Michael Tague couldn’t believe his luck. As president of Win.Net, a Louisville, Ky.-based ISP, he had purchased several Network Appliances (NetApp) data storage systems in the past and was pleased with their performance. So, when he found a used but serviceable NetApp model on eBay for a mere $4,000 — a fraction of its original cost — he was delighted.
But his delight turned to anger when he contacted NetApp to purchase a maintenance agreement for the used system. “They weren’t interested in negotiating the maintenance agreement until we paid $15,000 to relicense the operating system that came with the unit,” Tague says. “No way we were going to pay that. They got paid for the software when they originally sold the system. Why should they get paid again? So, that NetApp box is sitting in a corner — we’re not using it except for spare parts.”
Tague’s experience is increasingly common for those purchasing dedicated hardware systems secondhand. Manufacturers of systems with proprietary operating systems such as high-end routers, data storage devices, and a variety of telecommunications equipment, now generally say their software license agreements prohibit transfer of the software when the hardware is resold. It’s mostly Internet or gray-market bargain hunters who are encountering this policy, but it represents a variety of hidden costs that could eventually affect all IT customers.
Curtailing the Secondhand Market
Blanket prohibitions against license transfer have been standard language in software license agreements for many years. Only after the dot-com bust did it occur to hardware manufacturers that they could try to enforce them. IT managers report that Cisco Systems in particular has been aggressive in its demands for relicense fees.
Tague and others think the manufacturers’ restrictions are just not right. “It’s a flat out scam,” he says. “Just because it’s typical, just because the other guys are doing it too, doesn’t mean it’s OK.” It would be fair, Tague argues, for manufacturers to negotiate a maintenance agreement for their used equipment, as he was more than willing to do with NetApp. “That way, they would have a continuing revenue stream. By demanding we pay $15,000 just for the license, they get nothing.”
“$15,000 is still a good deal,” counters Frank Sowin, senior director of service marketing for NetApp of Sunnyvale, Calif., noting that the original price of the storage server was more than four times that. “If the ownership of a system changes, our contract says the software has to be relicensed. We have a price list for the software, just like any other product.”
Many customers are discovering that the actual cost of acquiring used hardware may go beyond the price of relicensing the software.
“I made the mistake of showing a visiting Cisco rep the 2611 router I’d purchased on eBay for $1,200,” says Mark Payton, director of IT at the Vermont Academy, a school in Saxtons River, Vt. “Not only are they asking me to pay to relicense the software, but they are expecting me to get a one-year SmartNet maintenance agreement and to pay an inspection fee.”
Although Cisco is only asking Payton for slightly more than $300 each for the software relicensing and the SmartNet agreement, the inspection fee alone is more than $850. Payton is still negotiating with Cisco. “If my sales rep can’t get some of those costs waived, the total cost to me for the 2611 router is over $2,700. Brand new through CDW without my additional discounts, I could get this same unit today with one year of SmartNet for $2,300.”