Does user virtualization matter? Goldman's $70m investment in AppSense says it might.

As most people know by now, AppSense received a $70m investment from Goldman Sachs. I was surprised as anyone as to why Goldman would make such a substantial investment in the user virtualization space.

As most people know by now, AppSense received a $70m investment from Goldman Sachs. I was surprised as anyone as to why Goldman would make such a substantial investment in the user virtualization space. 

We've had Windows mandatory profiles, roaming profiles, and folder redirection for years. But no matter what Microsoft claims, all of us practitioners know these are very limiting. So you'd think everyone would be falling all over themselves to implement a third-party solution such as Appsense, triCerat, Scense, etc. While many people do use these add-ons, I still don't consider them as a requirement in the stack. Why? Read on...

I always assume most people cite "cost" as the reason, but I'm skeptical that's the real reason if you look into it. I think the real reason is that most people are still in highly homogeneous unmanaged environments. Most people still allow dumb things (like admin rights on PCs) and then hope that user-installed apps will be a miracle cure (which it will never be). I'll bet those same people just use local profiles and clear them when they become corrupt. I bet their users don't roam and they work at classic organizations where people are tethered to a single desk. I bet the "rebuild the PC/profile" mindset is the SLA at these organizations... and all that craziness is just the profile part! If you look at other areas, I'll bet things like login scripts, group policy management, application management, etc. are a mess and not very well managed. (And this is made worse over time as more people enter and leave the organization.)

So for all these poorly-managed organizations, the next unfortunate thing they assume is, "I need to bring my management costs down, so I'm going to virtuale all my apps because that's what Microsoft says I need to do and it's what so many people blog about." :-) So they start down this path and realize application virtualization is not perfect (and they freak out when they learn they need MDOP just to get App-V). Others go for ThinApp until they realize there's no management and it's not a silver bullet either. So then they think surely this "user installed apps" thing they've been reading about is the real silver bullet and they start looking at some of the startups in this space (only to find out they don't necessarily scale, perform, avoid application compatibility issues, or work across platforms). 

Then, these same people think, "Ok, desktop virtualization must be the answer since the vendors are telling me it's cheaper." Or perhaps they read some other website which has rivetingly informative articles that tell you exactly what the vendors want you to hear. After reading all that crap the desktop teams still don't understand that VMware lied about SBC and still don't have a clue about how VDI is different, and Citrix keeps saying Receiver will support tablets in outer space if you want so that's pretty cool... Then they read Brian Madden's blog and think, "Wow there are smart people here," and they see a debate on SBC vs. VDI and think they're the same thing because some commentators said so and they just go back to their day jobs thinking, "I should keep trusting these people to inform me of basic tenants that I MUST understand. "

Once they finally understand what "hosted desktop virtualization" means, they realize a few things. First, to get the cost savings with VDI, they need to implement a single image model (once they swallow the licensing cost pill). Of course when they try it they realize it doesn't work well today outside of a few silos. They then wake up and say "Ah-ha! Now I understand why SBC is not VDI and can achieve the savings over a PC." Then they sign up with Citrix or Quest (if they don't understand or care that RDP sucks and Microsoft is using RemoteFX to lock you into Hyper-V despite your investing in ESX) and go down that path only to realize that even with SBC there are limitations. (For example, personalization is limited, and they have to manage RDS, desktops, and laptops.) Then they realize it makes sense to probably support multiple models for different users due to the economics of the various models. In their minds this is even more complexity that they have no time or budget to deal with. So what do they do? They just stay exactly as they are, implement some application virtualization, and migrate status quo to Windows 7. Microsoft has accomplished their mission of keeping Windows on the endpoint for another OS refresh while they try to figure out WTF is cloud going to mean beyond a huge advertising campaign that says it's more than virtualization.

Despite all of this, many people will become successful with desktop virtualization. They'll implement SBC in a highly managed form with next to zero personalization and achieve costs savings for many use cases. Others will implement 1-to-1 VDI using exactly the same management processes and tools as today, touting benefits of centralization, agility and flexibility with some cost increases justified by new capabilities such as Windows apps on tablets. Most of these people will end up with a mix of SBC and VDI -- both managed differently -- and two sets of application validation test platforms. Add laptops / client hypervsiors to the mix and there's yet another environment to manage. All this will keep desktop virtualization to only a few percent of all enterprise desktops which is in-line with the various expert reports I've seen.

Can you believe it? Only a few percentage points of total desktops! Why are we spending so much time talking about this space if it's not relevant to the majority of the desktop community? This is why I was scratching my head at the Goldman Sachs investment. Then it dawned on me after some digging... Appsense is arguing that user virtualization is about all users being managed. That applies to physical desktops as well. They offer more than profiles and can go cross platform. They even seem to be trying to help the App-V team. I tweeted Ruben Spruijt to ask Microsoft about their latest vie. So if you can get your users under management then you can abstract all that complexity away and leverage it across platforms when you see fit. To get the cost benefits of VDI or SBC or any other single image desktop virtualization solution, you must have a managed desktop. So why not start with the user as opposed to the application? Better still, do both at the same time. Just getting to a better managed desktop state will reduce cost. So my guess is Goldman looked at this and said the VDI market by itself is $2B over the next few years. If we invest in something that can appeal far more broadly to desktops then what the heck is that worth? $70M is probably just a drop in the bucket. Imagine if Microsoft made something like this part of MDOP and took away cost concerns despite my assertions above and made any Windows desktops or application cheaper to manage. Wouldn't that be a great goal for them and win for customer? What if VMware picked up Appsense and made it part of VSphere? How powerful would it make them as opposed to messing around with layering startups? What if Citrix added this to their portfolio to make it easier for people to use all their desktop models? What about Cisco UCS having this as part of their base solution to help drive down costs, or even somebody like a BMC adding this to their portfolio? This stuff works now, and layering technologies may never work. This to me must be the logic behind the investment. 

I may or may not be right with my assumptions, however whether you love or hate Appsense or any other personalization vendor, to adopt a greater variety of desktop models with a shift to a better managed desktop is a must to get the TCO down for all desktop models. Part of that has to be user management. I'd love to know what the community thinks? (And vendors are free to comment as well.)

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Entertaining article - as always.

We have used local profiles since the beginning with a combination of folder re-direction and it's fair to say it's complete and utter bo@*!cks and I have no idea why our users have put up with it! We've tried roaming profiles and all the other "out of the box" rubbish MS have. Local profiles was the lesser of the evils. It's been my personal hate for a long time.

Many of the technical community here will tell you I sound like an old granddad "during the war"...

However.... Sometime ago I made my case when we went down the VDI/RDS path that we would need to treat the world differently. Physical desktops are here to stay for a long time too - I see RES or this type of solution the glue/bridge between the physical and virtual world. In many ways it's more important that the other management solutions in place for the desktop. We are progressing nicely in this space - At LAST!

I'm surprised Novell missed the boat here! - gutted to as they would of been dirt cheap for education :-/

Roll on workspace/user virtualization geek week!


Thanks for the article!

A good read and great fun albeit somewhat cynical. I like!


I agree with you totally, AppSense goes way beyond these clouds and views :).. It’s about managing the user and I think it does offer a lot more that just profile management itself.

we have been using AppSense for about 3 years now and the kind of growth this product has seen is really great and the improvements which they have done are very nice as well and now they have a user centric licensing model which makes even more sense to use the same solution over all kinds of Desktop models, standard desktops, SHVD,SBC or any other which might come in future, plus with lot of companies looking for cloud hosted desktops as well I really believe user virtualization is really important as now you can have applications delivery via various methods, but now that your profile is encapsulated, you can move it over from one OS to other and also from one desktop form to other.



Solid post, time will prove you right.

For the majority, there is no getting around the multiple desktop/app delivery models because each of your end users are individuals that have their own requirements.

Sure you can define similarities between your users, some may use the same apps and some may use the same OS. But in the end we are individuals who require a unique identity, profile, persona, workspace.

We can virtualize the desktop, we can virtualize the applications, but without a mature user/workspace virtualization everyone is dead in the water with a half baked solution.

User Virtualization needs to be recognised as the third, most important pilar.

Application Virtualization is an amazing technology, but Desktop Virtualization was the real disrupter because it is the OS that held everything together. But still, it is nothing without User Virtualization.

The disk layering technology which enables the use of diff disks seems quite limited and disapointing. How will this work with all desktop models? It just can't.

Why are Dedicated Desktops in XenDesktop 5 recommended just for maintaining user settings? WTF? The only reason I see the need for a dedicated desktop is when I am taking it with me offline, when online I should be using a pooled desktop.


Enter User Virtualization.


The one reason (and only one reason) why GS invested in AppSense is they know that AppSense will be an acquisition target (management necessity) as mobile device access becomes prevalent and ubiquitous. It won’t happen for another 2 to 3 years, but the shift has started.


@SillyRabbit, I the mobile user virtualization story is not even defined very well yet, so can't even say nascent. However I agree with you that this and probably SaaS based apps is an area these vendors will exploit in the future.

@Daneil Bolton like the idea or user virt Geek Week. @Brian @Gabe your gusy should totally do it. Why not even have a geekspeak session at Synergy or BriForum.


User personalization will always take a back seat to the apps.  Always.  Why per se?  Here's an example: I lost my email signature, that sucks....but at least I can send email...this example applies to 99% of applications.  It's annoying and inconvenient when my personalization is gone, but Apps are king and allow me to still work aka accomplish a task, despite the inconvenience of personalization being gone.

Overall, because the desktop holds the apps, desktop virtualization will be the bigger driver here over user virtualization.

Adding user virtualization to your existing desktops does not solve the real problem here.  Honestly, no marketing or BS, I see two MAJOR problems with traditional desktop computing (even with user virtualization).  The first reason is performance for the user.  All those monitoring and patching agents are a must for traditional desktop models, but they destroy usability of the machine.  Minimize this problem as much as you want but I'm telling you, it's important to the USERS (isin't that what this whole thing is about?).  Don't tell me your PCs are screaming despite having all that stuff running, because if you talk to your users, they're not.  Users are fed up with not being able to work on slow corporate machines while their new mac or pc is extremly fast at home by comparison.  User virtualization is not going to help that.

The other problem that user virtualization won't solve is: in order for me to be 100% productive, I would have (in the old desktop model) have to use that stupidly slow PC that my company gives me.  It houses all the apps, so I must use it.  I don't want to use that thing, it's garbage!  In addition, if I go to my in-laws I would rather work than talk to them (HAH!) and I can hop on their PC to get something done with my virtual desktop.  This is one example but there's been many cases where having a virtual desktop at my finger tips wherever I go has been incredibly beneficial to my life as a user.  Its much faster, painless, and easy.  Sorry user virtualization but you only help a small part of the problem.



IMO you are going about it the wrong way.

You shouldn't ask yourself "which technology is more important?" because managing your desktops, apps and personalization are all important. You should however ask yourself "how should each be managed?".

IT will always be faced with a problem of how to effectively manage desktops/profiles and applications. App Virtualization enables "easier" management of applications while Desktop Virtualization enables "easier" management of desktops.

But Virtualization should only be used in use cases where it makes sense, and each organization has their own requirements. This single business requirement alone will dictate which desktop/app delivery models to use in different circumstances and will determine the overall architecture complexity.

Also, App Virtualization may not offer a panacea where you might not be able to virtualize all of them.

Therefore a lot of people foresee the mass as having a Heterogeneous Desktop Environment, Citrix FlexCast examplifies this well.

But what about personalization?

Traditionally speaking your personalization was apart of the desktop, however given the introduction to app/desktop virtualization it is not the case anymore. It is further magnified if you have to access your desktop across multiple desktop models.

Now, depending on your requirements, you can either offer:

1. No personalization (good luck)

2. Incomplete personalization which maybe tied to specific desktop delivery models for Virtualized Desktops (profile management solution)

3. A complete personalization solution which is tied to a desktop delivery model (Dedicated Desktops)

4. A complete personalization solution that is a fully de-coupled User Virtualization product suite

Pick your poison.


Icelus, I appreciate the comments.

Appdetective opened up the discussion of my comments when he dropped the point " So why not start with the user as opposed to the application?".  I am trying to stay on point with the article and why Goldman is going at user personalization.

Make no mistake, I know user personalization is necessary and I know all the different desktop models, personalization models, where they fit, yadda yadda.  I'm just saying you need to start with apps and the desktop before you talk about personalization.  Your biggest cost savings AND user morale with your IT department will be more impacted by solving the desktop/app issues before you solve user personalization problems IMO.  


@vPatrickB I think it depends where you are in the process. If you apps are already packaged what do you really need to do to verify that they work on Windows 7. I don't you need to require them to be virtualized. I also think the user part is a lot more than email signatures, that's the profile part only. You are going to have to migrate all sorts of user preferences, login scripts, printers, including app preferences etc and then figuring out how to apply them across multiple desktop models. So I believe that one must start with a user centric view of the world not simply migrating a few apps. The user centric view will include apps for that user and their respective settings.

I just think there is too much focus on virtualize your apps, when in many cases you don't need to bother to get to Windows 7. What you will have to do to get to Windows 7 however is migrate your users, and that's why I think it starts there not apps.


User Virtualization is the king of the three layers (OS, User, App). Application Virtualization only exists to help User Virtualization.

This is my take on this, DV should start from the ground up.

1. OS is virtualized, enabling a true golden image that is used by many. There is no need to personalize anything at this layer (but business req will supersede.)

This will mean that SHVD will be Pooled only while CHVD will be Dedicated only. Non-virtualized OSs will be managed traditionally in a dedicated fashion.

2. User personalization is de-coupled from OS to span across multiple desktop models. All user customizations including OS/app reside here.

When the base OS is changed or migrated to the new OS, this layer remains intact.

3. IT managed applications are virtualized and delivered to the user. Apps installed in the user personalization layer are not managed and it may be necessary to manage them.

Now, if we use a virtualized OS to use the app we follow steps 1 - 3 but if we access a virtualized app directly we follow steps 2 - 3.

Citrix has step 3 solid while they have lots of work for step 1.

AppSense has step 2 down pretty good.

Citrix needs to wake up and severe the dependencies from step 1 and step 2, and either collaborate or purchase AppSense to complete the stack.


I want to correct myself on #1.

SHVD and CHVD should both be pooled. MCS copies a read-only copy of the Master Image to XenServer so it should do the same on XenClient.


@icelus great comments. Do you have an opinion on the Appsense vs. RES and Appsense/Res vs. the layering style vendors like Unidesk/Wanova/Moka 5/RingCube?

My gut feeling the later half are not applicable for the most part, perhaps with the exception of RingCube with their most recent changes as per @Brian's post. I haven't looked at it yet so can't comment.

I actually think not just Citrix needs to wake up. A great add to View if they want to compete and MS to help their VDI suite.

Thanks for your comments so far.


My feeling is Goldman invested the money because AppSense is part of the new breed of managing desktops, call it Desktop Management v2.0. They don't need desktop virtualization at all to win, they just needed a change in the architecture to win, which is exactly what is happening now.



despite my opinions about user virtualization I have yet to convince management about it because of the extra layer of complexity, more training, and IT security related concerns.

Since we are a federal agency, this may be acceptable but we will see.

Given this information, I have not made it a priority to get myself familiar with the technologies you have mentioned.

From the looks of it though, here are my brief thoughts:

- Unidesk is locking me into vSphere. May not be a problem for the server team, but I don't fall in that category.

- RingCube looks interesting, I would like to see how they evolve

- Moka 5 is nice but too many overlaps

Overall AppSense is the best of breed over the others. The start-ups make me hesitant.

Since money is not a factor, AppSense is my pick if it were up to me.


I have to voucher against Appsense because App virtualization is a double edge sword.

The product has it's merits and hassles but after more than a year of ownership.  I think there are more negatives in the long run than pluses.

Some posters got it right, users will always have their way with IT and complexity will always lose in the long run.

The approach that Appsense uses for app virtualization has way too many holes to plug whenever an app changes in behavior through updates or work flow.  The system breaks and Appsense Env fails to keep track of changes and users are without settings for days until we figure out what broke each time.  This is more work than dealing with roaming profile management.

The best part is that you got archives of user profiles that you can restore back to the user.  But the worst part is Appsense does not have enough tools for the admin to perform large scale rollbacks or delegate the restore to users or than someone with Admin abilities.

This is the only side I can say RES does better but their system is also complex and overly taxing on the system.

So, in short App environment virtualization is not there until Windows profile and app setting saving gets a complete overhaul by Microsoft.  There's always going to be DLL hooks fighting and Appsense can't win all the time and forgets where it puts the settings.