On the road to the virtual desktop
Windows application virtualization and streaming solutions from Microsoft, Symantec, and Thinstall are laying the groundwork for a subscription-based, click 'n' run future. Imagining the possibilities, we put them through a simple SaaS performance test
Symantec SVS Pro 2.1
Symantec’s SVS (Software Virtualization Solution), acquired when the company purchased Altiris in late 2006, has long provided one of the easiest to use and most flexible application virtualization platforms (see my March 2006 review, "Altiris shakes up Windows configuration management"). Its effortless handling of headless services and other complex application types have made SVS the darling of the IT skunkworks crowd, as evidenced by the popularity of the Juice online developer community. However, in direct comparisons to SoftGrid and even Thinstall, SVS always came up short in the area of application delivery. Complex SVS “layers,” such as our Office 2003 test bed, can be quite large (150MB to 300MB or more, depending on configuration), making them impractical to deliver over large, geographically dispersed enterprises.
To address this deficiency, and to bring SVS more on par with SoftGrid, Symantec has partnered with AppStream to add a streaming delivery mechanism for SVS-packaged applications. However, as is often the case with mixed vendor/OEM solutions, the integration of the participating components is less than perfect, leaving the user to navigate disparate UIs rife with redundancy.
For example, to deploy an SVS package via AppStream you begin within the confines of the SVS administration utility. After you’ve captured an application install you need to export the layer to a VSA file. Next, you copy the VSA file to a system running the AppStream packager where you open the VSA and convert it into an AppStream ZIP package. Once that’s done you need to upload the package to the AppStream server and then provision it for distribution. All told, you’re forced to navigate across four different UIs (SVS admin, AppStream packager, AppStream upload/import utility, AppStream Web console) spanning three different runtime platforms (Windows, Java, Web). By contrast, with SoftGrid you remain within a single UI and platform (Windows), and importing an application requires just a single step (copying the package to the Content folder).
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Compare this to the 9 to 13 seconds for SoftGrid or the 2 to 5 seconds for Thinstall, and you can see that, at least during the initial program load to cache, SVS Pro is far from a speed demon. However, on the positive side this large initial blob includes the most common code blocks required for all of the packaged executables. So while it might take longer to launch the requested application for the first time, subsequent launch requests -- either to the first application used or any of the other applications in the SVS package layer (in this case Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access) -- are serviced almost instantaneously.