Mainframe2 offers your own Windows apps delivered from the cloud in ten minutes!

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.

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.

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:)

Mainframe2 dashboard

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.

Mainframe2's vision

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.

The Technology

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.)

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Great technology, looks amazing. I would love to try it out and integrate into our workplace! We use a lot of different pieces of software, from Inventor to Xcode to Photoshop , and want to see how well you handle high load programs. When do you plan to have servers in Europe?


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...then you will have to upload your large file up there to work and bring them back internally for other purpose...


Nice tool and proof of concept.


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Holy F....


This is awesome.


Mr. Nikola Bozinovic definitely knows what he's doing.


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Well, I knew it'd happen someday. :)


I actually thought of something like this a couple of years ago, but knowing nothing of finance, I decided to stop by the local credit union to inquire about funding, mentors, starting a business, etc. They basically said that I needed a minimum of money going into it and that central IL isn't exactly the angel funding capital of the world.


There is an interesting difference between my vision and Mainframe2's vision, though; I always thought my first customer would be bank, and that my software would therefore run in-house on the bank's servers. The whole idea was to enable Chromebooks, netbooks, tablets, etc. to be decent productivity devices, and deliver a reasonable experience across anything that supported the web.


It's interesting how things have changed.


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Since you need a full Windows or Mac computer with Google Chrome running... I'd say it is less useful than something that could deliver to a thin client... or like me... on Linux.


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Hi, it's Nikola here, the founder of Mainframe2.


Thanks to all who tried the demo and sent their feedback, either here or through the app. Here are some comments:


@Luigi: GPU instance (g2.2xlarge) is already up in AWS datacenter in Ireland -- we're going to turn on the service in Europe in Q1 2014 as a part of our early access program, with wider availability coming in Q2 (of course, you can use Mainframe2 before then from US-based servers).


@Kata Tank Increasing number of workflows (and anything including collaboration, really) has files already in the cloud (all of Box or Dropbox, for example). In that case, it make sense to run apps where the data is -- in the cloud. We support various public/private data storage options. Not saying there local apps are going away, just that we'll be able to do much more in the cloud.  


@Scott Dowdle Mainframe2 runs great on Linux and Linux clients will be support at launch. For this technology preview, we limited access to Chrome (Win/Mac) and Safari. Contact us on Mainframe2 website and mention that you'd like to try it and we'll set you up.


Happy to answer more questions - keep them coming! :)


Thx,


Nikola


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Have to say having used the Demo it's very impressive considering I'm 5000+ miles away. I would like to see some other demo's, SolidWorks, Ansys, CS6, etc at some point.


I take it there will be educational discounts? ;)


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@Nikola,


How do you handle multiple apps per user? In other words, if a user wants PowerPoint and Inventor, do you install them both onto the same EC2 image and publish them both separately, or do you put do one instance per app?


I would assume you need to do them together so a customer is not paying the hourly rate per app? But then you have potential conflict, etc., so I assume you could also work with app virtualization or isolation like App-V, ThinApp, FSLogix, etc.?


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@Daniel


5,000 miles -- probably UK? Glad that demo worked well for you! Yes, we'll have educational offering, stay tuned for more details early next year. As Brian already noted, we're passionate about making it easy for anyone to use the best tools, where and when they need it -- supporting education is a big part of that vision.


@Brian


Mainframe2 supports multi-app workflows, so yes, you can run multiple apps from the same instance (with shared clipboard and added benefit of not paying for more than one instance :). Access control is built into the system (can't comment on the details of our solution at this time) -- administrator can easily set up different users with access to different apps or groups of apps (our private beta customers are already using this feature).


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@Nikola, Yeah UK... Good to hear about the educational offering.


Looking forward to see how things progress.


Is peripheral connectivity on the horizon (Printers, USB, etc)?


Cheers


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It would appear that the IaaS components are all Amazon EC2 instances (presumably the end customer can choose the instance type) and that the storage layer will be provided by a range of supported cloud storage providers that the customer can choose from.


You appear to provide the brokering layer, a remoting protocol layer, a provisioning layer, and management layer.


What other services does your service provide?


Will your customers pay for their own EC2 instances and you'll just bill them directly for the value add?


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Sorry, forgot to ask about your plans for integrating database services (i.e. MS SQL, MySQL, etc) so that customers can run apps that require database services too. If you'll support that, who will administer those backend services?


Also, as a more general question, who will provide the ongoing maintenance for EC2 instances that your software provisions? You, or the customer?


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My browser is not supported... I missed the revolution!


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@Alan


There's a host of other services that we provide on top -- like integration with cloud storage (e.g., dropbox, box, or your own..), integration with SSO (e.g., Okta), metering, billing, and user management (esp. handy for ISVs) and many more. Customers pay single bill to us and it includes EC2 and all other infrastructure related costs. There's no plan to support bring-your-own-instance at this time. We're listening to what our customers are saying when it comes to more specialized services (like database) and will keep expanding our offering as needed. Re:maintenance -- customers have full admin control over all images, and they typically select to maintain them themselves.


@Thomas


We'll support all HTML5 compliant browsers on all OSs at launch. This public demo is designed as a technology preview and we're primarily focused on user experience, not necessarily feature completeness. If you still want to try the demo, we recommend Chrome -- it's is lightweight and free.  


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How is Sandboxie used in Mainframe2?


And will Invincea's acquisition of Sandboxie impact Mainframe2?


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How do you plan to manage licensing of the virtual apps?  Understand you're working with ISVs but if they choose not to play - presume customers could still virtualize the apps - presume customer would be responsible/accountable for ensuring license compliance?


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