Neocleus (along with Virtual Computer) is one of two startup companies shipping client hypervisors today. We've spoken with both companies quite a bit over the past 18 months or so, but now that VMware and Citrix are getting close to shipping their own client hypervisors, it's getting harder and harder for the smaller companies to get traction.
Seriously, yesterday I had a conversation about Neocleus that went like this:
Me: So I'm meeting with Neocleus tomorrow.
Jon: Neocleus? Really? They're still around?
Me: Yeah, although I'm not exactly sure what they're doing now.
Jon: Looking for a buyer?
It's too bad the world works this way. Neocleus has some great technology. But regardless of how great it is, just the mere idea that Citrix and VMware might someday release a product that competes with them (even if the Neocleus one is ten times better) could kill them.
Neocleus recognized this late last year. On the one hand, they felt they had client hypervisor capabilities that would far exceed what Citrix and VMware will do with their v1 releases. On the other hand, they were a startup that was being stretched too thin by customer demands. ("This customer wants better management. Another customer wants better disk image updating over a WAN. A third customer wants more granular control over the policy engine.") Eventually it dawned on them that by trying to be everything to everyone, they weren't actually doing anything as good as they wanted and their core vision was being pulled apart.
So last October Neocleus decided to focus on providing the hypervisor (and its relevant management hooks) to other software vendors. I mean after all, if yahoos like Gabe and me have been talking about the value of client hypervisors for security, manageability, AV, backup, etc., then Neocleus could make a great business for themselves providing this capability for others.
Neocleus' first OEM Partner: BigFix
Have you heard of BigFix? They're a security and systems management software company whose product competes with "traditional" offerings from Symantec (Altiris), Microsoft (System Center Config Manager / SMS), etc. Big Fix is kind of an edgy company, currently involved in an ad campaign where they compare traditional management vendors to dinosaurs. (They've also accused McAfee & Symantec of being "impotent baloney.")
BigFix's story is about "simplicity," and everyone who uses them raves about 'em. Without going into all the details, BigFix believes that these traditional enterprise management systems were designed in an era when an "enterprise" was static and lived within four walls. But nowadays we have dozens of platforms, locations, laptops, devices, roaming users, home access, etc., etc., and the notion of a huge backend system with all the intelligence to manage thousands of agents doesn't make sense anymore.
BigFix flips that model on its head. Instead of the smarts residing in the central system, the "smarts" live in the agent on the endpoint. That agent can talk to other agents, configure itself, perform tasks, etc. Of course this is highly simplifying everything, but if you think of how a brand-new systems management system would be designed in today's peer-to-peer, loosely-connected, BitTorrent-loving world, you'd end up with BigFix.
So anyway, BigFix is cruising along fine for the past ten years or so, but they realize that their agent running inside the Windows client can actually be problematic. I mean if Windows is hosed, the agent is hosed.
Look at what Ron Oglesby blogged about on BrianMadden.com way back in 2006. If the management agent can move outside of Windows and into its own VM, then a bricked instance of Windows could still be restored, recovered, and booted remotely. The agent could handle backup, encryption, restoration, software distribution... the list goes on.
So that's how BigFix and Neocleus got together. So far BigFix hasn't announced any details about products. They think they'll be able to start demoing this in the next few months, but that it won't actually be available as a product until 2011.
So there you have it! Neocleus is no longer selling a product to end user customers. Their BigFix deal is exclusive in the management space, but not exclusive overall. (So Neocleus could power other ISVs' products.)
This deal is great for both companies. Let's be honest: there was no way in hell Neocleus was going to compete against Citrix or VMware. And adding a client hypervisor to a desktop management solution just makes sense. So congrats to both companies!