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By Laurie McCabe
January 30, 2004
With the release of SoftGrid Enterprise Edition, Softricity has completed the transformation of SoftGrid’s image from a new version of Electronic Software Distribution (ESD) to an application management platform that uses virtualization technology to create utility computing environments.
“We have a new twist on on-demand delivery, which is the final nail in the coffin for those who thought of us as a streaming software company. What we’re offering now is the ability to offer virtualized apps without having to stream them over the network,” David Greschler, Softricity’s VP Marketing, told ASPnews.
SoftGrid’s “Application Virtualization” enables applications to run without installation or alteration to the host operating system, allowing any applications to run side-by-side without conflict or the need for regression testing. Without any re-programming, SoftGrid transforms Windows applications from products that must be installed locally into virtual services that can be centrally configured, managed, and deployed on-demand to desktops, laptops and servers.
“At the core, what we’re all about is the app virtualization. From that we’ve got this platform that really changes the lifecycle management of an application,” Greschler said. “Whether it’s packaging, deployment, support, termination, asset management — all those steps get changed when you begin with virtualization. You’re no longer regression testing, you can deliver things on-demand. Because the app is not dependent on a computer’s configuration, you can focus on a problem app instead of a problem system.”
What’s new in the Enterprise Edition is the idea of “Application Portability”, network-free delivery of virtualized applications via CD or data key. Once deployed, the virtualized applications have all the advantages of network-delivered SoftGrid applications — including license compliance and real-time access to updates and patches — without delivering applications across a network.
This method is ideal for end-users on low- or no-bandwidth connections, such as users on a dialup line, in branch offices, or people who move between offices. It’s useful in a Citrix environment as well, since most people using SoftGrid in a Citrix environment will pre-cache all of their applications on all of their servers so end users don’t have to wait for something to stream across the line, Greschler said.
“The delivery mechanism is important, but if you just had that, we’d just be a new way of doing Electronic Software Distribution. If you shoot it across a network in real time, but then install to that machine, you end up with 80 percent of the problems still there. You’ve eliminated the ‘sneakernet’ to install apps, but everything else is still there,” he said.
Another application of this technology is as an alternative delivery method — sharing the application files out on a large file server, according to Greschler. “This is an important feature for us, because it finally focuses on the reasons why people are buying our product. No one is buying this product just for the on-demand delivery; they’re buying it for the virtualization,” he said.
“Larger customers tend to think strategically. They’re beginning to see virtualization take place at the operating system level. They’re seeing it happen at the hardware level, at the storage level, at the database level, and at the network level. They understand that by virtualizing apps, they’re gaining that same benefit — the idea that you can dynamically deliver these resources in real-time.”
What SoftGrid does by virtualizing an application is really to turn it into a block of data. The applications that are sitting on the virtualization server are fundamentally files, made up of the virtual environment and the application code. They get sent across the network, instantly get turned into an application in the sense that they act like an application, and then get turned back into a file and cached locally.
Being able to treat applications as simple files has opened up several interesting applications for SoftGrid, Greschler said. Replication across branch servers, business continuity and disaster recovery, and the concept of “free seating” and “hoteling” desktops, where different people use the same desktops at different times, are just a few of the ways the technology is being used today, he said.
“People are beginning to see things in new ways once they can turn their apps into data and move them around. This release has been driven by customers, who are open to new ideas because theyre the ones feeling the pain.”
Since the virtualized applications are simply files, companies can plan for disaster recovery of their applications using the same methods and approaches as they’ve used for data. For branch server support, companies can use the same replication technology to automatically keep the branch offices in synch simply by making a change to the central server, instead of having to make changes to the central server and all of the branch servers.
Through Active Directory, users can log into any machine on the network and get just the applications they have the right to have, and their desktop will be personalized to them. Whether it’s a doctor in a clinic, workers moving between offices, or someone logging in from a hotel, Greschler said.
“One of our large financial customers is using this idea for business continuity. They’ve got mission-critical brokers at site A, and then second-tier IT people at site B. If site A goes down, they’ve been replicating the SoftGrid servers between the two sites, and the brokers can be bussed over to site B, the IT people will walk away from their machines, the brokers will log in and get just the apps that are theirs,” he said. “It’s sort of the vision of Active Directory finally happening.”
Another upgrade is SoftGrid’s ability to support over 1,000 concurrent connections on a single-processor server. The global application cache has been increased from 4 GB to 64 GB. In addition, the client software no longer needs to be installed on each user’s machine.
“The irony of our product has been that you needed a client on your desktop. We always said that client was the last piece of software you actually had to install. We’ve eliminated that problem by enabling the client to be installed in the background. Now if you log in and pass your credentials, the client will install itself in the background,” Greschler said.
SoftGrid Enterprise Edition is finding traction with customers in the airline industry, financial industry, healthcare, and education. Each vertical market sees a different benefit or combination of benefits from SoftGrid, according to Greschler.
One of Softricity’s customers, Northeastern University, today has a desktop with 200 applications. Their vision is to have public stations where students, faculty or staff can log on, and depending on their profile, they’ll get just the applications they need. For financial institutions, availability is everything. In healthcare, the pain is constant change — with concerns over HIPAA compliance and safety updates, their software is constantly being changed.
“It’s a broad solution, and our challenge is to find the right verticals that it maps to well to solve problems specific to those verticals,” he said.
When Softricity started selling SoftGrid a few years ago, 80-percent of its customers were Citrix users. “We were basically known as a tactical solution solving a problem in the Citrix environment,” Greschler said. Now, about 30- to 35-percent of SoftGrid customers are Citrix users, while the rest are either dual-mode, where they’re using a combination of Citrix and desktops, or pure desktops.
“In those cases, they’re seeing it as much more of a strategic solution, as a platform. That’s where the real opportunities are,” Greschler said. “When you walk into a large enterprise, it’s amazing to see the heterogeneity of their environment. They have a little Citrix here, some Unix there, some Windows here. To come in and have a solution that — while it obviously can’t support all their environments — can handle both their thick and thin environments really speaks well to the kind of solution we can offer. When you get out in the real world, it’s going to be a combination of server-based computing for some purposes, web for some purposes, and app virtualization for others.”
From a tactical perspective, SoftGrid speeds up delivery of applications, centralizes management, solves application conflicts and improves license compliance. As companies start building out using SoftGrid as their infrastructure, they bump into issues like business continuity and license compliance, which lead to SoftGrid’s strategic advantages, Greschler said.
“This gives them an opportunity to move their application infrastructure from one that is static to one that’s much more dynamic. The vision of application services being delivered over networks is finally coming to fruition here.”
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