Softricity Deepens App Virtualization With Microsoft's Management System

*EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a series about alternative desktop technologies for improving management and security of Windows and other desktop platforms.

One Boston-based ISV is giving infrastructure partners a new way to virtualize and stream Windows applications to end users from within Microsoft's Systems Management Server.

At Microsoft's Management Summit 2006, Softricity rolled out Softricity Desktop 4.0 and SoftGrid 4.0. Version 4.0 offers tight integration with Microsoft Systems Management Server, rapid virtualization via its new Sequencer technology, more scalable centralized management and certification for VMware and Microsoft virtual machines.

Softricity's first SoftGrid for Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003 add-on was released in February. It allows solution providers to rapidly virtualize applications and deploy them from within SMS without having to deploy VMware or Microsoft Virtual Server. Solution providers said the product provides an application virtualization solution that delivers improved Windows desktop management and security out of the box.

"The use of virtualized applications is something that fits nicely into Microsoft's on-demand and virtualization strategies," said Paul Freedman, president of Coast Solutions Group, Irvine, Calif.

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SoftGrid 4.0 turns locally installed Windows applications into virtual network services that can be centrally managed and deployed on demand without any changes to the desktop, according to Softricity. SoftGrid 4.0's integration with the SMS Management Console allows for the management of virtual machines within SMS, and the upgraded platform offers native SMS inventory and metering integration so that virtual machines can be tracked, reported and stored in asset management systems.

Softricity pioneered the application streaming software category in 2001. The company’s technology, also called application sandboxing, is a hybrid of virtualization and application streaming technology that repackages applications and breaks them down into components that can be cached in a “sandbox” and streamed to end users.

The technology offers a compelling alternative to operating-system virtualization solutions such as VMware or Virtual Server because it enables applications to run in protected, isolated mode without the need to install or make changes to the host operating system.

Softricity's application streaming technology is categorized as a virtual desktop, one of three desktop models identified in a report by Forrester Research in January.

File system virtualization techniques employed by Citrix Systems and Altiris offer similar ways of isolating applications but are differerent from SoftGrid’s technology in that they virtualize only the file system, rather than the application, Forrester said. Application streaming differs from traditional PC "fat" clients and server-based thin-client models in that it virtualizes applications and gives end users dedicated access to a fully functional, centrally managed desktop. In this mode, applications are hosted on a server and delivered to either thick or thin clients. It enables users to provision applications, centrally update and manage them and give end users access to server-based resources.

SoftGrid 4.0 offers multiple application delivery options, including pushed delivery via SMS packages or a pull/on-demand model enabled by by Softricity's streaming delivery model.

SoftGrid 4.0 for Microsoft SMS and a more limited version known as SoftGrid for SMS Virtual Extensions Edition, which provides virtualization but not streaming, became available from Softricity and its partners this week.

"We have a product that allows you to manage and deploy virtual applications within SMS 2003," said David Greschler, marketing director at Softricity. "With [SoftGrid] 4.0, we have a virtual extensions version that allows you to manage the apps without any SoftGrid infrastructure, just using SMS's infrastructure.

According to Forrester, Softricity's combination of virtualization and streaming in SoftGrid delivers what customers want from desktop virtualization solutions: easier desktop management and improved security, without sacrificing any of the end-user desktop benefits.

Softricity partners said SoftGrid's integration with SMS gives partners a turnkey application virtualization solution.

"The convenience of having a common platform to handle the capabilities of SMS and virtual application distribution and streaming is a major benefit to administrators and to their clients," said Mike Miller, a vice president at Consultrix Technologies, a Softricity reseller in Ridgeland, Miss. "Even the task of [application] compatibility testing will be shortened and simplified. Application conflicts will be reduced. Clients will be able to access software on demand, without having to wait for the software to be installed on their device."

Application virtualization also eases software updating, since only code changes are streamed to the desktop, according to Softricity. Moreover, the 4.0 platform gives users more granular control, including the ability to schedule select virtual machine workloads to expire at defined time and date.

Still, the technology has some downsides, Forrester noted. Partners must prepare for complex repackaging of applications to enable them for the virtualized environment, although that’s performed just once and can be reused many times, the research firm said.

In addition, certain applications won’t work in virtualized environments, and virtualization products often support a limited number of operating systems, leaving legacy applications out of the loop, Forrester said.

Open source consultant Stephen Walli, a vice president at Cambridge, Mass.-based Optaros, said he will reserve judgment on whether virtualized application technologies from Softricity with SMS are easier to manage than traditional components.

"It's unclear to me that these packages will manage more easily when they're delivered as single entities than when shipped and managed in their component parts," Walli said. "I understand the lure of the promise … [but] when my system administrator friends tell me the fundamental ways it's making their worlds easier and better in a quantifiable way, then I'll buy into the idea."