Security software maker Trend Micro has introduced a software-as-a-service programme through a major North American distributor, which covers nearly all its products and marks a major shift towards a more flexible, usage-based model.

The programme will be offered through Florida-based Tech Data, whose customers include MSPs, ISPs, ASPs, VARs, system integrators, independent software vendors and others. It covers about 400 usage-based products, corresponding to nearly all of Trend's products and services, minus appliances.

Trend's move is a major step towards usage-based pricing and licensing models, which have been steadily gaining steam across a number of different types of software. Chee Tan, Trend Micro senior director of business development, who introduced the programme at Tech Data's TechSelect Partner Conference in Salt Lake City last week, said the scheme is designed to be the "tipping point" that will get resellers to switch from competitors such as Symantec or McAfee.

As such, it is designed to be particularly attractive to resellers, requiring no up-front investment in licences and allowing resellers to pay only for the customers using the service in any given month.

Because the reseller owns the master software licence, not the end user, end users must maintain their relationship with the original reseller or risk losing their licence for the security software. Tan compared the scheme to mobile phone subscribers who stick with a single provider, and are rewarded with extra benefits such as better service.

This allows resellers to move away from a price-war mentality in trying to retain customers, Tan said.

Pricing remains constant for the duration of the subscription period, giving resellers predictable income and costs, he said. Margins should increase as well, Tan said, estimating 73 percent to 120 percent margins under the new system, compared to 20 percent for Trend Micro's traditional licensing model.