Softricity and VMware: The Desktop On Demand

Quoting from IT Director:

VMware, as you probably know, provides a virtual machine capability on Intel hardware, making it possible to make far more efficient use of server resources than if you just deploying the vanilla operating systems (whether Windows or Linux). It allows for multiple virtual machines to be deployed on a single server, each of which is completely independent of the other. However the available resources of the server are managed collectively. VMware delivers a true On Demand capability.

What is perhaps less well known is that VMware can also provide an important service for desktop hardware. This is partly because its desktop capability is still evolving. The VMware desktop capability, VMware ACE, is currently in beta release. It provides a standard virtual hardware configuration for the desktop, including the OS, web browser and all the applications – all of which are distributed from a central point. VMware ACE solves a major desktop support problem by enforcing standardization and thus making local software installation of any kind unnecessary. It is not the resource utilization that is the issue here, but manageability.

However, on its own VMware ACE does not solve all the support issues. This is where Softricity’s SoftGrid plays a complementary role. In fact the role it plays is complementary enough for VMware and Softricity to be jointly marketing the capability.

SoftGrid is also a virtualization capability, but of a different kind. SoftGrid virtualizes each application, ensuring that there can be no conflicts between one application and another. Let me emphasize this, it is important: No application conflicts. As with VMware ACE, a single image is defined centrally and distributed to the desktop, so there is no need to install software locally. Each application is installed in a “virtual partition” which runs on the desktop for those users that are registered for the application. Each is configured and managed centrally and deployed “on demand” to authorized users.

Now because everything, the VMware ACE virtual machine and the SoftGrid application partitions, runs locally, none of the local services of the Windows desktop are lost. Everything from attached devices to “cut and paste” capability is still available, and the desktop functionality is much the same as if neither VMware nor SoftGrid were operating.

So what does this deliver, when you add it all up?

Well, it delivers a much-longed-for manageability to the desktop. In the area of security for example, it prevents anyone loading any rogue software. It is all managed centrally. SoftGrid all but removes the need for regression testing when upgrades to applications occur – all that needs to be tested is that the upgrade works within the SoftGrid application partition. The combination of the two products will inevitably reduce the number of calls to the Help Desk. It will enable a more rational purchasing policy for desktop hardware – because this arrangement makes it possible to implement a more rigourous purchasing policy.

It also makes desktop software licensing far easier to manage and control. It can be also be used to manage mobile computers and it can function over wide area networks so it can provide central management to the remotest of sites. Finally, it provides a level of disaster recovery for the desktop, in the sense that, as long as adequate disaster recovery is provided for the central VMware and SoftGrid servers, they can deploy a user’s applications to any adequately configured PC anywhere.

So what is the impact on the user? As it happens, he impact is minimal. The way that SoftGrid works is that it does not install the whole application on the desktop but only the necessary parts of it, which usually amount to 20-40% of the code. For PCs that work in disconnected mode, the whole application including all the configuration details, is cached locally, but synchronized when connected. So, local operation is not prevented. VMware ACE provides a similar capability for the OS.

It is high time that the expensive problems of managing desktop (and laptop) computing were brought under control. The cost of desktop support and management varies with the complexity of the user base and how well it is already automated. In poorly automated environments, the annual cost can be ten times the one-time cost of the PC and its software. Even in well managed environments, it is usually thousands of dollars per desktop per year. The combination of VMware and SoftGrid will undoubtedly cut these costs significantly. Organizations that are struggling to hold down the costs of desktop management should take a look.