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Softricity now talking SMS

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A potential weak spot in the otherwise rather enticing offerings of Boston-based Softricity, looks like it gets filled today with the announcement the company has launched a version of its SoftGrid Virtual Application Server that integrates with Microsoft’s Systems Management Server (SMS).

The ability to provide sysadmin staff with applications management information plus management control over the SoftGrid environment is an important step forward. In the here and now it should give existing Windows shops a degree more comfort that they can integrate management of a virtualised client environment into what Forrester Research surveys have indicated is the most widely used client management tool.

Further out, however, co-founder and VP of corporate marketing David Greschler indicated that Softricity is already casting its eye upon the potential opportunities of Service Oriented Architectures (SOA), where integration with more complex infrastructure management tools will be a pre-requisite.

The SMS-compatible implementation will allow SoftGrid to push entire, virtualised applications down to client systems using SMS as the delivery mechanism, as well as providing the SMS asset discovery and metering tools with the capabilities needed to access the records of virtualised applications in order to track their operations.

The Softricity approach to virtualisation is novel, but till now has stood outside of the realms of systems management because it does not deliver installed applications to the individual clients. Instead, it transfers a data image of the elements of an application that a user requires.

These elements, drawn from the applications installed on back-end servers, will include relevant data and systems files, registry, fonts, COM objects and the like. These are virtualised as data, which is then sent to the SoftGrid client on each PC. This allows the PC to act as though it is running the applications locally, but in practice they are not installed, and have not altered the operating system in any respect. In fact, one of the most important roles for the client disk storage system is to act as the cache for the virtualised applications data.

The advantage of this is that users can bring their exact work environment to any client they log on to, so long as it is either on the network or accessing through a secured remote access procedure. The SoftGrid Server carries the log-on details of all staff, including all privileges, applications access rights and the exact look and feel required for each staff member’s workspace.

This work environment is maintained, regardless of the make, type or BIOS of the PC being used to log on, a factor that cannot be guaranteed if applications are actually installed without the probable intervention of IT support staff. For many non-IT-literate staff, using a work environment that does not change is an important factor, and prompted Greschler to observe: "Install (on PCs) is the root of all evil."

But the potential downside of this approach, particularly for many installations where systems management is an important part of the infrastructure mix, is that 'not installed' can also mean 'unmanageable'. So the ability to integrate with SMS now removes that obstacle.

For now, Softricity only targets Windows client systems, but Greschler did indicate that the next development would start to encompass elements of Windows Server, marking a first step towards the back-end servers. This is likely to appear within a few months, he suggested. It could also mark the first step towards a longer term objective, where Greschler sees the SoftGrid architecture being a potential delivery system for service-based processes rather than specific applications. That, however, is some way down the line. ®

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