Last Thursday I had coffee with Nikola Bozinovic, founder of Mainframe2. His company just came out of stealth in October, and it's one of the most impressive things I've seen in awhile. The best way I can explain it is Mainframe2 provides your Windows apps to you from the cloud. It's kind of like DaaS, except users just connect to single applications. It's kind of like VDI, except you don't have to run build or run anything yourself. It's kind of like XenApp, except you can get be up and running in ten minutes. It's kind of like Box, except instead of them delivering your documents via the cloud, they deliver your apps.
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In this case Mainframe2 runs all the servers and handles the hosting, and then you pay them (something like per user per hour, or per user per month, etc.). Nikola explained it to me like Mainframe2 does for Windows apps what Box does for documents. So yeah of course, they use AWS or some other cloud infrastructure, they have a service, they have a bunch of software to make it work, and they have web interfaces for users and admins, and then customers just pay to use it.
Probably the best way to get an understanding (from the user standpoint) is to check out a demo. Here's a link to use Autodesk Inventor, running on a g2.xlarge EC2 machine in AWS. (So in this case the demo host has a GPU, but that's because Inventor needs it, not Mainframe2.) It's funny because I saw this demo the other day and first thought it was a video. My literal reaction was, "Oh geez.. they have their own video player? Why can't they use YouTube like everyone else." Then I realized I wasn't clicking on a video—I was launching the actual f***ing app, right from my browser with no plugins! (Yeah, yeah, I know there are other HTML5 clients for VDI, but this seems different. Click, count to 5, and boom. Running! Combined with the ten-minute setup and the fact I was using a remote app which was a 3D CAD environment. Brilliant!)
This particular demo environment is running in Amazon's US West location, though when Mainframe2 does their full launch they'll have options for multiple hosting companies and multiple regions. (I have no idea what the demand will be like for this demo. Mainframe2 has only allocated a certain number of VMs to BrianMadden.com users, so if you get the message saying they're overloaded then just try again later.)
By the way the embed code for this application was a one-liner copy-and-paste job, just like embedding a YouTube video in a page.
To me the craziest thing about Mainframe2 is how easy it is to setup. As an admin you just log into their web admin interface and then drag the MSI or setup EXE or ISO. Then you click a button to open a desktop, you install the app, and you click a button to publish the apps. That's it. It takes literally no more than ten minutes. Since each user has their own VM then you don't have to worry about app compatibility, virtualization, etc. (Here's a screenshot of their admin web page:)
This model fits nicely into my future world view where Windows desktop applications make up the long tail legacy apps, and in that world we won't want to manage a Windows client OS on our users' devices just for a few old apps.
When I met with Nikola, he explained that Mainframe2's original mission was to bring the best tools for design, engineering, and science to anyone, anywhere. He's been living in the US for the past 13 years (after coming here for grad school), but he experienced firsthand growing up in Serbia that's it's difficult to get access to modern software tools.
He saw that the web allowed billions of people living outside of the "first world" to get access web apps like PayPal, Google, Facebook, email, etc., but what about all the "real" tools that people need? That's where Mainframe2 comes in. They want to make it as easy to publish and share a Windows or Linux app via their platform as it is for someone to share a video via YouTube.
Mainframe2's initial business model will be to sell to ISVs who want to web-enable their existing desktop apps which they can then sell as a service, and to business customers who can use it to enable their desktop apps on any device for their users.
Obviously you've seen that you can run the applications from any browser without plug-ins. That's cool. They also have native clients for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. Their remoting protocol is based on H.264 since the web, the internet, and billions of client devices are already tuned for video. And really, a remote app is no different than video. They are doing a lot with dynamic frame rates and bitrate, so this is not Netflix-like H.264 locked to 30fps targeted for a 3Mbps pipe. Mainframe2's protocol is tuned to consume as little bandwidth as possible, dropping to a few kbps and 1fps when the content is still and then instantly jumping to 10Mbps+ and 60fps when needed.
But that's just pixel-pushing. The real technological differentiator is that by leveraging infrastructure services like AWS and EC2, they don't have to deal with VM management and IOPS and GPUs and all that kind of stuff because Amazon does that for them. They don't have to deal with a legacy install base who have been using some version of their product since the 1990s. Mainframe2 can leverage the the world's massive investments in IaaS platforms. The same applies for the great new silicon for encoding on the backend, the protocols for delivering video that are pervasive and highly advanced, the networks which are faster and more reliable than ever, HTML5-based browsers that are literally becoming more feature-packed by the week, and the business world who are getting more comfortable with their data and apps coming from the cloud and being paid for by the month. And of course there's a massive demand for Windows desktop applications on any device.
Mainframe2 just came out of stealth in October, and they're planning to open their platform to everyone by Q2 2014. Right now they're signing up customers for early access program which will kick off in January.
I'm very excited for them and what they're offering. Whether we end up going with full desktops in the cloud or Windows apps in the cloud, 2014 is going to be an exciting and pivotal year for Windows desktop applications in the enterprise!
So what do you think? Do they have something here? How did the demo work for you? (Notice in the lower left corner it will tell you how far you are from the remote host.)