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We offer licensing options to give you a choice in how you purchase, consume, and deploy Cisco® software. Many customers today prefer Cisco Smart Licensing, a cloud-based approach to activate and manage licenses across your organization. Use this guide to better understand the licensing models available to you.
1. Licensing models
Cisco offers two primary licensing models: perpetual and subscription.
Perpetual license: Software with the right to use for an indefinite period of time. The license is typically locked to the device and additional annual fees are required to maintain support. Customers buy a new license when they buy a new device.
Subscription license: Software with the right to use for the length of the subscription term. Subscription models generally provide faster access to our latest features and innovations and more predictable cost structures. Additionally, support services are included with your subscription.
How you can purchase
Transactional: Both perpetual and subscription licenses can be purchased in ad hoc transactions. Each subscription transaction maintains its own term length.
Enterprise Agreement (EA): Purchasing through the Cisco Enterprise Agreement provides customers economies of scale and license management simplicity. Cisco EAs provide financial predictability, access to incentives, and subscription co-termination.
We are standardizing our software licensing model as far as offers, terms, and metering across product portfolios, making it easier for customers to understand, purchase, and manage their Cisco licenses.
Cisco subscriptions are available in monthly terms or in one-, three-, five-, or seven-year terms, based on the offer.
Cisco has three standard usage meters for measuring license consumption: per user, per device, and per capacity.
User: Priced per user with access to the software
Device: Priced per device with access to the software
Capacity: Priced on the potential amount of software value consumed
Each category aligns with specific meters and definitions.
User: Unique User, Knowledge Worker, Active User, Named Agent, Named User, Covered User
Device: Device, Workload, Appliance
Capacity: Bandwidth, Concurrent Agent, Concurrent Connections, Concurrent Active Endpoints, Log Volume, Management Units, Circuit, Concurrent Meetings, Session, Transaction, Pack, Query Volume Rate, Throughput, Instance, Ports, Route Prefix, Daily Submission, Flows
Learn more about our software and cloud services under our End User License Agreement (EULA) and product-specific terms.
2. Smart Licensing vs. traditional
There are two main methods to deploy and manage your licenses.
Traditional Product Activation Key (PAK) licensing: Requires customers to configure devices individually using a license key and does not provide customers with visibility into licenses they own in aggregate. Typically, Cisco PAK licenses are acquired at the point of sale and activated through one of our licensing management tools. PAK licensing is steadily giving way to cloud-based Smart Licensing.
Cisco Smart Licensing: Provides customers with access to a pool of licenses they can use across their organization and through online portals. Smart Licensing gives customer’s visibility into what they have purchased and what they are using.
|Smart Licensing||Traditional PAK licensing|
A single interface with a centralized view of your software assets and device usage simplifies management.
Viewing and managing Cisco inventory is more challenging because the licenses require multiple portals and tools.
No PAKs are required, and you can easily unlock and activate devices yourself.
Every device must be registered and can be unlocked only with a license key.
Pooled licenses are flexible and can be used with different devices. They can also be consumed beyond the original purchase and reconciled later.
Node locking limits each license to only one specific device.
Here’s how Smart Licensing works
With Smart Licensing, a pool of licenses is associated to a Cisco Smart Account. Like banking, new licenses are automatically deposited into your Smart Account, increasing your account balance of licenses (also known as entitlements). As licenses expire or are terminated, your inventory balance decreases.
Smart Licensing offers many advantages
Smart Licensing simplifies the way you purchase, deploy, organize, and optimize Cisco software licenses.
Easy activation: Smart Licensing establishes a pool of software licenses that can be used across your entire company—no more Product Activation Keys.
Unified management: Cisco provides a complete view into all of your Cisco products and services in an easy-to-use portal, so you always know what you have and what you are using.
License flexibility: Your software is not node-locked to your hardware, so you can easily use and move licenses as needed.
Smart Account administrators can convert traditional licenses to Smart Licensing themselves with Cisco Smart Software Manager. It’s also possible to set up automatic device-led conversion for any new devices that are added to a Smart Account. You can also convert licenses and PAKs in bulk. The best practice is to assign traditional/classic licenses to Smart Licensing at the time of purchase via commerce tools such as Cisco Commerce Workspace.
Learn more about converting licenses with these on-demand resources:
3. Get started
The first step to using Smart Licensing is to set up your company’s Smart Account. It’s the centralized location where you can view users, register products, and manage your Smart Licenses.
Watch Smart Account explainer video
Request access to an existing Smart Account
Real-time visibility. Get a current view and immediate insights into your software licenses, entitlements, and users across the organization.
Centralized management. Enjoy a single location for all your Cisco software assets (including PAK licenses and Enterprise Agreements) and the ability to freely move licenses around your network.
Telemetry. Have the flexibility to organize licenses by department, product, geography, or other designation.
Better organization. Smart Accounts are simple to use and take less than five minutes to create.
Learn more about the benefits of Smart Licensing ( insert link to video )
Virtual Accounts are subaccounts you customize within your Smart Account to further organize and optimize Cisco licenses. They can be based on department, geography, or other definitions that you determine.
Learn about Smart Account best practices
Smart Account approvers can edit Smart Account properties, view all users, accept agreements, and view event logs. Approvers cannot manage licenses.
Smart Account administrators can edit Smart Account properties, add and edit users and Virtual Accounts, accept agreements, view event logs, and manage licenses for the entire Smart Account.
Smart Account users can access all Virtual Accounts and perform licensing activities but cannot create new Virtual Accounts or manage users.
Virtual Account administrators can add and edit users to assigned Virtual Accounts, view event logs for assigned Virtual Accounts, view account agreements, and manage licenses for the assigned Virtual Accounts.
Virtual Account users can manage licensing for Virtual Accounts they are assigned to, but they cannot add new users.
If your business doesn’t need the full functionality of a Smart Account, we offer a scaled-back version—the Limited Use Smart Account. It’s made for small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that do not have a company domain email ID and use a public email domain.
Read the Limited Use Smart Account quick reference guide
After creating a Smart Account, you can begin self-managing license deployments throughout your company using the cloud-based Cisco SSM interface. The SSM:
the Cisco Smart Software Manager (SSM) explainer video
Access the Cisco Smart Software Manager (SSM)
4. Deployment options
You have four deployment choices with Smart Licensing. Use one across your organization or mix and match as you like.
For additional support, go to software.cisco.com.
|Summary||Manage all of your license usage with the Cisco Smart Software Manager (SSM) at Cisco.com.||Deploy the Cisco SSM On-Prem license server using a free, machine-based download. This replicates the cloud-based user experience of our direct-connect method, but it keeps all communication on your premises. Once a month, the SSM On-Prem server and SSM synchronize databases via network-based transfer or offline manual transfer.||Deliver licenses to Cisco devices with manual reservation codes, similar to PAKs. Because it’s offline, any changes to license usage must be processed manually. This option is not recommended and therefore is disabled by default on all Smart Accounts.|
|Applications||This is our most widely used type of deployment. It requires connectivity between your Cisco devices and Cisco.com via the internet. Direct deployment works best for most organizations.||This method balances the simplicity of automated, cloud-based deployment with the security of local protected networks. Mediated deployment is ideal for financial institutions, service providers, utilities, and government organizations.||This deployment method is for high-security environments. It’s equivalent to node locking, but with tracking ability for Smart Licensing.|
|Advantages||This is our simplest deployment model. It requires zero setup of any Cisco infrastructure components.||Mediated deployment works for all products and provides the same experience as direct cloud access, but with higher security.||This deployment method is the most secure. It requires no additional infrastructure or ongoing communication.|
|Disadvantages||Devices are connected over the internet, either directly or through HTTPS proxy servers, which may not comply with some highly regulated industries or businesses with strict data security requirements.||There are costs involved with installing and maintaining the software application virtual machine, as well as the cost of data exchanges when manual synchronization is used.||Disconnected deployment is limited to a subset of Cisco products. All license changes must be processed manually, including RMAs.|
Cisco Smart Licensing–enabled products support a built-in evaluation period from 60 to 90 days. This allows you to try licenses before connecting to Smart Licensing directly. It’s also a bridge between the time a product is first installed and when it’s licensed. Evaluation modes don’t allow use of export-controlled functionality due to U.S. export law. Otherwise, most Cisco products provide full functionality during the evaluation period. For more details on the actions each product takes, including when evaluation periods expire, please review the product documentation summary.
Customers are notified by their Cisco products when they begin using evaluation licenses. Since there’s no connection to software.cisco.com for unregistered devices, there are no notifications or alarms on Cisco Smart Software Manager (SSM). However, the Cisco product will display the appropriate information on its user interface.
Products that are in an evaluation state send a syslog (%SMART_LIC-4-EVAL_WILL_EXPIRE_WARNING) with the following frequency:
Products that are in an evaluation-expired state send a syslog (%SMART_LIC-3-EVAL_EXPIRED_WARNING) weekly until the issue is resolved.
The Smart Licensing Using Policy is an evolved version of Smart Licensing. Starting with Cisco IOS® XE 17.3.2/17.4.1, all Cisco products running these versions of the operating system software will support only the Smart Licensing Using Policy. PAKs and Specific License Reservation (SLR) keys will persist through upgrades and remain intact unless removed.
The Smart Licensing Using Policy simplifies day-zero operations and ongoing maintenance for our customers. The product will not boot in evaluation mode, and per-product software registration is not required, nor is ongoing communication every 30 days per product with your cloud-hosted Smart Account on Cisco Smart Software Manager. Without having your products connect back to Cisco, you can achieve software license compliance via reporting activities, such as by:
5. License usage compliance
As Cisco products are activated and configured, they call home to their Smart Account and report usage in various ways. This communication indicates the licenses that are needed and, with traditional Smart Licensing, also returns the current availability details. For traditional Smart Licensing, one of the following responses is received by the device:
For the new Smart Licensing Using Policy feature, the following applies:
Smart Licensing isn’t a strict system in the way that traditional node-lock technologies are. Instead, it is highly flexible and doesn’t lock licenses to individual devices. Smart Licensing provides a real-time monitoring and accounting of software use and light enforcement capabilities for overuse of licenses, subscriptions, and term expirations.
6. Manage your entitlements
My Cisco Entitlements uses your Smart Account to provide a consolidated view of all your assets and entitlements, including services, subscriptions, licenses, and devices.
7. Resources for Cisco partners
Smart Licensing makes it easier for your customers to manage their Cisco licenses and right-size their spend. Cisco partners get Partner Holding Accounts, a unique type of Smart Account that helps partners plan and manage Cisco licenses before they’re deployed to customers.
A Partner Holding Account is a way for Cisco partners to temporarily store orders before they’re deposited into customers’ Smart Accounts. Partners don’t always know the end customer or their Smart Account when ordering. In this case, orders can be temporarily assigned to a Partner Holding Account. Once a customer is identified, orders can be transferred to their Smart Account. The main difference between Smart Accounts and Partner Holding Accounts is that licenses can be consumed only in Smart Accounts, not in Partner Holding Accounts. Assigning a Partner Holding Account on an order provides companywide access to the order. Learn more about Partner Holding Accounts.
If you still have questions, please contact your Cisco partner or account manager or click the resources below.
8. Additional resources