Despite heavyweights like VMware and Microsoft plotting their dominance of the virtualization industry, the fact is that the market is still so young that it will be a long time before anyone emerges as a true leader.
And that's just for the most common forms of server and storage virtualization. More esoteric developments like virtual desktops and application virtualization are so fresh off the drawing board that "virtually" anyone with a functioning technology can stake a claim.
Application virtualization is proving to be particularly tempting, primarily because it is one area of the virtualization pie that has yet to be defined. Just as the idea behind server virtualization is to separate the hardware and software, app virtualization seeks to free the application from the underlying operating system. But exactly how this is to be done is still largely up for grabs.
Start-up Kace is the latest entrant in the market, having just purchased Computers In Motion, developer of the Avispa system that uses a container approach for application imaging. The idea is to run the apps from a container so they can share resources with other applications without changing the overall environment.
Novell is also getting into the act, coming out with the ZENworks Application Virtualization system that establishes isolated application files designed to overcome compatibility issues on Windows desktops. The system uses standard deployment software like Microsoft System Center SMS and LANDesk to issue applications on USB keys throughout the network.
Of course, this doesn't mean the top dogs aren't interested in application virtualization. Earlier this month, Microsoft issued the manufacturer's release of the SoftGrid system, renamed App-V 4.5, which uses a streaming technique to deliver applications to desktops while maintaining centralized control and management. Look for the system as part of the next version of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP).
Meanwhile, Citrix is preparing to ship the new version of its XenApp system (the former Citrix Presentation Server), loaded up with new load-balancing and management features and sporting a new performance engine that offers a 10-fold improvement in local start-up times. XenApp is part of the Citrix Deliver Center platform, which also includes the XenServer, XenDesktop and NetScaler software.
And VMware, of course, has the ThinApp 4.0 system, which it gained as part of the ThinStall acquisition last January. The company describes its approach as a "virtual bubble" that holds applications and their necessary components so they can be launched either as executable files or under the Microsoft Installer file extension. The company says this approach provides for conflict-free environments and better accommodates mobile users and remote offices.
Clearly, the large firms have an edge in that they can more easily integrate application systems into their overall virtual platforms. But smaller firms often have a way of delivering innovative new products because they are not locked into any particular environment. And the good news is that app virtualization is still so far out into the future that there's plenty of time for some truly revolutionary developments.