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  • bkornell

Death to License Keys!

I’m going to cover a Tableau Server feature introduced in 2020.1: Login-based License Management (LBLM). At Abt Associates, we have dozens of researchers using Tableau Desktop licenses. Implementing LBLM has saved the company thousands of dollars, and it's made my life as a Tableau administrator a lot easier in the process.


You know the Tableau license key, right? That gnarly 20-character string that you copy/paste to unlock the beauty of Tableau Desktop or Prep?


T123-4567-8901-2345-6789




That worked fine when we had 5 or 10 Desktop users. But when that number grew, the hassle multiplied. User management with keys can involve:

  • logging into the Customer Portal to find license keys

  • emailing these keys out to users

  • asking users to deactivate license keys when you need to take them back

  • logging back into the Customer Portal to reassign licenses

  • writing Tableau support with issues deactivating keys (notably, from computers you can’t access)

Hovering over all this work are license costs. I had a hunch that the company might be wasting thousands of dollars on licenses that were assigned but not being used. There’s a Server feature called Tableau Desktop License Usage, but it needs to be enabled via command-line parameter during installation for Tableau Desktop. We hadn't done this.


Then I found a better way.


Login-Based License Management allows a user to activate Tableau Desktop/Prep by connecting to Tableau Server to verify their license level. No keys! This greatly simplified my job as an admin:

  • Granting a license: Log onto Tableau Server and change the user’s role to Creator

  • Revoking a license: Log onto Tableau Server and change the user’s role to Viewer

A big advantage of LBLM is the administrative view in Tableau Server that shows

  • Who activated a license (including the machine name and version number)

  • When that license was last used

  • Which licenses haven’t been used in 90 days or longer (configurable)

The last one is clutch. When I see a license isn’t being used, I can contact the user to let them know I’m taking the license back for now. If they need it in the future, it can be re-assigned in minutes.


The User Experience


We required LBLM for all users (details below), but here’s what happens with a default installation of Tableau Desktop. Users are shown two activation options (along with, in many cases, the option to activate a product trial):


After clicking on “Activate by signing in to a server”, the user is asked to enter the server name:


This directs the user to the sign-in page for their Tableau Server installation. They log in with their username and password and voila: product activated.


The user won’t be asked to log in again. Tableau Desktop will refresh the license every 14 days by default (which can be configured).



LBLM Deployment


Deploying LBLM was smooth sailing, with one hiccup that I’ll get to below.


New Tableau Server License Keys


When I told my rep that I wanted to turn on LBLM, he sent me new Tableau Server license keys and set the old ones to expire in a month. The keys didn’t require me to turn it LBLM immediately, but it enabled the functionality. I swapped out the keys, which required a Tableau Server restart. (Note: I don’t know whether new keys are still required with recent versions of Tableau Server.)


REST API


In our case, we need to reenable the REST API. At one point, Tableau recommended disabling the REST API as a security hardening step, if you weren't using it. But Tableau revised its security hardening steps in February 2021 to pull this recommendation, noting “the API is now used internally by Tableau Server and disabling it may limit functionality.”


Tableau Desktop and Prep


LBLM is now enabled by default on Tableau Server and Tableau Desktop. But I wanted to go a step further and require it of all users. Because Tableau Desktop was already installed, this required a registry edit on the machines where Tableau Desktop was installed:


reg.exe add HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Tableau\ATR /f /v LBLM /d required


When I install a new copy of Tableau Desktop now, I do it through the command line and set this option at install:


tableauDesktop-64bit-20xx-y-z.exe /quiet /norestart ACCEPTEULA=1 LBLM=required


That’s it! Afterward, users will no longer even see the option to use a license key.


The One Hitch


When deployed, I hit one stumbling block: activation worked, but the admin view on Tableau Server showed a blank screen. The repository tables confirmed that usage wasn’t being recorded.


Working with Tableau Support and the Tableau Community Forum, we identified the culprit. On Tableau Server, under Settings > General > Connected Clients, "Let clients automatically connect to Tableau Server" must be CHECKED. Connected client sessions are managed with OAuth access and refresh tokens; the token issuance/refreshes are used to log LBLM usage in the repository.


After updating this setting (which did not require a server restart), the Tableau Desktop users had to go to Help > Manage Product Keys and re-activate by signing into Tableau Server. After that, usage from their instance of Desktop or Prep was logged correctly.


Thanks to Monica South (Tableau), Kelly Figueroa (Tableau), and Geoff McAuslan (from the #datafam) for their help in resolving this issue!



Administrative Bliss


License-Based Login Management has already saved the company thousands of dollars, since we aren't paying for expensive Desktop licenses that sit idle. When the active license usage pushes up against what's available, I can contact my rep to purchase a handful of new ones. (Believe me: Tableau is happy to sell them.) It's also made my job as an administrator a lot easier, allowing me to reassign licenses in minutes. Here’s hoping that more organizations try LBLM out!

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