Windows application appliance vendor Sphere 3D has announced a partnership with Microsoft to take its Glassware 2.0 platform to the cloud through Azure.
“We are committed to providing our customers with new and innovative ways to implement their cloud strategy,” said Vibhor Kapoor, Director, Microsoft Azure Product Marketing. “By working closely with Sphere 3D, we are able to continue to deliver on that commitment and provide a new level of flexibility for organizations looking for scalable application delivery from the cloud.”
In partnering with Sphere 3D, Kapoor is fulfilling his promise to provide customers with new and innovative ways of doing business. The Glassware platform takes a new approach to Windows application hosting, adopting a “less is more” philosophy in containerizing Windows apps to deliver substantially more application sessions per box than a conventional RDSH-based system.
The initial outreach is targeted at the education sector, where Sphere 3D has seen some strong validation of its platform. I first came across Sphere 3D in conjunction with an announcement that Chesterfield County Public Schools (CCPS) was buying 32,000 Dell Chromebooks, one for each middle and high school student in the district. CCPS is one of the 100 largest school systems in the US. Although it had already standardized on Google Apps, CCPS still needed access to Windows applications to support the curriculum. It turned to Sphere 3D and Glassware 2.0 as a low-cost, high-performance appliance-based hosting platform for its Windows apps. While Sphere 3D’s approach to application hosting means it can deliver more apps per server and more apps per dollar than conventional RDSH-based platforms can, the downside is that in education, the hardware sits unused for a quarter of the year. Moving Glassware to the cloud will give Sphere 3D’s education customers another opportunity to save.
Pricing for Glassware on Azure has not been announced yet. There’s ample room to undercut Azure RemoteApp pricing. Microsoft’s pricing structure for RemoteApp is a hybrid of flat-rate and capped consumption-based pricing, with prices starting at $10 per month for a basic session, rising to a capped upper limit of $17. Before Azure pricing was announced, I polled a number of independent software vendors (ISVs) to get their perspectives on possible pricing and received estimates ranging from $5 to $15 per concurrent session per month. Given the performance advantages that Glassware 2.0 has over conventional RDSH-based Windows app hosting platforms, I would expect that Sphere 3D would be able to undercut Azure RemoteApp prices substantially. While it may not be able to hit $5/user/month, I don’t think pricing will be an obstacle to adoption.
A big opportunity for Sphere 3D would be to adopt a pure consumption-based licensing policy. Azure RemoteApp offers good value when used full time, but if it is used for just a couple of hours each week, the $10 starting price starts to look onerous. One user using the Basic Azure RemoteApp service for 100 hours in a month would be charged $17, but 100 users using the service for only one hour each would be charged $1,000. If Sphere 3D could offer an Amazon-like consumption model for its cloud service, it could open up a vast market for occasional-use Windows apps. Pricing could possibly go as low as $0.10/hour depending on resource requirements. This approach would likely be of great interest to Sphere 3D’s education user base. Education’s combination of tight headcount-based budgets and predictable seasonal workload is ideally suited to consumption-based licensing. Glassware may also open the door to low-cost GPU-enabled 3D graphics apps in Azure—something that would be of immediate interest to its education customers.
Initially, Glassware 2.0 will be available only through a select number of authorized partners. So I don’t expect to see such low pricing offered to consumers, but Sphere 3D promises additional use cases and expanded availability later on in 2015, opening the door to a direct-to-consumer model.