A conversation with Altiris's Scott Jones and Appstream's Brian Duckering

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Most people know that Softricity has offered application virtualization and streaming capabilities for Citrix and Terminal Servers for years. More recently they've extended their solution to desktops.

Most people know that Softricity has offered application virtualization and streaming capabilities for Citrix and Terminal Servers for years. More recently they've extended their solution to desktops. And then of course Citrix's upcoming Project Tarpon will also enable application streaming to both servers and desktops.

Desktop streaming and application virtualization is evolving the conversation about how applications are delivered in general. And when we start thinking about that, we have to look at another major player in the application virtualization field--Altiris--with their Software Virtualization Solution. Altiris is partnering with Appstream to offer a full solution that rival's Microsoft Softricity or Citrix Tarpon.

In this podcast, we'll discuss this solution and how it differs from some of the other things on the market.

Guests

Scott JonesScott Jones, Product Manager for Software Virtualization Solution, Altiris

Brian DuckeringBrian Duckering, Director of Product Management, Appstream

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Did I hear this right, the two products combined will cost around $80 and it doesn't work on Terminal Services? How is this going to compete with Softgrid? Coupled with the fact that for a less able product you have to deal with two separate vendors, that's two separate licence agreements and cultures. Good luck to whoever's selling that one.
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Hi,
 
I wrote some articles, created video's and made as presentation independant as possible about Altiris SVS, SoftGrid and Citrix Streaming Server.
All information is available for the community from www.virtuall.nl (section right on the webpage)
 
With regards,
Ruben Spruijt
 
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You know... this is something that I've been thinking about all weekend. I was thinking of Altiris SVS + Appstream as a competitor to SoftGrid and/or Tarpon at the desktop level.

I do think that Altiris SVS has some major advantages over SoftGrid. These stem from the fact that like Scott said, it's almost more of a package format as opposed to a virtualization environment. To that end, there is no back-end infrastructure needed for SVS. There is no such thing as an SVS server. It's really more like an alternative to an MSI that can "just run" as opposed to having to be installed first. (Of course if you ad Appstream, now you're talking about servers and stuff.)

I think the other major cool thing about Altiris is that if you already have a bunch of MSIs and MSTs, you don't need to re-package them (or "sequence" them in Softricity speak).. You can just click and go.

I also think that you can't buy Softricity by itself anymore... you can only get it as part of software assurance on Windows XP desktops, so that's kinda weird...

Of course Softricity has a major advantage in that it's "real" virtualization at the client level... so beyond just registry and file system redirection, it can virtualize services, admin rights, named pipes, etc.

At the end of the day, I truly do view these as competitive products, and like all competitions, each has some clear advantages in certain cases over the other. I'm going to try to work with Ruben (who posted the previous comment) to put together a more in-depth head-to-head comparison of all this stuff (plus maybe Thinstall and some others)... This will certainly be something that we talk about a lot at BriForum.

Brian

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I see what you're saying but I'm not sure I agree, there is perhaps a little more front end effort with Softgrid in terms of the environment, getting to grips with sequencing and the concepts of true virtualisation, but isn't that a worthy investment? The same has to be done for all emergent technologies, the thin client concept being the more obvious example.
Moreover, coming from an application packaging background I don't really consider the legacy package argument to be so appealing. Rolling Vista for example - which is where I imagine this technology will really come to the fore; converting pre-packaged MSI files from an XP to a Vista build still means regression testing to ensure the bespoke packages work on the new build whether they are virtualised or not, so that effort hasn't been completely eradicated.
 
I also think that doing away with MSIs is no bad thing. On any packaging project there is a varying level of skill, I've seen too many MSI files which break machines, bad captures which contain uneccessary information, overwrite all manner of settings when installed and rip holes in the OS when uninstalled; vendor supplied code being no guarantee of reliability. Creating MSIs is expensive and complex, even applying MST files is not necessarily as straight forward as people think and tends to end up being hamfisted by an exasperated  support guy or uninterested SMS administrators. The ability to do away with a folder full of cabinet files, MSTs for every department and a bloated MSI file is extremely appealing.
 
I understand that Altiris handles the MSI differently and works to solve these issues but the fact that it still uses the MSI to me is a negative, with Softgrid it just seems like a much more elegant affair. Sequencing, while not perfect, is easier than creating MSIs and once an application is correctly sequenced it works on everything, so using proven recipes could reduce this complexity even further. I can now use the same package on my terminal server as I do on my laptop and, for me, it's here that Altiris really falls over, lack of TS support, especially considering virtualisation and SBC are such natural bedfellows. Not only that but Softgrid costs less and is fully supported by Microsoft, investing away from that just doesn't make sense. Quite simply, for all intents and purposes it looks like Altiris, and Citrix come to that, have been completely out-manoeuvred by Microsoft. 
 
I think that last point is perhaps where a lot of confusion is coming from. In the past Microsoft has used its capacious bulk to strongarm the competition with a poorer solution, here we see Microsoft with, albeit arguably, the genuinely superior product and I think some are having issues with that. I've a feeling these words may be hotly contended, but I would say that part of this is due to a shift in Microsoft itself at a grass roots level, it just seems like a much more approachable beast these days, whether that be due to greater visibility through employee blogs or the fact that Gates is a healthier distance from the helm. Or is it that I'm just getting older and everything seems tame in comparison to having two kids under two and a catastrophic mortgage payment? 
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In your article you mention "...that [link=http:
J.
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Are you sure about that? I thought that SoftGrid for desktops wasn't released until v3, which was late 2003.

Brian
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Postive.  Look at the Press Releases on their site.

Here are some from 2001...

http://www.softricity.com/news/news-2001.asp

10.15.2001 Softricity Announces SoftGrid™ for Windows® Desktops

Most importantly:  "Separately, Softricity also today introduced its SoftGrid for Terminal Servers (see related announcement) as a complementary product within the SoftGrid Platform deployment foundation."

See....."complementary".... 

J.
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I feel most people need to look at the components of the technology talked about here and see that there are two fundamental concepts. One is the virtualization of the app itself while the second is the deployment of that app, i.e. streaming. For my money, I would rather spend $39/seat for something like Thinstall and get a self-contained .exe that will run from my local system or a file share. Granted the deployment piece is missing here , but, in most environments I work with its not that application deployment that is the challenge more so the application residing comfortably on a workstation. Most issues resulting from packing efforts deal with .dll conflicts, pre-reqs like Java version, MDAC and all the others. Having a utility that handles these well and is priced to move is more valuable in my mind than the deployment of that app.
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