Using its strengths in virtual machine technology, VMWare Inc. on Monday unwrapped new beta software for the desktop that allows administrators to more securely deploy and mange work environments outside the corporate network.
Described by company officials as an "assured computing environment," VMware Ace is designed to let managers provision and secure Intel-based PC environments to the extended enterprise. It also allows managers to implement enterprise-level IT policies on a virtual machine that contains an operating system, applications, and data to create a specific and isolated environment.
"You can take a DVD containing VMWare Ace, install it like an application on Windows XP or Windows 2000, and it gives you a complete, isolated container that you can configure with policies. You can configure it for what peripherals can and can't access it, what the interface looks like, and for as long as you need it to work with that particular environment," said Michael Mullany, VMWare's vice present of marketing in Palo Alto, Calif.
The product is particularly useful for outside contractors who spend weeks at a time working at users' sites on internal IT projects, for telecommuters and home users who need seamless access to the corporate network, or for laptop users who need secure access to multiple servers back in corporate headquarters, company officials claim.
"In the case of laptop users, for instance, if a laptop is lost or misplaced, the assured computing environment is encrypted by default. So if a laptop has all the medical history for all the applicants to an insurance company, it is encrypted at the container level so you don't have to encrypt things at the file systems level," Mullany said.
VMWare has included its Virtual Rights Management technology in the package, which has built-in copy protection controls and automatic encryption. It is intended to prevent not just theft and tampering but the unauthorized copying of applications, data, system settings, and files as well, company officials contend.
Some analysts see VMware Ace as a logical extension of its core virtual machine technology down to the desktop that could lower costs for those users having to run multiple software stacks.
"The base technology is not significantly new, other than some new orchestration and management software. But now they have software that automates the ability for people to create virtual machines and then have it delivered to an end-user machine with quite a bit of controls put on it," said Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of IDC's System Software Research in Framingham, Mass.
VMWare's technology approach to more securely extend and manage enterprise environments to a host of different devices outside the firewall is only one of three or four being pursued by both top tier and smaller players, including Citrix, Softricity, 3amLabs, and Hewlett-Packard. Kusnetzky said. The differing approaches are distinguished by where each company perceives most of the work in a user company is getting done.
"There are a bunch of different approaches to wrestling that beast at the end of the wire. One approach is application packaging and streaming, like Softricity. Another is to go like Citrix and run the app not on the client but on the server. [Then there is] VMWare's approach of virtualization and HP's approach of loading up a desktop image in a blade server, which is a mix of server-centric and client-centric computing," Kusnetzky said. "They are all different solutions to related but different problems," he said.
While Kusnetzky and other observers believe that large companies can incorporate two or three different technology approaches, no one approach is likely to address all the issues typically involved with remote computing, security, and systems management.
"There are different philosophies at play in the market and there are solutions that are good for some but not for others. No one of them is going to meet everyone's needs," said Gordon Haff, a senior analyst with Illuminata Inc., market researchers based in Nashua, N.H.