Virtual App Wars Move From OS To Desktop

virtualization software

As the focus on virtualization moves beyond the server and operating system to desktop applications, new offeringsincluding Microsoft's recently acquired SoftGrid platform and Citrix's Project Tarpon technologywill hit the streets later this quarter. AppStream's AppStream 5.0, StreamTheory's AppExpress, Altiris' Software Virtualization Solution and Ardence Software Streaming Platform are other alternatives that stream desktop applications.

Partners and customers increasingly are eyeing application virtualization and streaming offerings to reduce desktop application conflicts, management and security woes; speed up upgrades to Windows and Office; and stream application bits to the desktop on demand.

The market for such software remains in its infancy, but one Citrix partner predicted the availability of new application virtualization products will open new opportunities for VARs.

"Being able to choose, at the time an administrator provisions access to an application, whether to publish it and run it from the server or to stream it to a desktop is extremely powerful," said Marc Mangus, vice president of practice development at MTM Technologies, a Citrix partner in Houston. Citrix's Tarpon will enable streaming to PCs and Windows Terminals without any compromise on functionality, he said.

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Application virtualization separates where desktop applications are used from where they run. According to Gartner Group, app virtualization creates a wrapper or container around the app configuration to isolate it from the operating system. Desktop applications are then streamed to a standard PC desktop and executed locally without installing them to the disk, much the same way video is streamed to a desktop from the Internet.

Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) predicts the application virtualization market will grow significantly, but it will be some time before the dollars start rolling in. According to a recent EMA survey of 150 enterprises and SMB customers, OS and server virtualization will be used at least partially by 97 percent of respondents, and app virtualization will be used by 94 percent.

"At the moment, we're seeing a big pickup in server virtualization and running multiple operating systems on base hardware," said Andi Mann, senior analyst at EMA. "Application virtualization will become more important over the next 12 to 24 months. We're in an early growth period now."

Mann said there's plenty of room for AppStream, Ardence and Altiris, but Microsoft and Citrixclose partners in the terminal services software market for more than a decadeno doubt will face off as key rivals in this market as desktop application delivery moves to an on-demand model.

NEXT: The first shots in the virtual apps battle. Microsoft, Redmond, Wash., threw the first salvo in May when it announced plans to buy Boston-based Softricity, just months after Citrix announced an internal project to develop application virtualization software called Tarpon. Citrix once mulled buying Softricity, a major Citrix ISV, several sources told CRN.

Microsoft completed the deal in July and announced it will release the first two company-branded versions of its Softricity SoftGrid app virtualization platformSoftGrid for Desktops and SoftGrid for Terminal Servicesin the near future at reduced prices. Microsoft also said it will announce support for Windows Vista and the Windows Longhorn server in the future.

Microsoft channel partners that currently support Microsoft Virtual Server and VMware are optimistic about their prospects in the application virtualization space.

"We are a huge proponent of Microsoft's Softricity, and our clients are amazed by its capability and effectiveness," said John Dodge, solutions architect at Foedus, a virtualization software solution provider in New York. "We've had clients revising their entire year's budget based on the Softricity value proposition."

Citrix, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., will take a page from Microsoft's own playbook to beat its longtime partner and new rival and entice partners and customers to its own forthcoming app virtualization and streaming technology, code-named Tarpon.

Unlike stand-alone application virtualization solutions from Microsoft and AppStream, for example, Citrix plans to integrate the Tarpon application virtualization technology into the company's Presentation Server 4.5 upgrade, which will debut at Citrix iForum in October.

In spite of the co-opetition between the two software partners, solution providers claim Microsoft's intent to enter the market and immediate cost cutting is already beginning to accelerate demand for all application virtualization software.

Provision Networks is an ISV that partners with Softricity and last week launched a VMware-based solution for converting PC applications into on-demand services.

"I can tell you frankly that I'm seeing many companies now moving quickly beyond PCs to large deployments of [Softricity] SoftGrid," said Paul Ghostine, CEO at Provision Networks, Reston, Va. "Maybe it's a combination of the new price point and the fact that now it's a Microsoft product, not that of a smaller company with 200 or so customers."

Partners that support Microsoft and Citrix will likely have to choose between the two offerings or support both as competitive, not complementary, products.

"Microsoft's acquisition of Softricity's technology completely makes the Citrix Tarpon project redundant for Microsoft. More than just competitive, Microsoft has made the call and decided that they want to own the enabling technology for application delivery and make it part of the OS," said Sameer Jagtap, director of product management at Surgient.

"In the short term, I anticipate Microsoft will position this for solving an immediate problem such as managing application upgrades and patches," Jagtap continued. "Longer term, it can be anticipated that we will see a shift toward delivery of applications on top of the OS in this manner."

NEXT: Closer look at the products and players. Initially, Microsoft's SoftGrid code will be positioned as a tool for eliminating applications incompatibilities and enabling quick migrations from Office 2003 to Office 2007, Mann said. But ultimately, it's viewed as a key enabling technology for Microsoft's Software-as-a-Service platform, known as Windows Live and Office Live.

Citrix said integrating the Tarpon technology into its core server will simplify deployment of applications on-demand and strengthen Citrix's evolving identity as a leading application delivery infrastructure provider.

Citrix's Tarpon component will be available as an add on-service in Presentation Server at an attractive price point, Citrix said. Users also have the option of deploying Tarpon-only licenses.

"All the bits and bytes for Tarpon are completely integrated into Presentation Server 4.5," said Sumit Dhawan, director of product management for Citrix's Virtual Systems Group. "If you're a channel partner, the rollout of this technology is much easier from one platform than buying another application streaming product."

AppStream, another major application streaming player, launched its version 5.0 platform in late July. The Palo Alto, Calif., company's platform is a streaming solution that allows any Windows application to be executed on a desktop without being installed locally.

AppStream, backed by corporate investors including Goldman Sachs, Sun Microsystems and CA, partners with VMware and Ardence for virtualization. Ardence, NeoWare and Wyse also offer software streaming by delivering the PC image to the client. Ardence's platform, for example, streams both the OS and applications from a hard disk.

The competition dynamics are heating up. In May, StreamTheory, Irvine, Calif., which markets AppExpress, filed a patent infringement case against its powerful rivals, Microsoft Softricity, AppStream and Exent Technologies, Bethesda, Md.

There's a sizable opportunity for VARs and managed services providers, vendors say. Microsoft, Citrix, AppStream, StreamTheory, Altiris and Ardence are all recruiting partners to sell and support their app virtualization solutions.

In recent years, as VMware has paved the virtualizaton market on the server side, VARs have become more familiar with the technology. Citrix's channel was introduced to Project Tarpon during the company's annual Solutions Summit Event in the first quarter. In April, Citrix launched the Tarpon Alpha program for Citrix VARs worldwide, the company said.

Citrix's partners say Tarpon's integration into Presentation Server gives them a strong sales and upgrade opportunities.

"There are other streaming products on the market, but being able to have one management platform to provision applications and cover virtually any access scenario is really powerful," MTM's Mangus said. "Softricity is one of [the other solutions], and we have lots of experience with it. The problem is it doesn't solve nearly as many access problems as Citrix does. So when you combine them both and just use SoftGrid for streaming, you end up with a really expensive solution."