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Wanova, which has just come out of stealth mode having landed its first batch of venture capital dough, has claimed a new - and more importantly, a usable - twist on virtual desktop infrastructure, or VDI.

There are a lot of different approaches to VDI, but the basic idea is that you host virtualized instances of PC operating systems back in the data center and then stream them down to thin clients out on the network or linking in through virtual private networks.

This all sounds good, and relatively easy, until end users lose their network connection or have to work in offline mode - such as when they are traveling and on an airplane. Then, VDI basically turns your machine, be it a desktop PC or a laptop, into a very big paperweight.

There are other issues with VDI, such as the fact that the performance end users experience as they run their desktop applications depends in large measure on whatever else is going on in the corporate network.

Even with some clever engineering in some VDI setups to render multimedia files and graphics locally on the device - and not over a network link back on the servers - the desktop experience can be clunky.

And it can also be expensive, with maybe somewhere between 25 and 30 virtual Windows desktop images tops being packed onto a single server.

Learning curve

Issy Ben-Shaul, one of the founders at Wanova, was the chief technology officer at Cisco Systems' Application Delivery business unit, which sells stuff to accelerate applications delivered from data centers and which competes with products from Riverbed, Citrix Systems, NetEx, and others.

Cisco bought its way into the application acceleration biz when it acquired Actona Technologies in 2004. Ben-Shaul was one of the co-founders of Actona, along with Ilan Kessler, who was a researcher at IBM and Qualcomm and who has joined Ben-Shaul again in founding Wanova. Kessler reprises his role as chief executive, and Ben-Shaul his role as chief technology officer at the new company.

The idea behind Wanova Mirage is simple enough: blend the best of the VDI approach with running a local copy of an operating system on a laptop or desktop PC client. Wanova will be demonstrating its Mirage product at the VMworld extravaganza in San Francisco, California, next week, and plans to do a formal product announcement sometime in the fourth quarter.

Ben-Shaul was willing to give a few hints about how the new product will work.

Instead of moving the desktop image back into the data center and trying to serve it over the network to end users, as VDI does, Mirage takes a gold image of a PC operating system configured for a user working from a laptop and stores it back in the data center.

The laptop doesn't try to run this image stored on the server, but rather a cache copy of this image that is disposable.

If laptop users lose their network link, they can keep on working with their applications because they were always running a cached copy of the gold image locally. That also means Windows runs at local speed and has the normal PC experience.

For now, Wanova is focusing on mobile users, but its software can be used to provision desktops and servers, too.

"We're often asked if we can support servers," says Ben-Shaul. "There is no distinction, technically, between a PC and a server as far as Mirage is concerned. We are positioned for the mobile workforce today only because we see more pain here."

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