Managing the Adobe Creative Cloud

Adobe may have shifted to a subscription model but its products haven't completely shed their desktop legacy and the overlap can lead to licensing headaches.

Although Adobe is shifting away from perpetual licenses and toward a subscription model, these products still need to be managed like other desktop software. And if anything, this new paradigm creates an even stronger need for an automated software license optimization solution. Many worry about vendor lock-in and future price hikes, but there are other, more immediate risks and challenges that should be addressed prior to signing a new contract.

Adobe Creative Cloud (CC) is not software-as-a-service (SaaS), but a hybrid offering that combines the benefits of cloud-based storage and collaboration services with the power and flexibility of on-premise computing. The individual products are downloaded directly from Adobe and installed locally, where they can be inventoried like any other desktop product. And with the exception of the change from perpetual to subscription, the license model is essentially the same for CC as for Creative Suite 6 (CS6).

Although not currently available, large customers will eventually have a license management console, and enterprise customers will have the option for limited packaging and deployment solutions. For now, enterprise customers are still conducting their own license and deployment management, using the traditional installation media, just as they always have done. Even after Adobe starts to deliver the management tools and updated CC products promised, the license management puzzle will not be complete without additional capabilities and support.

At least for now, the CS6 and CC products are the same, even if they are delivered to customers differently. The installation evidence associated with installs from both CS6 and CC is identical and issues with ISO tag management capabilities make accurate differentiation of perpetual and subscription installations a real burden for license managers. Many customers depending on simple techniques for inventory analysis or license modeling may still find themselves to be paying for too many licenses, or worse, out of license compliance.

The legacy overlap 

Legacy CS6 and CC installations will continue to exist in environments for years to come, and the challenges related to managing these overlaps will persist. Software License Optimization strategies will have to adapt. Currently, Adobe typically avoids excluding trial installations during audits without extensive evidence. But what if CC installations revert to appearing as trial installs after a subscription is deactivated? It may be critical to account for these in the future. We must wait and see.

The regular activation checks implemented in CC applications will bring organizations to compliance, but it will not optimize licenses. A flexible policy for license reassignment across users creates savings opportunities, but only if analysis can be done to understand which licenses are being used and which are not. Accurately understanding individual license usage will still be critical to eliminating unnecessary licensing expenses.

For some customers, this new model will be a great value. For customers who are heavy users of the latest CS6 products, the new CC subscription model could be a bargain. A perpetual license for Master Collection costs $2600, just $80 more than a new 3 year subscription for CC for teams at $70 per month. Existing customers who get the special first year rate will save $440 over 3 years. Plus, subscriptions enable quick turnoffs, contracts willing, in cases where CC is no longer needed, or only needed for a short time.

However, most of my customers only issue Master Collection licenses to a select few creative professionals. Most simply don’t need it. At a little lower than the average for Design & Web Premium and Design Standard, $1500 is something of a conservative average estimate cost per typical CS6 bundle. At this price, the CC teams subscription for new customers costs $1020 more per license over the same 3 year period compared to the perpetual license, or $660 more per license for existing customers. That is a significant increase in cost per unit.

Stacking the deck in your favour

There are certainly customers for whom CC will represent some savings or little increase. Discounts are available for those willing to commit to annual payment schedules, multi-year terms or large volumes. But for the average customer, enterprise or consumer, this new model will likely mean higher costs given typical usage and upgrade cycles. Organizations with mature license management and a stable number of installations will lose money with subscription licensing.

Adobe is “all in” with this strategy. Customer interactions will have one purpose: to get customers onto the Cloud. Make sure you conduct the appropriate analysis to understand what’s best for you as a customer before entering into any new contract. As with software licensing in general, it takes the best data and analysis to make the best decision.

In the end, customers may not have much choice if they want to continue using Adobe’s products. But, with detailed license usage intelligence and keen financial analysis customers can stack the deck in their favor during negotiations.

Tom Canning is VP Asia Pacific for Flexera Software.

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