Last week MokaFive released version 2 of their desktop virtualization product (which I don’t think really has a name apart from just “MokaFive.”). If you’re not familiar with MokaFive, they’re a desktop virtualization software company that’s focused on managing client-side virtual machines. (If you’d like to see a quick demo, they were our random vendor of the week on the April 2 episode of Brian Madden TV.)
MokaFive’s v2 release is a big deal because it’s quite possible the first real implementation of a “layering” style of management for a virtual desktops.
“Layering” is the concept of dividing Windows into several layers, for example, the system, applications, and user personality. Redirecting disk changes to specific layers would allow you to update one layer without affecting another. For example, users could install applications into the “user layer,” while admins could patch and update the “OS layer.” As long as your layers were built right, each one of these could be updated on its own. (We first discussed this “layer” concept back in April 2008.)
Trying to solve this layering problem in tough, and unfortunately it looks like Microsoft is not going to do it for us. Companies like Atlantis are trying to solve the problem from the disk image creation standpoint. AppSense is approaching it from the user environment standpoint. InstallFree and Viewfinity are approaching it from the application standpoint. And now MokaFive is approaching it by intercepting the way a VM writes to its disk.
To really understand this, it’s important to know a bit about MokaFive. As I wrote, MokaFive’s sole focus is virtual machine management for end users. Right now they’re all about running VMs on client devices in Type 2 virtualization environments, be it Fusion, Virtual PC, VMware Workstation, or Virtual Box. What’s interesting about MokaFive is what they’re doing in those environments, specifically, how they’re focused on how disk images are built, distributed, and updated.
For instance, one of the early things MokaFive was known for was that they could make a VM run off of a USB stick. (e.g. you pop the USB stick in any computer, it has the VMware player, some config info, and the disk image, and you can run the VM without touching the local PC.)
If you’ve never tried this, you’re probably thinking, “So what? I can do that now. Just run the free vmplayer from the stick. Point it to a vmdk on the stick. And boom. I’m done. Very simple. Totally free!”
If that’s you, go ahead and try that and let me know if you can get Windows to boot in less than 5 minutes. It is NOT a good experience. MokaFive tore into Windows to figure out how it works: What data MUST reside in the disk image? What can be safely cached to the local disk? What must be thrown away after each session? What must be securely deleted after each session? How can we run this on a host with no install and no residual risks?
MokaFive also worked out a way to centrally create, deploy, and update the disk images. Unfortunately in doing so, they ran into the same problem that most desktop virtualization vendors run into, namely, if an administrator makes an update to an image, the act of pushing out the update destroys any customizations or personalizations the user has made outside of his profile.
And herein lies the reason for building this “layerization” technology into their v2 release.
So MokaFive’s v2 product lets you slice-and-dice Windows to specify which files, folders, keys, and locations belong to which “layer.” Then updates and changes are saved to the appropriate layer which makes incorporating multiple layers easier later on.
This also has the effect of enabling “user installed applications,” which means that users can install their own apps, and admins can update the baseline apps (or Windows image) without breaking anything the user did. And while this concept has been around for awhile, it hasn’t really been put into practice yet due to technical challenges. (MokaFive believes they can overcome past challenges because they’re starting with the presumption that all users are sharing the same baseline image. In other words, they don’t have to figure out how to make all user-installed apps work for all images on all hardware—they only have to make it work from one instance to another of the same Windows VM.
What’s most interesting about MokaFive moving forward is that there’s absolutely nothing holding them Type 2 virtualization environments. Since they just ride on-top of other environments, it seems like a no-brainer that they’d start working with companies like Virtual Computer and Neocleus to bring the MokaFrive disk image management platform to their client hypervisors. So while MokaFive v2 is only a week old, I’m excited about the prospects of this company and the product!