All eyes on virtual apps at MMS

Application virtualization demos set hearts afire at the Microsoft Management Summit. Could it be the next big thing after server virtualization?

SAN DIEGO, Calif.--Like princesses at the ball, the application virtualization vendors stole the limelight from the more mundane manageability tools at Microsoft's big management pow-wow this week.

At the Microsoft Management Summit 2006, Altiris Inc., of Linden, Utah, featured a demonstration of virtualization technology that runs applications on top of the operating system, so two different versions can exist on the same system without interfering with one another. This kind of scenario, according to one user at the show, would allow managers to escape from what he called "DLL hell."

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Chris Casillas, a team leader who tests software in his position at Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico, watched the demonstration. "It would be nice to have something that makes it possible to run an old version and new version of an application on one machine," Casillas said. "We have some old software that is running on NT. We can't upgrade those machines."

Microsoft sees the significance in this arena, said Andy Mann, an analyst with Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) in Boulder, Colo. The software company has teamed up with Boston-based Softricity Inc. to offer SoftGrid 4.0, a technology similar to the Altiris product.

In his keynote on Wednesday, Kirill Tatarinov, corporate vice president of Windows and enterprise management, demonstrated how SoftGrid 4.0 lets administrators virtualize and stream Windows applications within the Systems Management Server (SMS) infrastructure.

The demonstration caught the attention of many administrators at the event. "We've heard from Softricity before, but we will definitely talk to them now," said Jimmi Schaeffer, an SMS administrator with SimCorp A/S in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Schaeffer said he would be interested in learning more about how virtualizing applications would work with Citrix. "We have a lot of offshore developers we work with through Citrix," he said. "We often use uncommon programs like Visual Studio. We would probably virtualize something like that."

EMA's Mann said he thought application virtualization, while hot, might take some time to catch on. He said the immediate growth in virtualization would continue to be in server consolidation.

"People are still trying to get a handle on consolidation," Mann said. "There are some clear and quick cost benefits with consolidation, but the benefits of application virtualization are not as clear yet."

Other IT managers agreed that it wasn't clear how application virtualization would fit into their current agenda. "It sounds neat," said Jim Eubanks, an administrator based in Kansas City, Kansas, working for Sprint. "But I just don't see why we would need it."

Still others had questions about how the technology is supported. "Often with new technology, there can be problems [regarding support]," said Chris Watkins, an administrator working in London for Xstrata, a Swiss-based mining company. "There are a lot of questions about support that would need to be answered."

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