Softricity announces SoftGrid 3.0: Is this the future of server-based computing?

SoftGrid allows users to run applications from Terminal Servers (or MetaFrame servers) without having the application installed on the server.

Softricity is a software company that makes a product called "SoftGrid." SoftGrid allows users to run applications from Terminal Servers (or MetaFrame servers) without having the application installed on the server. This means that you can have hundreds of MetaFrame servers without any applications installed. Users can connect to any server and run any application. If you have 2,000 applications to support, you don't have to worry about which applications are installed where. The days of application conflicts, regression testing, and server silos are over.

So how does it work? Application packages are stored on a centralized server, and they're streamed to Terminal Servers are users request them. The Softricity software acts as a "middleman" layer between the application and the Terminal Server operating system. Each application that's streamed to a server has its own complete virtual environment, including such things as a virtual registry and virtual DLLs.

This is not install-on-demand. To bring an application into the Softricity environment, you first run an installer utility on a Terminal Server. Then, you install the application as normal while this watcher utility records which files are installed and how the registry is used. (Of course this is no different than the Windows installer, or Citrix's Packager.) However, unlike other tools, you then use another watcher utility that analyzes how the application is actually executed after it's installed. The Softricity software then prepares an application's “stream” package that's stored on the SoftGrid server. (In Softricity environments, this entire process is called “sequencing.”

Softricity fully integrates with Citrix MetaFrame. You can use MetaFrame to “publish” a single application to many servers. However, unlike traditionally published applications, each application's stream package is stored on a centralized server when SoftGrid is used. Then, when a user requests an application, the application is streamed to the Terminal Server and execution begins. The sequencing process has broken the application's executables and DLLs into millions of tiny pieces, and the SoftGrid server dynamically sends only the portions that are needed to the Terminal Server. Not currently using the slide animation capabilities of PowerPoint today? Fine. The server won't send those bits of the powerpnt.exe file.

To the user, this process is completely transparent. The dynamic live streaming is usually not noticeable since the application is broken into so many pieces. Furthermore, since all SoftGrid applications “interact” with their own virtual registry and DLLs, so you can run Office 95, 97, 2000, XP, and 2003 all on the same Terminal Server at the same time.

Version 1.0 of SoftGrid was a clunky product that was only useful in a few situations and did little more than prove the concept. Version 2.0 introduced increased application streaming speed and stability, and several major companies began using it. With today's introduction of version 3.0, Softricity is poised to quickly become a major player in the server-based computing space.

Included in SoftGrid 3.0's enhancements over previous versions is faster application streaming and a rewritten system guard (that protects applications from one another). Version 3.0 is also fully integrated with Active Directory, allowing you to deploy applications to users, groups, or OUs.

Softgrid's core philosophy can be summed up like this: What's the best way to use this application at this moment? The company recognizes the fact that while centralized control is good, centralized processing is not always needed. To that end, SoftGrid 3.0 supports offline streaming which allows laptop users to continue to use SoftGrid applications even when they're offline. This fits into many other vendors' utility computing messages and allows companies to have one application management solution. Use SoftGrid for end-to-end management of applications—whether users are connected to Terminal Servers or using disconnected laptops.

Virtual servers, virtual storage, and virtual networks have been around for a few years. Softricity's SoftGrid 3.0 adds virtual applications.

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This message was originally posted by Michael Rueefli on November 29, 2004
The technology is really interesting, and as I saw till yet, it works mostly perfect with small and "easy to handle"-applications. But what about the DDE and the OLE stuff. Since every app has its own virtual environment eg. registry, filespace etc. you're running into a problem having applications which are consuming foreign data or ressources over DDE or OLE. While OLE is partially supported the DDE functionality is anounced for the next release of SoftGrid. I'm very excited about the possibilities in a SBC environment of course.. We have to watch this technology carefully I think.
ive read somewhere that softgrid has trouble with integrated parts of the OS like printerdrivers and IE. I'd like to know more about that, especialy if it can handle COM+ objects in its virtual apps.