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By Laurie McCabe
January 30, 2004
“What we see ourselves doing is providing an important layer to utility computing,” David Greschler, VP Corporate Marketing and Softricity co-founder, tells ASPnews. “It’s a move from things being static to things being dynamic. In real time, the IT resources you need get configured and delivered on demand.”
In the past year, the big push by major IT vendors has been in utility computing — shared, on-demand operation and delivery of IT. Each one has its own name for its vision — IBM’s On-Demand Computing, HP’s Adaptive Enterprise, Sun’s N1 Architecture, Microsoft’s Dynamic Systems Initiative — but Greschler says it’s all about the same thing.
“It’s the idea that all these pieces have to work together, but that they shouldn’t be sewn together. They need to interact with each other in a temporary way, and then they need to get reconfigured and do it in another way based on different needs and different demands. At the end of the day, utility computing is about immediate gratification — getting what you want when you want it. People can understand that. It’s always been something that people wanted,” he says.
The result is accelerated responsiveness by IT, more effective use of resources and reduced costs, he says.
“The fact that all these applications don’t work well together means they have to keep throwing hardware at the problem. Eventually, it’s not even the hardware that causes problems, it’s managing all that hardware. You can’t keep adding new projects to an enterprise and keep building new things for it. You’ve got to find a way to take all your computing resources and have them do one task one day and another task the next day.”
Today, the utility computing conversation centers around the “plumbing”, things like hardware (Grid computing), operating systems (virtual machine software), networked storage (SANs) and networks (NAS, virtual private networks). “The idea is that hardware should be more virtualized, where you just throw whatever process needs to happen at it,” Greschler says.
What he finds most interesting is the work in virtualizing the operating system that VMware, an infrastructure provider whose VirtualCenter virtual infrastructure management software divorces the hardware from the software management, allowing the hardware to be managed as one large pool, similar to the virtual machine technology developed for mainframes. VMware was recently acquired by EMC to supplement its Information Lifecycle Management initiatives.
“With VMware, you’re no longer attaching an operating system to a piece of hardware, but rather it’s detached, and you can dynamically allocate sessions to whatever hardware needs to be there,” he says. “This plumbing is all really important. But the area where the most change takes place, and where the most administration takes place, is at the application layer. What we’re bringing to the table, not unlike VMware does between the operating system and the hardware, is the ability to detach the application from the operating system; this concept that you can run it anywhere you need to run it, in real-time,” Greschler says.
SoftGrid 3.0, released in November, enables IT organizations to transform any application into a centrally managed utility that can be deployed in real-time to desktops, laptops and terminal servers. Instead of installing the application locally for each client, the application is run through a wizard and virtualized, wrapped in a protective run-time “sandbox” environment. This allows applications to execute without being installed and without altering the host computer, enabling any application to run side-by-side with any other application on the same computer.
“At that point, they don’t have to worry about regression testing, or tracking the changes, or testing the install. All they do is place it on the SoftGrid server, assign the rights, and they’re off and running,” Greschler says.
SoftGrid’s delivery technology then delivers small portions of application code on an as-needed basis. A local, protected cache ensures that code only needs to be delivered once, regardless of how many times it’s used.
In a terminal server environment, this solves issues with application conflicts, which allows customers to eliminate software installation and regression testing, which greatly accelerates updates to Terminal Services and Citrix MetaFrame servers.
It also allows a customer to run applications that previously could not run on Terminal Services, such as poorly written applications, or multiple versions of the same application which may write to the operating system in such a way that only allows a single instance of itself to run.
The result is not just simplified administration, but a reduction in the need for new servers required to keep applications separate. Without SoftGrid, some customers tend to have to create server “silos” to eliminate conflicts, so they end up having to run their terminal servers at less than optimal capacity — often somewhere in the range of 20- to 30-percent capacity, Greschler says.
“Because they are eliminating server silos, running any app on any server at the same time, many of our customers have been able to dramatically consolidate a lot of their Terminal Services and Citrix deployments,” he says. “We’ve had a number of customers who have been able to take things down by a factor of more than 50 percent.”
While these benefits are ideally suited for a Citrix MetaFrame environment, SoftGrid is also able to offer things that Citrix does not for large deployments of desktop PCs or laptops, a category which makes up half of Softricity’s customers, Greschler says.
“There’s no silver bullet to solving the heterogeneous IT environments out there. People will always need remote access. There will always be a need for centralized data management. The idea of server-based computing is very strong and still has a place until people replace all their apps, which will never happen,” he says. “But it doesn’t solve every centralized application management issue. What we’re evolving to is embracing more of the clients out there, whether it is a terminal server or a desktop or laptop, so you can have the same value proposition as server-based computing, but be able to extend it beyond remote access or data centralization to any application or any client out there.”
In the case of a mobile client, the entire application is delivered and cached, and a software license is “checked out” for a period of time set by the administrator. The mobile user can then disconnect from the network use all the features of the application for that period of time, after which the software will disable itself until it reconnects to the network to re-authenticate and get a new license.
“You still have the centralized management, but you no longer have to be tethered to the network,” Greschler says. “It’s absolutely software-as-a-service, because it’s being managed centrally, deployed in real-time when the person needs it. The difference is, the person can detach from the network, and the administrator can give the person access for a set time.”
Softricity’s customer base grew at an unprecedented rate in the fourth quarter of 2003, Greschler says. The company signed on 25 new global customers, including Prudential and ABN AMRO in North America, and Avinor, SPO and Technikum Wien in Europe. Softricity now has more than 100 customer organizations worldwide.
It reaches these customers through both a direct sales force, which it doubled in the past few months, as well as through strategic relationships with more than 20 key distributor and reseller partners in North America, Europe and Asia.
Whatever the current industry buzzword, Softricity has a clear focus on its purpose, Greschler says. “The concept we see ourselves doing, whether you call it utility computing or on-demand computing or whatever, is this concept of delivering software in real time. Our name is right alongside that — the merging of software and electricity as an idea.”
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