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MokaFive pumps virtual PCs through the cloud

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It's the type of problem we've all faced. You're a Windows user desperate to reflect on your Christian faith. Sadly, the only good bible study software out there resides in the open source realm on the Ubuntu Christian Edition operating system. Is Bible study software worth ripping and replacing your entire Windows desktop? We don't think so.

Thanks to yet another desktop virtualization software start-up, we can all now tap into the goodness of software such as the Ubuntu Christian Edition, Quake or even SAP demos with relative ease.

MokaFive has rolled out something called the Virtual Desktop Solution, which ships today in preview form. The MokaFive code resembles a number of other virtualization desktop plays, although the company does have a unique "cloud" angle. It will manage a company's virtual systems from its own data centers or let you create a centralized cloud of your own.

The MokaFive pitch really centers around performance and - dare we say it - ease-of-use.

The company has a number of patents pending for the creation of virtual systems using its LivePC format. Customers can take any OS and software combinations they want, package up that code into a bundle and create a LivePC. That package is then sent out from a server to a PC, which handles the processing grunt work, so applications with demanding graphics functions and the like work just fine.

This model gets around some of the lackluster issues associated with data center-based desktops. Customers often find that desktops sent out from the server room either to a full-blown PC or a thin client fail to hum away at usual speed, leaving users with a serious lag. With MokaFive, you just run the software directly on your PC and then kill it when you're done.

The LivePC technology also lets you work with the virtual systems offline and online. In addition, users can pop their running virtual systems on a USB stick, hop over to another computer and fire up the virtual system where they left off.

We tested out the MokaFive technology and found it pretty solid. It took just a few minutes to grab the base MokaFive download manager and then pick up some pre-built LivePCs that included Quake, MS-DOS 7.0 and Ubuntu Christian Edition 3.3. After the downloads, we just clicked a button to fire up the individual applications or operating systems. The performance matched or beat anything we've seen while running VMware on its own.

And, in fact, the MokaFive Engine relies on VMware Player for the moment. VMware allows customers to create free virtual systems with the Player software and also has appliances similar to those provided by MokaFive.

MokaFive, however, thinks it is the only company around to have acquired an all-you-can-distribute license from VMware for Player. In addition, MokaFive thinks it outclasses VMware's ACE virtual desktop software through its fancy cloud-based management package, which can send out things like patches and updates.

The relationship between MokaFive and VMware goes beyond Player and into the curious.

MokaFive, for example, originated out of NSF (National Science Foundation) funding at Stanford University - the same school behind VMware. In fact, one of VMware's co-founders Mendel Rosenblum is also a Stanford professor who has advised some of the MokaFive staff on their research work and who works next door to MokaFive co-founder and Stanford professor Monica Lam.

We have to wonder how VMware's shareholders will feel about all this should MokaFive take off.

But we digress.

Some of you may have seen the MokaFive web site before this week's official de-stealthing. That's because it has offered up access to the LivePC software for some time.

The stealthy company spelled its name Moka5 and featured the Lab section of its site, where users can distribute their own virtual appliances, more prominently. But it's all grown up now and presents a more corporate play.

Along those corporate lines, MokaFive reckons that companies of all shapes and sizes will find the virtual machines attractive for things such as software testing and security improvements.

It points to SAP as one customer that's feeding virtual appliances to salesman on USB sticks. The road warriors carry around demo software, and plug their goodies into client computers for the big pitch. Then, they just pull out, leaving nothing but fond memories behind.

As mentioned, the MokaFive software seems an awful lot like a number of products out there from the likes of VMware, Citrix and a host of start-ups. That said, the management bit does appear as a temporary edge. MokaFive will send out lightweight updates, just the bits that have changed, once it detects a working virtual appliance.

And, as with most desktop virtualization products, MokaFive presents some obvious security advantages in that you can just kill an infected appliance and then pull a clean appliance from a web server.

The company looks to go live in June. It refuses to release pricing just yet but plans to hit customers with an annual subscription fee that covers the number of end users tapping an appliance.

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