Yesterday Citrix announced that they were buying RingCube for an undisclosed amount. We reported this as a rumor last week and had a great discussion on the site, so if you want to know more about what RingCube is or what Citrix might do with them, check out that article.
There have been quite a few articles written about this deal since then, but perhaps the most interesting is Bridget Botelho's piece on SearchVirtualDesktop.com "Citrix Acquires RingCube for application personalization." Bridget's piece is interesting not because of the application personalization angle (as that was what we guessed last week and is what Citrix's press release talks about), rather, it was interesting because she scored an interview with former Citrix CTO and current AppSense CTO Harry Labana.
Harry confirmed that he didn't see RingCube as a threat to AppSense, which makes sense because while RingCube does allow "full" personalization of a shared pooled disk, RingCube is "just" about user-based customization, while the user virtualization products like AppSense/RES/Scense/triCerat have a few key differences, including:
- The user virtualization products allow admins to blend admin-set policy-enforced settings & customizations with users own settings, whereas RingCube is just about users being able to configure their own settings. So AppSense/RES/Scense/triCerat are about adding a blended admin-enforced and user-customized settings layer on top of the shared pooled disk.
- The user virtualization products allow for the user layer to be "matrixed," where you can have a whole bunch of different settings and groups of settings (based on user, device, group, department, etc.) that all come together for a specific user. RingCube is more like the saving the crazy user's Wild West environment, but it's done in a 1-to-1 way. (In other words, RingCube saves the "entire" user environment, much like a personal disk image, whereas AppSense/RES/Scense/triCerat allow different aspects to be laid down as needed.
- The user virtualization products allow portability outside of the vDisk. So your user layer can go between different OSes, RDSH to VDI, potentially Mac OS, etc. (Or you can pull just the components you need to different platforms.) But the RingCube vDisk layer is more like a VHD that only works when it's applied to a specific base image.
Bridget's article also confirmed what Gabe & I argued about for about 20 minutes on last week's radio show that this was about user-installed apps. So that's cool for us, but also not the point of today's article.
What's most interesting (well, after the first 24 hours) is what Harry told Bridget. Part of Harry's quote from her article:
"This is another layer in the multi-layer cake," Labana said. "So, if you have a finance department and an engineering department, both can have a common base image, and off that base image you can deliver finance apps to your finance employees' vDisk layer and engineering apps to those employees."
Do you see what Harry is saying here? He's suggesting that rather than being used to allow each user to build his or her own Wild West personal environment on top of a common base image (as Citrix, us, and everyone else is saying), IT could use RingCube to create a departmental layer that sits between the common base layer and the personalized user layer. The common base layer would have the OS and the enterprise-wide apps like Office, and the user layer would have the personalization settings that are enforced/saved from users making changes. But the RingCube layer would essentially become a "departmental app layer" between the two:
Are we ready for departmental app layers?
My gut reaction is that the concept of the departmental app layer makes sense. That maps well to the existing way we deploy desktop images, which is that we tend to have a base image (or a least a base set of apps) for each department. But after thinking about it a bit more, it seems like it would be a nightmare!
In the perfect world, we'd update our base OS image fairly often--probably at least once a month for Patch Tuesdays. Of course in the real world we don't always do that because a lot of the technologies that let a share base images break when we update the master. So we're usually stuck with using things like SCCM or Altiris to push patches out to all the individual personal desktops. (This is the case regardless of whether we're using physical or virtual desktops.)
But if we use RingCube to develop departmental app layers, how many apps will go into that layer? 3? 5? 10? And how often are those apps updated? Even if each app is only updated twice a year, we could still be looking at a situation where we need to update the departmental layer once a month. So if that's the case, does having a departmental app layer actually buy us anything? Why not just put the departmental apps into the base layer and manage multiple base OS images like we've been doing for the past 20 years? And who would manage the departmental app layers? Will they talk to the people managing the base OS layer to ensure there are no conflicts?
Obviously Harry isn't suggesting that this is the only use for RingCube, nor did he suggest that departmental app layers is what Citrix had in mind when they bought RingCube. He was just pointing it out as one of the options of what you can do with RingCube. And it's something that I never considered before reading his quote.
Also interesting is that if we believe that RingCube does not replace user virtualization products like AppSense/RES/Scense/triCerat, then does that mean for the "full" solution we need both user virtualization and RingCube? (And app virtualization and desktop virtualization and storage optimization and patch management and …??? Yikes!) If you thought desktop virtualization was complex before, you ain't seen nothin' yet!