A couple of years ago, I reported on Cloudhouse and its new approach to handling application virtualization. At that time, it looked like a very intriguing piece of technology. Recently, I caught up with Mat Clothier, Cloudhouse’s CTO, for a quick chat about where the company is currently focused and how it sees things developing in the future.
The application virtualization space has certainly become a lot more crowded since then. App-V and ThinApp are the old incumbents, and Cloudhouse now sits in the middle ground between isolation and deployment, along with solutions like Numecent Cloudpaging (formerly Application Jukebox) and Turbo.net (formerly Spoon). At the other end, focusing purely on deployment, you have Unidesk (now part of the Citrix stack) and App Volumes (from VMware). Alongside these are a whole bunch of other upstarts, such as Frame, allowing applications to run directly from browsers. With so much technology currently occupying the application virtualization space, and each of them involved in something of an arms race to achieve feature parity with each other, it becomes very important to differentiate the message you are sending to customers.
Cloudhouse hasn’t adjusted its technical offerings much away from the initial core, but the focus of its solution has become more finely concentrated. What Cloudhouse’s container technology excels at is dealing with legacy applications and the compatibility issues that often arise from these old legacy apps. Cloudhouse’s redirection feature fits superbly into this area, which means that often, applications that seemed like they would take a whole lot of expenditure and resource to remediate can be done extremely quickly (I have personally experienced this, and was very pleasantly surprised). Poorly coded applications can also be dealt with seamlessly here. Whether they are writing to the root of a drive, for example, or are tied to a specific network port, this can all be intercepted and smoothly redirected. The obvious benefits from remediating these troublesome legacy apps aren’t just around adopting newer platforms. You also get to move away from legacy infrastructure such as Citrix XenApp 5.x platforms, which not only have a management overhead but also are a burden on the software provider to maintain and support.
Diving deeper into the problems of legacy applications, Cloudhouse has worked directly with the Internet Explorer engineering team to produce a way around the thorny issue of virtualizing older versions of the browser. It has created prebuilt containers to use EMIE and Compatibility View settings (along with a whole load of undocumented Registry values), which allow you to easily run IE8, IE7, or even IE6 applications containerized under Internet Explorer 11. This not only makes it more reliable and prevents knock-on issues with other applications, but it also keeps it all legal and in line with Microsoft’s public strategy for its browser.
Cloudhouse always had an on-premises engine that sat alongside its Azure-based one, but it’s experienced the reality that for many, running on-premises is still their preferred way to get applications delivered, whether this is for compliance or simply management reasons. As a result, the on-premises engine now has as much focus as the Azure portal, which fits with the school of thought that the near future will be much more hybrid than full-fat public cloud. The containers that are created can now easily be separated to support deployment via technology such as SCCM, Citrix, LANDESK, etc. Cloudhouse appears to have really made a concerted effort to fit into not just the world of cloud but also the huge swaths of existing infrastructure that most enterprises already possess.
Of course, concentrating on legacy application remediation means that the solution tends to be adopted by bigger customers more often than by smaller ones. This is simply a reflection of reality. Larger enterprises are much less agile and often rely heavily on old or outdated applications that smaller companies have had the ability to address with significantly fewer risks and interdependency issues. Cloudhouse isn’t specifically focused on the larger customers—and indeed, its solution is easily slotted into environments of any size—but it is usually only at scale that the biggest benefits of overcoming old application problems are realized.
Another key feature that Cloudhouse offers is simplicity of packaging. When enterprises use the software to remediate legacy applications, this simplicity can feed into a drive to make Cloudhouse the de facto packaging standard. As a tool, Cloudhouse is excellent for solving particular application issues, and once it does, that is the key feature that could then allow it to be adopted in a broader scope within the business. Certainly, enterprises are not keen to adopt myriad different virtualization technologies to solve all of their application problems.
With the advent of Windows 10 and the rapid update schedule that Current Branch for Business brings, Cloudhouse is well suited to abstract away applications in order for IT departments to avoid problems when feature upgrades are deployed. Decoupling apps from the operating system, particularly in a containerized fashion, can essentially proactively protect them from breakage. This feeds into security as well, reducing the application surface area, which could well be another area that is concentrated more on in the future.
In summary, I think Cloudhouse has done well at carving out a particular niche to differentiate itself from the plethora of application virtualization vendors out there—even if the legacy apps focus means it will be more often found in big customers such as government, healthcare, finance, and the like. In terms of a toolbox to unlock those problematic applications, it has some very interesting features in its lineup. And with the future focus on simplicity and security, it appears well positioned to make inroads in enterprises adopting Windows 10.