Parallels says key to success is cloud virtualization, not Mac desktop virtualization

Containers in the cloud can provide increased density, elasticity, and scalability efficiencies

Parallels is perhaps best known for its popular desktop virtualization product, Parallels Desktop for Mac, but the larger and faster-growing segment within the company actually has to do with building containers in the cloud.

While the company continues to innovate Parallels Desktop for Mac with each new release of OS X or Windows -- most recently announcing Parallels Desktop for Mac version 9 -- unfortunately the Mac market alone is not large enough to sustain the company's long-term financial growth.

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During the third quarter of 2013, Mac shipments in the United States fell at a steep rate according to analyst firm IDC. Part of the reason for the decline is the rise in mobile platforms such as smartphones and tablets, with the latter expected to grow by 53.4 percent this year, according to Gartner. In response to that growth, Parallels released Parallels Access for running Windows and Mac apps on an iPad. It's an interesting new market for Parallels -- but again, not large enough to keep Parallels growing.

Thus, the company says it has become more focused on making it easier for service providers to grow and profit from the cloud. According to the company's own SMB Cloud Insights research report, the IaaS market is expected to grow dramatically over the next few years, with revenue projected to double from $15.8 billion in 2012 to $31.3 billion in 2015.

To capitalize on that growth, Parallels is making use of something called container virtualization technology in the cloud. A container is a form of operating system virtualization that typically provides a higher level of efficiency than hardware virtualization technology. Instead of virtualizing the entire server operating system to provide a single application, a container can provide the necessary computing resources to run the application as if it were the only app running within the system -- thereby "gating" or keeping the application free of conflict with other applications running in a container on the same system.

"Seven years ago, when Parallels was first bringing container technology to Linux, the huge benefit of containers was bringing up virtual OS environments (what we now call IaaS) but at a density which was far higher than the density possible with hypervisors," explained James Bottomley, CTO of server virtualization at Parallels. "This density difference was what lead to containers being adopted by service providers so they could offer virtual private servers at a price that would be uneconomical with hypervisor virtualization technology."

Bottomley said there were other advantages of containers that were unappreciated at the time, chief among them being elasticity (the speed with which you can start, stop and migrate containers) and scaling (the ease with which you can add and remove resources like memory and CPU from containers).

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