With the launch of Pro Tools 2018.1 back in January 2018, Avid announced that along with support for the iLok Cloud they would be supporting iLok Networking licensing too at some point. In this article, I am going to outline what I believe network licensing should look like and what features are important especially in an educational environment.
Quite a few years ago I was working in an educational establishment and was involved in the implementation of licence servers for applications which supported them. This system wasn’t perfect but it was still very welcome. I learned a great deal about what is good and what is bad in network licence systems.
There are some pretty compelling reasons why licence servers are desirable in this environment: Physical iLoks are vulnerable to theft and securing them isn’t always easy, particularly in a Mac-based environment as, since the demise of the lockable Cheese Grater case, the option of fitting an internal USB card and locking them away isn’t possible any more.
Many plug-in vendors support machine authorisations. These seem to offer an alternative to the security issues associated with iLoks. However, they are still strictly on a one licence one machine basis. This is inflexible and goes against the typical working method of the IT departments in large institutions where software assets are administered centrally in a networked environment. This means that there is nothing special about any particular user machine on the network and in the case of a hardware fault a new machine can be plugged in and the previous machine will magically appear on that hardware. IT departments don’t like machine authorisations.
Here Are My Top 5 Requirements For An Ideal Networked Licence System
Post-production houses are a definite potential market for networked licences but if the system requires an internet connection then it will never be adopted by security conscious post-production facilities. It has to be possible to run it on a LAN, unlike cloud licences or Cloud Collaboration.
This is a real deal breaker. One of the advantages of per-machine licenses is that by controlling access to the machine on which the software is licensed, you also control access to the licence. It is essential to busy teaching staff, and education is the biggest potential market for this technology, that there is no possibility that the required number of seats won’t be available for a lecture. A fee paying student will not be sympathetic if someone somewhere else on campus has leased their licence during a lab session. The ideal would be a timetabling tool. Preferably one which can integrate with existing timetabling software so room use can be tied to licence use automatically, leaving network licenses available to any suitable machine on the network outside of timetabled use.
Dignified Boot-Off Process
Taking things further, if this system were to be designed exactly the way I would choose, it would involve a “boot-off” process which gave fair warning to someone using a networked licence which was going to be needed for another booking. A pop-up which said something along the lines of “Your networked licence will no longer be available in 15 minutes, save your work” and then retrieve the licence from the leased machine to make it available for the booked session would be perfect.
Groupable But Flexible
This has already been alluded to but a usable system would need to have the tools available to group licences and groups of computers so that it was possible to allocate 20 licences to “Pro Tools Lab 1” in a single operation rather than having to move 20 licences individually. That being said, to retain all of the advantages of a networked system it would still be possible for individuals to lease licenses for project work and private study.
Shareable Via VPN
While this system shouldn’t have to use the internet, that’s not to say that being able to “remote” into the licence server wouldn’t be very useful. I have taught in institutions which favour Reaper purely because a fully functioning demo is available to students so they can work remotely. Pro Tools really loses out, particularly to Reaper and to Logic amongst students because these titles are more easily accessible, Apple’s generous site licences mean that Apple Pro Apps are usually installed on every Mac in an institution. This saturation approach works, and steers students towards Logic and FCP X. Pro Tools First should have been the solution to this but in my experience, I can honestly say I’m yet to meet a student who is using it. If the student could lease a licence to be able to work on projects on their own computer, either on Campus or at home, standards of submitted work would rise.
So Do PACE iLok Network Licenses Meet These Criteria?
Is seems that the PACE Network Licence system is LAN only. Client machines can connect to the server with zero configuration using Bonjour. Servers can be public or private, meaning that they can be browsable (with or without password protection) or hidden from the network.
From the documentation I’ve read, I can’t see a way to schedule licences. It is possible to allocate licences manually as shareable licences can be activated and deactivated by the server admin.
Dignified Boot Off Process
The server can be set up to require client identity information including an email address or phone number so it is possible to contact the user of a leased licence if it is needed by a higher priority user.
Groupable But Flexible
Reading the manual it looks like one approach to grouping licences is to have a separate licence server for each classroom. This sounds practical, the tutor machine in each room might be suitable. However if that machine were to be switched off then all the network licences would go with it (people inadvertently switching licence servers off isn’t unusual). I’d be happier seeing all licences on a single server in a locked server room and there is of course no reason why the server for a particular room needs to be in that room. If groups of licences were grouped onto separate servers then as long as it is correctly set up, the PACE iLok Activation Experience will look for available licences on the network and lease one if an available licence is found.
Shareable Via VPN
The network Licence system can be used across a VPN but the zero setup connection would no longer work as Bonjour discovery doesn’t work across subnets. With input from a network admin to set up a suitable config file or manually entering the IP address, a VPN can be used successfully. Firewalls can present an obstacle and might need to be disabled.
A couple of big caveats here. At the time of writing, although PACE iLok does support network licences, Pro Tools doesn’t yet support network licences, although it was announced with the Pro Tools 2018.1. As a result, I have yet to experience using this system. However as I explained at the beginning of this piece, I have used network licenses in an educational setting before and I understand the particular demands of that environment.
The conclusion is largely positive, it works LAN-only, it can work across a VPN. There is some control offered by the admin tools. The areas I’d change, if I could, would be the possibility of automating, or even better, integrating timetabling of licences as to really get value from this system it needs to be more flexible than the environment in which is it implemented. I’ve taught entire modules on Logic instead of Pro Tools just because the room with Pro Tools in it was being used at that time. Timetabling is complicated enough already, anything which can make it easier is very, very valuable.
Do you have experience of using or administering licence servers? What features do you think are essential?