Two out of every three UK companies think that concerns over software licensing could hamper their ability to roll out new technologies such as virtualisation or software-as-a-service. And 42 percent of companies who have implemented SaaS have had problems with software licences.

That's according to software management company SafeNet, whose survey of British companies found widespread anxiety over licensing. "There is plenty of confusion among UK enterprises," said Chris Holland, SafeNet's vice president of software rights, "software customers are worried that they're over-licensed, under-licensed and there a quite a few who just don't know."

As might be expected at a time when every business is looking to keep costs down, the biggest concern is over-licensing - more than twice the number of survey respondents are worried about paying too much than are worried about being under-licensed, said Holland.

Holland said that the model of software licensing that is currently being used is hampering customers being too rigid in its implementation. "If I was a business customer buying a large piece of software what I really want is predictability, knowing how much I'm likely to pay every month. What I don't want is large software companies ‘nickel and diming' me because I've had a few users more this month," he said.

However, the onset of virtualisation could change that said Holland, providing an opportunity to shake things up. This is something that most enterprises would agree with, pointing out that of the 93 percent of the customers surveyed who were looking to adopt virtualisation, most thought that things would get better - even though just over 10 percent of companies thought it would make things worse.

"It's an opportunity to adopt new practices," said Holland. "But software companies need to change. At the moment, there are often three approaches; those companies who say that you can't run my software in a virtual environment under any circumstances, those who say you can run by software but it will cost you and those who sticktheir fingers in their ears and go ‘la-la-la'." People are adopting virtualisation to save on power costs, those have to be real savings and not offset by paying more for licences, said Holland.

He envisaged a time when software would be bought like we currently buy a mobile phone where there's a choice between a fixed price or a usage charge - or a combinations of the two, where people are billed according to usage if they go a little bit over. "It's that combination between flexibility and predictability," he said.

It's the flexibility that's important added Holland. According to the survey, 77 percent of the customers put that as a high priority, while the same number of respondents reported that at least half of their software purchasing was decided by the licensing terms.