Startup StacksWare is creating the "vCenter for Apps" for VDI

A new startup called StacksWare has a product that can show you, in real time, which users are using which apps in your VDI environment. They can get you from "never heard of them" to "wow, that's live data" in 15 minutes.

I just got off the phone with Forrest Browning, one of the cofounders of StacksWare. StacksWare aims to be the "vCenter for Apps" (my words, not theirs) with their virtual appliance and cloud service that plugs into vCenter and shows you, in real time, which applications are being used on which VMs in your environment.

Quite simply, you download an Ubuntu OVA, point it towards your vCenter, and then visit to see which apps (and versions) are running on which VMs (and how many instances of each app are running, etc.). It's kind of cool to see the graphs jump around in realtime as users start and stop different apps.

The backstory

StacksWare was founded by five guys a year out of Stanford. Most CS graduates here are crawling over each other to get jobs at Google or Facebook, so naturally my first question to him was, "Why'd you pick the enterprise space?" (Actually, that's not true. My real first question was, "Umm.. how'd you even hear of VDI?")

Forrest explained that the students at Standford are required to do a senior project, and VMware's Sanjay Poonen had submitted a project that he and his four co-founders selected.

Their project basically entailed them spending six months with full access to VMware's product groups, engineering staff, executives, and customers, asking them, "What do you wish that VMware would build?" and "What APIs exist that can do cool things that no one is using?"

They worked on the VMware campus every day for six months and ended up talking to a few hundred customers in the first half of 2015. The gist of the responses were, "VMware does a good job with the virtualization layer, but when it come to reporting on the apps, it's just a black box." Customers complained that while they could get system data out the wazoo (CPU utilization, memory, uptime, efficiency, etc.), they couldn't actually get data about what users were doing and what apps they were using.

In other words, vCenter is great for the VMs, but there's nothing like vCenter for the apps.

After six or seven months, they had a prototype—an Ubuntu OVA that you drag into vCenter which pulls the running and installed apps from all the VMs. By June they had a pretty good proof of concept which they showed to people, and the overwhelming response was, "Can we buy this?"

VMware let them own all the IP of the product they created, so after they graduated, they raised a few million dollars in a seed round (ah, Silicon Valley!) which included Greylock (where Jerry Chen works now), and they officially GA'ed at VMworld last year.

StacksWare Monitor

The StacksWare Monitor VM talks to vCenter to pull in a real time inventory of the VMs by querying the Registry and looking at which EXEs are running. Based on that they can show live data, trends, run reports, etc.

All the aggregation and analysis of the data is done by an AWS-powered StacksWare service. They just send the bare minimums that are needed—app start and stop times, versions, and the AD user names (not credentials or full account info).

The product is sold as a SaaS service which works out to about $3 per VM, per month.

They can run with an agent or agentless. The agentless option polls the VMs every few minutes, while the agent-based option can send data in real time. (Even with the agent, it's managed, installed, and removed by vCenter, so you don't have to worry about manually managing it.) In fact the entire VM is based on Docker containers and is continuously updated.

Currently they're positioning StacksWare more from a software asset management standpoint. They can autodiscover application packages and test licensing terms which they can compare to real-world usage and make recommendations of where they think you're over- or under-spending.

Some customers also use it for security purposes, since they can pull granular information about the versions of the apps that are running, so you can see if anyone is running an old version of an app you thought you updated.

The future

Right now Stacksware has a solid product. They're not sure whether they want to go down the path of creating a full-on monitoring solution since lots of those exist, so for the time being they're just focusing on getting the current product out there. It's currently so simple and elegant, they want to make sure they don't gunk it up by adding too many features that slow everything down.

I really like what I've seen of StacksWare so far. (Except for the name. Capital "W"? What is this, 2006?) I wanted to include a bunch of screenshots, but that appears to be a giant pain with our new CMS, so just take my word for it that they are screenshots of a dashboard with charts showing how many instances of each app are in use and how you can drill down to see trends around time of day, when users start and stop different apps, versions, reports on utilization, etc.

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That seniors' project is a VERY smart move by VMware - way to go! OTOH it's also telling that the service is running on Amazon.
Ok once the software licenses are monitored, how exactly does the money-saving happen? If one employee is using a software more than another, they both need an individual license right? What are the cases where companies save money?