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One of the hottest technologies on the market today is application virtualization, but the potential for profit is hard to calculate because the model hasn't quite caught on. Figuring that around 95 percent of all ISVs only sell applications that work through normal local operating system installations, solution providers can do the math. For instance, take the combined revenue generated from software licenses, which is in the billions, change the installation and price model, then add a service fee to stream and manage these software products, and the result is dreamy.
Application virtualization delivered in a SaaS model is perhaps the most lucrative business solution providers should expect to see for a long time to come. Channel partners servicing virtually every market sector can take advantage of this software delivery system.
While desktop virtualization can compete on some level with application virtualization, the technology is more corporate-centric. Desktop virtualization displays information in presentation mode. The caveat with displaying high-end productivity and professional software is obvious: Try providing 3-D animation or CAD programs in presentation mode, and users will immediately notice the limitations. Presentation mode is more useful when entering data into plain-vanilla corporate applications and simple productivity software.
That's not to say that desktop virtualization isn't useful. Desktop virtualization can solve some software compatibility issues in corporate environments by allowing different users to run multiple versions of the same application. However, virtualization is more of an added bonus and not a replacement for a SaaS-based, application-delivery model.
In order for an application to work in a SaaS deployment, it has to be Web-native. The pure application virtualization model (also referred to as application streaming) is by far the smartest choice for most solution providers servicing the SMB market. Streaming or passing applications through links avoids the headache of configuring applications locally and provides a full interactive and productive experience. What's more, it beats desktop virtualization hands-down because applications end up running locally.
Solution providers should look at SaaS-based application streaming as a business model rather than a software specification because the technology is valuable to businesses that might be interested in changing the old way of purchasing and maintaining applications. Solution providers can present a good business case by making applications available through the Web. They can certainly market this SaaS model by showing the strengths of virtualization or streaming applications without having to go through the Web.
Other approaches, such as sandboxing applications, are designed to work better in large corporate environments. For instance, Microsoft SoftGrid uses a sandbox architecture primarily to reduce and eliminate silos in a Citrix environment. SoftGrid allowed more applications to coexist without creating too much contention. Microsoft is pairing SoftGrid with Systems Management Server, so software can be delivered with it.
The sandboxing approach requires an agent to broker all communication between applications and external environments. This approach makes packaging, preparation and the interaction with applications more complicated to manage. Moreover, applications running in a sandbox can lose features and performance that users might expect if that application was normally installed.
Though rudimentary, downloading applications in a SaaS model also can compete at some capacity with a streaming model. By using some form of nonintrusive mode—in kernel or agentless mode—solution providers can deliver applications through secured Web sites. As long as the installation and configuration process is automated, users are only disturbed the first time they download the applications.