IBM Licensing Quick Guide (2015)

04 March 2015
16 minute read

IBM Licensing Quick Guide (2015)

04 March 2015
16 minute read


When you discuss the most complex licensing vendors, the usual names crop up. Oracle, SAP, Microsoft and IBM. IBM is one of the largest software vendors in the world with one of the most complicated licensing models. IBM licensing doesn’t appear to be common knowledge for users or organisations, with one of the reasons for this being the fact that IBM are acquiring new products all the time so have a large catalogue of products. Each of these products has their own licensing model and unique way of managing and measuring users and deployments.

This is a licensing quick guide, so it provides an overview of IBM licensing. If you have any questions regarding your IBM estate, it is advisable that you contact IBM directly.


IBM Software

The IBM Software Group, also known as SWG, is a major part of IBM. In 2010 they decided to split their software into two groups. They are as follows:


Middleware Group

Information management software – database servers and tools, text analytics, and content management.

Rational software – Software development and application lifecycle management.

Tivoli software – Systems management. Acquired in 1995. Re-branded as ‘Cloud & Smarter Infrastructure’ (C&SI) in 2013.

WebSphere – development environment, container, and a series of pre-packaged applications, primarily for management interfaces and web commerce.


Solutions Group

Lotus Software – Groupware, collaboration and business software.

Business Analytics – Cognos and SPSS

Industry Solutions – Enterprise Content Management, Enterprise Marketing Management and B2B&Commerce

IBM has hundreds of different software titles, all of which can be found here.


IBM License Program – Passport Advantage

The programs through which IBM offers its software licenses are called Passport Advantage (for larger organizations) and Passport Advantage Express (from small to midsized organizations). Passport Advantage Express has no minimum purchase requirement and its offerings are priced per transaction – no discount applies for volume licensing.  Passport Advantage, on the other hand, applies a points-based system to calculate volume discount. Based on the number of purchases a customer makes each year, a Relationship Suggested Volume Price (RVSP)-Level is assigned, with a corresponding discount level. Large organizations are wise to consolidate their IBM license contracts as much as possible to benefit from these volume discounts.

In most cases, IBM software licenses allow the customer to use the software indefinitely, although fixed-term licenses are also available. Once a license has been purchased, the customer is required to buy software subscription and support annually in order to benefit from software updates and technical support. The initial purchase of a software license generally includes subscription and support for the first year. Using your Passport Advantage user ID and password, it is possible to obtain an overview of your software entitlements through the IBM website.

The Legal Bits!

Under the Passport Advantage program, IBM grants the licensee a nonexclusive license to use the IBM software that they have purchased. The licensee must obviously adhere to the license contract agreed before the purchase of the IBM license. IBM licenses can either be perpetual or non perpetual (subscription). Again, this depends on the licensee’s requirements. Proof of Entitlement (PoE) must be kept in order to prove that the organisation has the rights to use IBM software.


Indefinite Use of IBM Software

IBM states that the “License plus Software Subscription and Support for 12 Months license grants the right to:

  • Indefinitely use the version/release of the software purchased
  • Receive Software Subscription and Support (previously referred to as Software Maintenance) for a period of 12 months.
  • While in effect, Software Subscription and Support authorizes Licensee to use the most current commercially available version, release, or update, should any be made available as well as receive support for the Program.”

At the end of the 12 months, the subscription support can then be renewed for another 12 months. Dependant on location and agreement, the support can be automatically renewed unless the licensee informs IBM or their LAR that they no longer wish to renew said services. If the software subscription and support isn’t renewed, then the licensee will no longer have the benefits that go along with the services, but may still use the license according to the pre-agreed software agreement.


Fixed Term Use of IBM Software

IBM state the “Initial Fixed Term License plus Software Subscription and Support” term license grants the right to:

  • Use the software on premise for a limited period only (most commonly of 12 months)
  • Receive Software Subscription and Support (previously referred to as Software Maintenance) for the period of the term.
  • While in effect, Software Subscription and Support authorizes Licensee to use the most current commercially available version, release, or update, should any be made available as well as receive support for the Program.”

When the fixed term ends, the license may be renewed for an additional 12 months. When the licensee renews the fixed term license in the second year, and any further years, this is known as a “Subsequent Fixed Term License plus Software Subscription and Support 12 Months”. If the licensee decides not to renew the license, then the licensee will no longer have the rights to use the software, wont be entitled to the benefits of Software Subscription and Support, and they must destroy all copies of the software.


IBM Licensing Options

User based licensing

Authorized User

An authorized user is a person who is solely given access to an application. The application may be installed on a number of devices, as long as the authorized user who has a valid license only uses it. The authorized user may not share, or transfer their license to another person.

Concurrent user

A concurrent user is a user who is using a certain application at any point in time, regardless of whether the person is using simultaneous connections they are still counted as a single concurrent user. The IBM application may be installed on a number of computers or servers, but the licensee needs to obtain the correct number of licenses for the maximum number of concurrent users accessing the software. The licensee must obtain a license for each simultaneous user accessing the application in either direct or indirect form.

It is worth noting that some applications may be licensed by concurrent device. In that case then you need a license for every simultaneous device that accesses the application.

Floating user

In IBM terms, a floating user is defined as a ‘person who is accessing the Program at any particular point in time’. The application can be installed on a number of desktops or servers, but it can only be used on one application at a time. If the user requires multiple systems to access the application at the same time, then they will need additional licenses.

It may be the case that some programs are licensed where devices are actually considered users. If this is the case then any device that requests execution or receives a set of commands or processes from the application needs to be considered under a separate ‘User of the Program’ and requires a license as if that device were a person.

User Value Unit (UVU):

User Value Unit (UVU) is another method of licensing IBM applications. The UVU’s Proof of Entitlement (PoE) is based on the number and type of users that have access to a certain application. The licensee must have sufficient licenses (entitlements) for the number of UVU’s that are in the users environment as defined by their contract terms. UVU entitlements are very specific to the application and type of user, and these licenses may not be changed, exchanged or aggregated with any other UVU entitlements of another program or user type.

Capacity based licensing


Install is another licensing metric for IBM applications. This means that an installed copy of IBM software is on a physical or virtual disk that is executed on a computer or server. The licensee must have the correct licenses for each install of IBM software.

Processor Value Unit (PVU)

Processor Value Unit (PVU) is a method of licensing an IBM application. PVU entitlements required is based on the processor technology, which is defined within the PVU Table by processor vendor, brand, type and model number) and the number of processors that are available for use by each application. IBM defines a processor as a processor core on a chip, so a dual-core processor chip will have two processor cores.

The IBM licensee can deploy the application using Full Capacity licensing or Virtualization Capacity licensing according to the Passport Advantage that we mentioned previously. If the user is using Full Capacity licensing, then the licensee needs to obtain the correct PVU licenses to cover all of the activated processor cores that are in the physical hardware environment that are accessible by the application. With regards to Virtualization Capacity licensing, the licensee must have sufficient cover to cover all activated processor cores that are accessible by the application, as defined by the Virtualization Capacity License Counting Rules.

There are a few things to remember with PVU licensing:

  • There are some applications that require licenses for the application and what is actually being managed. Entitlements are then required for the program directly, so the licensee must obtain the correct PVU licenses to cover the processor cores for the specific systems that the application/resources are managed or processed on.
  • An activated processor core is a core that is available for use in both a physical and virtual environment (server). The capacity of the processor core isn’t relevant nor is the fact that the processor core can be limited through certain technologies.
  • There are IBM applications that are licensed on a managed basis only, so the rules are slightly different. Instead of the license entitlements being required for the application directly, the licensee must obtain PVU entitlements for the application, so that it covers the processor cores for the systems on the resources that the application is on.
  • There is also the exception of applications being licensed on a referenced basis. In this scenario the licensee must obtain PVU entitlements for said application to cover the whole environment that is specified as being available to the Referenced Program.


A server is defined as a physical computer that has processing units, memory and with input/output capabilities. It also is defined as a system that executes requested procedures, commands or applications for users or client devices. When thinking about racks or similar equipment that is deployed within the environment, IBM users need to remember that each physical device that has required components is considered a separate server. The licensee must make sure they have the correct server entitlements for each server that is made available to the application or program, regardless of the number of cores or partitions within the server or the number of copies of the application hosted on the server.

Virtual Server

You can define a virtual server as either a virtual computer created by partitioning the available resources to a physical server, or an un-partitioned physical server. The license holder needs to obtain virtual server entitlements for each virtual server that is made available to an IBM program. It doesn’t matter how many processor cores are in the virtual server, or how many copies of the program are installed on the virtual server.


Other licensing metrics

License Type Description Notes
Client Device A Client Device is a single user computing device or special purpose s device that requests the execution of or receives for execution a set of commands, procedures, or applications from or provides data to another computer system that is typically referred to as a server or is otherwise managed by the server. Multiple Client Devices may share access to a common server. A Client Device may have some processing capability or be programmable to allow a user to do work. (Reference IBM)The license holder must obtain entitlements for every Client Device which runs, provides data to, uses services provided by, or otherwise accesses the Program and for every other computer or server on which the Program is installed.

Examples include appliances, automated teller machines, automatic meter readers, cash registers, disk drives, desktop computers, kiosks, notebook computers, personal digital assistant, point-of-sale terminals, sensors, smart meters, tape drives, and technical workstations.

Resource Value Unit (RVU) IBM states that Resource Value Unit (RVU) is a unit of measurement by which IBM applications can be licensed. Proofs of Entitlements for RVU’s are based on the number of units of a certain resource that uses or manages IBM solutions. The user or license holder must ensure they purchase the sufficient number of entitlements for the number of RVU’s that will be used within the organisations estate. The number of licenses required is specified in the software terms of use. RVU entitlements are related to the IBM program that is in use and the type of resource using it. It is worth noting that the type of resource may not be exchanged or changed with another program or resource. * Some programs may require licenses for the Resources available to AND the resources being managed by the Program. In that case, the following applies: In addition to the entitlements required for the Resources used by the Program directly, Licensee must obtain entitlements for this Program sufficient to cover the Resources managed by the Program.*Some programs may be licensed on a managed basis ONLY. In that case, the following applies: Instead of the entitlements required for the Resources used by the Program directly, Licensee must obtain entitlements for this Program sufficient to cover the Resources managed by the Program.



Millions of Service Units (MSU) MSU is a license metric that is used for IBM software that are installed within the IBM mainframe. These products are licensed based on the total MSU capacity of each machine on which an IBM product is installed on. Also relates to zSeries machines.
Concurrent Session The concurrent session metric requires the maximum number of current sessions using IBM products to be licensed at any time. Concurrent session is different to the Concurrent User in that with the concurrent user metric a single user has the ability to start multiple sessions. For example, a single user using 10 concurrent connections to an IBM product would count as one concurrent user, but ten concurrent sessions. Software which limits or measures concurrent usage can help to prevent peaks that exceed license entitlements. The most popular IBM application that uses this licensing metric is Informix.


Software Deployment

There is currently no standard approach or method for overseeing what IBM software has been deployed within an environment, due to the different solutions IBM provide. Not one single approach will be relevant to all of the different IBM applications, and this isn’t helped by the fact that IBM applications do not have a single license key that users can refer back to. This means that there are no limitations in deployment, so non-compliancy can occur all too easily.

There are some software discovery solutions that can identify some IBM products being installed in the desktop, server and virtual environment. There are even some SAM tools that have the specialist capabilities for managing IBM licenses and the IBM install base. IBM offers automated deployment through a product console and also through Tivoli. It is dependant on the IBM product and how it is licensed, but it is possible to export information from these systems to help with the overall management of IBM licenses.

With regards to PVU’s, you need to ensure that the correct hardware details are reporting via any discovery tools or CMDB that you may have installed within your environment. There are technologies that help gather such information such as virtualization, clustering and also hyper threading, but they have a tendency to capture inaccurate information. It is best practice to perform a physical audit on the machines, or use a tool that you know provides accurate results.


Final Thoughts

IBM licensing is complex to manage and understand. Due to the wide array and growing number of applications that IBM has, with those applications having multiple different license rules and metrics, there are a number of aspects to consider when trying managing IBM licenses and users. This has been a general overview of IBM licensing, so when dealing with your internal IBM estate it is advisable that you collect further information that is specific to your IBM applications and environment.


This quick guide is an update to our previous guide published in 2010.


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