all devices.  This one is a device license for a specific number of computers within a large customer organization.

Adobe currently offers Three Licensing Plans for Academic Computing.

  • “Named-User” licensing is similar to the business licensing model known as “Creative Cloud for Teams” except that it explicitly permits installation on a second computer.  As I mentioned above, this appears to be the direction that Adobe would like to take all of their software licensing as the world of IT becomes increasingly virtualized.
  • “Device licensing” was introduced as an afterthought by Adobe to correct a problem with licensing Creative Cloud in computing labs and classrooms.  It did not appear to be a part of their original plan.
  • “Enterprise licensing” (ETLA) is generally measured by Adobe as a percentage of your “Full Time Equivalents” (FTE’s) of people within your organization. Strictly speaking, this is not a license model, but a pricing plan that is associated with an underlying license model.  The actual license model is device based.

As Adobe defines the license that supports the Enterprise (ETLA) pricing model, there are two metrics that determine compliance: 1. an accurate count of FTEs, and 2. accurate discovery of Creative Cloud applications across an organization whenever it is licensed for less than 100% FTE for the complete set of Creative Cloud applications. Adobe’s Enterprise license is not a “Site” license unless you have contracted at 100% FTE for the complete set of Creative Cloud applications.


What is Ahead for Adobe Licensing?

So where is Adobe going with software licensing? In his May 2013 blog, the “Top 5 Myths of Creative Cloud”, Creative Cloud Senior Product Manager Jody Rodgers wrote that Creative Cloud for teams “doesn’t scale for large organizations for hundreds or thousands of users”.  He went on to say that Adobe was “working on the ability for your organization” to authenticate your end users through your own authentication infrastructure, like Active Directory, LDAP, and other systems) by using Single Sign-On through SAML 2.0.

When I presented this information recently at a licensing conference in Australia I told the audience to watch for Single Sign-On in Creative Cloud very soon.  I said that I anticipated that when Adobe introduces Creative Cloud SSO they will ramp up their efforts to sell a more ‘enterprise-scaleable’ Named User licensing plan and less FTE and Enterprise licensing.

Later that same day, at the same conference, Adobe representatives stood before the same audience and made exactly the two announcements that I predicted – Single Sign-On to support more scaleable use of Named User licensing. And they announced a newly expanded licensing program for Enterprise-scaleable Named User accounts. I had been expecting this announcement soon based on Jody’s blog and on an IT conference presentation led by Victoria Selwyn in 2013, then Adobe’s Senior Product Manager for Creative Suite.

It’s important to note that this announcement was made in Australia in October 2014 and as of publication date of this article, no such announcement has appeared in the US or EU. However, Adobe has made a common practice over the years of testing new sales programs in Australia before releasing them in other parts of the world.


The Implications of Adobe SSO & Named User Licensing

It is important to think through the ways that Single Sign-On and Named User licensing will impact your management environment.

Adobe told the audience in Australia that their Named User licensing will be a “Non-serial number based deployment”.  Meaning that a license entitlement is not required merely for the existence of software on a computer.  If a non-serialized instance is launched without sign-on credentials, it will run in demo mode. Thus, compliance for Named User is managed by Adobe.

But if you have a mixed environment with some instances deployed under ETLA and others under Named User (currently called “Creative Cloud for Teams”), compliance auditing using a strictly audit-based approach will be ineffective.  You will need to distinguish the Named User instances from the Device-based instances.

This situation will likely lead many customers to choose one licensing model or another – that is, if Adobe continues to offer both choices. For those companies focused on cost savings, optimisation of Named User Licensing for cost reduction will require the ability to track and report usage by user accounts – not by machines. Thus, any SAM tool used for this purpose will need to offer specific support for Named User optimisation.

It’s also unclear what restrictions Adobe might place on numbers of devices under SSO and the anticipated enterprise-scalable Named User licensing plan. The current academic license model restricts Named User to two devices (which by the way is the same as declaring a device license with secondary use by the same user). But the current Named User license model for business customers makes no mention of granting rights for multiple devices.

The choice that would be an obvious preference for customers would be to place no device limits on Named User – since activation by account logon credentials would be sufficient in itself for protection of Adobe’s asset, and device limits would potentially create an unmanageable environment. But Adobe has already demonstrated a preference for device limits in their current Named User/Teams licensing plans. So device restriction is difficult to predict.

All of the above pondering is based upon the expectation that Adobe will repeat their historical behaviour pattern. That is, having now announced SSO and Enterprise-scaleable Named User to the Australian academic market, their history predicts that once they’ve worked the kinks out in Australia they will announce in other major geographical markets. This is what Adobe has done a few times in the past, the most recent of which was when they discontinued concurrent use licensing for Acrobat in the academic market.


Why the shift toward Named User licensing?

One might ask why Adobe would want to shift to Enterprise-scaleable Named User licensing. One answer is uniform adaptability across physical, virtual and mobile platforms. It is much harder for a publisher to measure compliance for device licenses on multiple platforms then it is to have control of the process that activates and deactivates Named User licensing.

Under Named User licensing, Adobe controls compliance. But there is also another perk for Adobe. Certain computing environments naturally require higher licensing counts for Named User licensing than for device licensing. Consider an academic computing environment with 1,000 computers in computing labs serving a student body of 7,000 students. If you were a software publisher, how would you rather license your software – to the 1,000 computers or the 7,000 people? If Adobe promotes Named User licensing and alters or discontinues their ETLA program, they will increase the license count required for this type of customer.


Software Cost Control

The new priority for software asset managers under subscription based, Named User licensing is cost control. One of the great advantages of subscription software licensing is that the initial entry costs are reduced. But its greatest detractor is that total cost of ownership can become a runaway train, driving costs much higher than perpetual licensing plans. Recurring subscription fees can mount up to significantly increase total software costs over the years. Nowhere is this currently more true than with Named User subscription licensing where there are presently fewer choices for effective optimisation tools.


For more information on this topic see “Managing Adobe Creative Cloud.” Where the writer explores methods to avoid spending too much money on Adobe Creative Cloud volume purchase licenses.

John Tomeny is a twenty-two year veteran of the SAM/ITAM industry.  He is VP of Sassafras Software, a long-standing SAM tool developer since 1990 and publisher of K2 – KeyAuditor & KeyServer.  John is Convener of the ISO/IEC 19770-3 SAM Standards development group, a co-author of the ISO/IEC 19770-2 SWID tag standard and a distinguished recipient of the IAITAM Fellow designation, the highest level of recognition from IAITAM.

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