Numecent’s CloudPaging: Polished App Streaming or a Brand New Outfit?

Numecent, a new application virtualisation company, sprang out stealth mode brandishing a whole new lexicon. The “end device” is the “start device”. The future of application delivery lies with “Cloudpaging”.

You’ll be regularly assailed with marketing claiming to be the new brave generation and paradigm shift in computing. Mainframe veterans smile politely at the server virtualisation guys, possibly quite rightly pointing out that they were indeed doing all this stuff before some people were born and when 640K was properly more than you could ever dream of. What this tends to result in is the standard setting for the BS meter to be “stun”.

“Cloudpaging”. Really?

And yet,  the difficulty in having become accustomed to the wolf rarely being present is that you believe the wolf will never show up.

Never say never.

Numecent believe Cloudpaging has the potential to impact all connected devices where software needs to be delivered rapidly and securely. Is Cloudpaging just a fancy marketing term for a re-branded application virtualisation or have Numecent delivered a ground breaking new application delivery technology?

Is Cloudpaging new?

Cloudpaging. New? Well the technology does involve new patents. So yes,  in that respect “cloudpaging” is new.

However, cloudpaging is a new technology component of a service that many are already be familiar with. Numecent own Endeavors Technologies.  Endeavors had an application virtualisation suite, Application Jukebox, which was designed to deliver any Windows application to any PC, anytime, from anywhere, without the need for downloads or installs. Endeavours were pioneers in application virtualisation – both Microsoft and Citrix license their technologies. So, while Numecent have the 10 foundational patents in the field of application virtualisation – does that mean that the whole offering is new?

Not quite.

Essentially, we have some new advancements in technologies that we’ve seen before. What’s the point?

Numecent’s goal is to make native software delivery as simple, agile, rapid and as friction-free as a single click on a website: to be to software what Dropbox is to data – yet with the license control the rights-holders need to protect their assets. A consistent issue with current application virtualisation solutions is that none of them do can deliver on that today.

How close are Numecent to their goal?

Pretty darn close.

Why do I need Application Virtualization?

Applications are key. Applications let the business manipulate the data. Without applications you’ve a puddle of 1’s and 0’s that is neither use nor ornament.  Importantly, applications, once released into the wild, tend to quickly diverge from the original. The difficulties faced by developers and administrators in deploying applications are reminiscent of those encountered transitioning from mainframe to the client/server era.

At a high level, requirements for application delivery are simple:

  • Your users want delivery of applications to be as quick and as easy as possible.
  • IT doesn’t want to have to retro fit every application and test every installation’s impact with every other application.
  • Updates (for security, for new features, for fixes) need to be delivered in a timely manner
  • Finance want to make sure licenses are only bought when needed.
  • Software vendors want to be paid for their product.

Ideally, you need a facility to allow installation, upgrade, roll-back, and delivery speed. Installing applications directly into the operating system often fails some or all of the requirements. Yes, you can use virtual machines to host these applications, but there is a costly overhead in creating a virtual machine for each application and a VDI/RDS environment limits the delivery of some types of applications.

With Application Virtualisation, you can eliminate the possibility of application conflicts giving a dynamic application delivery infrastructure. With application virtualisation you not restricted to a user being permanently connected to the network for application delivery.

Application Virtualisation Challenges

Application virtualization is the process where applications are encapsulated or isolated from other applications and the underlying Windows operating system.  Windows? Let’s be honest here – for applications I’m typically going to talk about Windows applications hosted on a Microsoft OS because that is the de-facto environment for the majority of environments out there. Application virtualization means you can take an application such as Microsoft Excel or Firefox and separate it from the desktop operating system. Tools that you can use for Application Virtualisation include Microsoft’s App-V and VMware’s ThinApp.

There are a number of challenges here:

  • Can you support 100% of your applications? Windows runs all code, application and services, in one of two modes: user-mode and kernel-mode. The two modes reflect two different security models. Code running in kernel-mode has full Operating System access. Kernel-mode code typically comes from device drivers and the windows kernel itself. Typically, application virtualisation solutions cannot support kernel mode applications. This means there isn’t a consistent delivery model for applications.
  • How do you deliver your applications? You’ve virtualised the application. How does it get to the user? You could simply copy the applications onto each user device executed. The difficulty here is ‘how do you ensure everyone is using the most recent version’. You can centrally host the virtualised application and deliver it ‘on demand’ to the user. Here streaming technologies are used. With streaming, the application code is profiled to determine which code is used the most. When a user launches the application, the minimum amount of data  is delivered to a client to allow the application to start, with the rest of the application sent in a steady stream to be available when needed. An issue with streaming technologies is that they are designed to work in a LAN environment. As users move out from the centre can your delivery technologies delivery software in a timely fashion?
  • How do users interact with the service? How does the user access the service – do they need a separate access module or is it integrated into the desktop? Do they need software pre-installed on their device? Does their device have to be a PC? Will the application be available when they move devices? When they want a new application, what is the process involved in ‘virtualising’ that application? If the process of requesting and accessing and cumbersome then users won’t use the service.
  • Is the effort required helping the software vendor or the your company? If everyone uses an application, why does everyone need to go through a process of virtualising that application?  That’s a waste of effort and money. Innovate vendors are offering ISVs ways of delivering their applications to a wider audience. Spoon have a web based application virtualisation model, but their solution is focused on user mode applications only. Ericom, are utilising their HTML5 client and AccessNow to offer AccessCloud; OnLive are pushing their Desktop solution. However, with RDS/hosted desktop based solutions require on-line user access (which may not always be possible) and the investment in a good deal of service technology to service users (which may be expensive).


CloudPaging – Better Application Virtualization?

Numecent have two clear differences over existing applications :

  • Virtualize 100% of Windows Applications with their Jukebox environment. Numecent even say that they can cloudify and deliver plug-ins separately to a base application. Cloudpaging can deliver an operating system and very large Virtual Machines: although there are likely a number of desktop vendor license issues to contend with there, still its a nice demo. Yes, there needs to be a client installed on the user’s PC: although there is both a user mode (user self-installed) and kernel mode (admin-installed) option. Yes, the current interface isn’t as tightly integrated into the Windows 7 workspace as it can be. But, 100% of applications virtualised is an impressive claim. It’d be very nice if that was a guarantee.  “Your application virtualised, or your money back” has a certain razor sharp ring to it.
  • Delivery over the Internet to run off-line. The streaming technology developed by Numecent has been designed to better cater for network jitter, giving a fast delivery time over high latency networks. The application virtualisation process also automatically profiles the the application code reducing the time to enable the application. The cloudified application is fetched a page at time over HTTP/S, by deploying a Virtual MMU (Memory Manager Unit) using ‘demand paging’. Yes, over time you may down the whole application code base: this could be large. Yes, it would be useful it may be that there needs to be a way of automatically learning which code to send and an option for pre-emptive paging: but now, I’m just being picky. What can be said is that unlike solutions that rely on pixel streaming (such as VDI, or RDS) you don’t need a constant stream of rendered images being sent across the wire. If you’ve a powerful local device you can make full use of that local GPU, full use of the local processor, and have use when off-line (all be it of the code that has been locally cached).  Moreover, the in-built licensing model can ensure that code is only available that you have a license for.

What CloudPaging can offer enterprises and ISVs is an iTunesesque application delivery experience. You choose an application, your application is downloaded, it doesn’t have a host of pre-reqs or conflicts and it runs using the local resources of your device. Or that, just for a component of an application.

The technology is such that the services required to support large numbers of users is far smaller than an equivalent hosted desktop/RDS solution. Granted, this is a solution that will require the user to have a PC: while there is an offering that lets you use your smartphone or tablet to run an application it needs to be hosted and streamed from a PC device. However, it’s arguable that there is no need for a VDA license or RDS CAL.

CloudPaging – the best it can be?

Is Cloudpaging just a fancy marketing term for a re-branded application virtualisation? It’s a fancy new term for sure, but Numecent have delivered a new application delivery technology that is poised to open up a new application delivery mechanism not only for enterprises, but for both ISVs and MSPs.

Still, Numecent have a lot of good technology that in the past it has been squandered by poor differentiation from louder competition and too much of a focus on delivering niche applications. It will be interesting to see how Cloudpaging is pitched directly against products such as Microsoft’s App-V: can enterprises be convinced to switch from the product they’ve acquired often by default  through Enterprise licensing. Indeed, many have invested time and effort creating App-V and ThinApp packages – in switching to Numecent, is that investment lost?

Most importantly, will Numecent be able to deliver a quick and reliable application virtualisation process. Delivery to the users is key and the solution has some impressive demos. Doom3 delivered via dropbox? Seen that. Nice.  But how quick is that virtualisation process from request app to delivery. Historically it’s been slow – if Numecent speed the whole life-cycle of delivery that will grab the attention far more than a  new lexicon.