Government // Mobile & Wireless
Commentary
4/24/2009
04:11 AM
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Can An Open-Source Upstart Claim The Cloud?

Virtualization is a crowded and very competitive market. But don't count out an open-source newcomer that could make some waves with its approach to delivering both Windows and Linux apps.

Virtualization is a crowded and very competitive market. But don't count out an open-source newcomer that could make some waves with its approach to delivering both Windows and Linux apps.For a couple of years now, Ulteo has worked steadily towards a key goal: Create a completely browser-based virtual desktop offering capable of delivering both Linux and Windows applications to almost any type of client system. The first step in this process, the Ulteo Online Desktop, was most notable for its ability to deliver Web-based access to the OpenOffice.org office suite.

Last year, Ulteo launched its Enterprise Virtual Desktop solution, which allows companies to install the technology on their own servers. At the same time, Ulteo introduced an expanded, subscription-based version of its hosted virtual desktop service.

This week, the company took what might be its biggest step yet: the ability to deliver both Windows and Linux applications. According to Gael Duval, Ulteo's CTO, the company's Online Virtual Desktop is now capable of running on top of Windows Terminal Services to deliver nearly any Windows application via a browser-based client interface.

Like I said, this is a crowded market -- and many of the players, including Citrix, VMware and now Red Hat, enjoy the luxury of deep pockets and compelling virtualization solutions. What makes Ulteo think it can carve out a niche in this shark tank?

The answer lies with Ulteo's use of open-source code. Other virtualization vendors, including Citrix and VMware, have open-sourced select pieces of their software stacks. Ulteo, however, is completely Open Source; the company's new enterprise virtual desktop offering is available for anyone to download and use. Ulteo's business model is based upon selling service and support to enterprise users who require such services.

It's a viable business model, as Canonical (Ubuntu) and many other open-source vendors have demonstrated. What's more, it's a business model that will encourage both users and third-party developers to expand Ulteo's technology in new and innovative ways.

(Ulteo, by the way, is actually based on Debian Linux and Ubuntu source code.)

Right now, it looks like Ulteo is gunning more for the enterprise market. As the company's technology matures, however, it's a safe bet that it will become cost-effective for smaller companies at least to try. And certainly, it offers companies yet another way to move users off Windows desktops -- and Windows desktop upgrades -- without forcing them to give up essential Windows applications.

Finally, it's entirely possible that Ulteo will do for virtualization what upstarts like SugarCRM and Compiere have done for the enterprise-software market.

Once upon a time, enterprise ERP vendors thrived on their ability to lock in customers with proprietary data-exchange protocols, jaw-dropping implementation costs, and obstacles designed to cripple companies foolish enough to take their business elsewhere. Open-source ERP drove a stake through these proprietary parasites -- and even companies that would never consider an open-source ERP solution reaped the benefits.

In other words, Ulteo doesn't have to hit a home run to change the rules of this game. It just has to prove that it can play.

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