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Virtual desktop helps standardize environments

VMware has brought its server-virtualization technology to the desktop with an ACE in the hole.

IT administrators who struggle to keep their enterprise desktops standard and secure, have a new option.

VMware Inc., today introduced its Assured Computing Environment (ACE), which essentially gives administrators a way to put different personalities on one desktop by allowing multiple environments to run on the same machine.

It's a way for administrators to control, not just the manageability of the environment, but who can get at what.

John Humphreys,

IDC analyst

The software encapsulates an operating system, applications and other data in a virtual machine and lets administrators apply policies to the software, which is then deployed and managed on desktops across the enterprise, company executives said.

One expert said the software could be used to let administrators create an isolated virtual machine on a desktop that would let off-network users -- such as consultants or telecommuters -- access a network in a controlled, secure way.

"A user could open this virtual machine on their desktop, see what they could access, how long they had access and when that access expires," said John Humphreys, an analyst at International Data Corp., a Framingham, Mass., market research company. "It's a way for administrators to control, not just the manageability of the environment, but who can get at what."

Some of the product's features include the ability to control lifecycle, security settings, network settings, system configuration and user interface capabilities. IT administrators can also prevent unauthorized ACE environments from accessing the enterprise network. And end users can also be prevented from copying enterprise information, the company said.

IT experts like the idea of having a way to mimic the PC environment, in the same way that server environments can be virtualized today. "Right now we control guest workers with Group Policy and Active Directory, and that always doesn't work the way you want it to at times," said Ernie Coldwell, a network analyst at MAHLE Industries Inc., a Morristown, Tenn.-based automotive parts supplier. "It's OK for the most part, but it would be better if we

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didn't have to reconfigure the whole machine.

One IT administrator said he has two uses for ACE. Scott Worthington, a technology support analyst at Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business in Tempe, Ariz., said he will use the software in computer labs in situations where a faculty member wishes to use an application that no one has had time to test.

All of the school's lab computers are based on one model, or "image." Deploying new software without putting it through its paces has the potential to "break that image," Worthington said.

A second use involves helping MBA students at the business school who use their corporate computers. The school is a Microsoft shop and everyone needs to have the same version of Office. "But some corporations use Notes, some have different firewalls, proxy settings -- they can't connect to computers on our networks," Worthington added.

"If we install [ACE] on these company computers, that lets them connect to our network, use network resources and have a school image without them having to carry another computer," he said.

ACE is currently in beta and will ship later in 2004. There is a per-user price of about $100 per laptop. There is also an administrator-console pricing plan that will be released when the product ships, said Michael Mullany, vice president of marketing at VMware Inc., which is based in Palo Alto, Calif., and owned by EMC Corp.

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