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Microsoft Application Virtualization 4.5 Nears Release

The former SoftGrid software streams an application from a server in an organization's data center to a local PC as pieces of the application are needed.

As Microsoft readies the next version of its application virtualization software for release later this summer by releasing a near-final test version of Microsoft Application Virtualization 4.5 (formerly SoftGrid) this week, some organizations are looking to increase their deployments of the technology.

Along with Merrill Lynch, whose plans to virtualize tens of thousands of clients within a few years InformationWeek recently detailed, the State of Indiana and the Fairfax County School District in Virginia are looking at how they might cut management headaches by expanding their use of Microsoft Application Virtualization.

Microsoft Application Virtualization streams an application from a server in an organization's data center to a local PC as pieces of the application are needed. The streamed data is stored in a local cache, but it's never formally installed on the local machine, so applications don't corrupt the registry or interact improperly with other apps. Microsoft is one of several companies in the space, VMware bought Thinstall earlier this year and its ThinApp application virtualization technology, while Citrix has its own line of competitors and a number of start-ups have their own technology.

The State of Indiana is in the midst of a multi-year transformation of its IT infrastructure, having centralized the state's formerly disparate IT functionalities while actually cutting staff. As part of the transition, central IT went from supporting 900 PCs to supporting 25,000 and created a common configuration across many of them, and has had to deal with a multitude of old applications and old computers.

"We've got legacy applications we need to run, and in some places that means people need like three different versions of Oracle," said Gerry Weaver, the state's CIO. Since SoftGrid apps run in a bit of a sandbox isolated from one another, the state decided to use SoftGrid to deliver the applications rather than install them all and hope for the best.

SoftGrid's also changed the way Indiana does IT support. Instead of tinkering around with broken apps for an hour or more, help desk employees are now taught to re-image the PC if a problem can't be solved in 15 minutes, especially with an old machine. With SoftGrid, it's much less time consuming to give employees access to apps, and the state also has a number of already-imaged newer PCs at the ready if a few break here and there. "I need to deploy at least 6,000 PCs every year for the next 3 1/2 years to make sure we're completely refreshed at the end of that," Weaver said. "If we're monkeying around working on some PC that was put in there in 1997, I'm not that excited."

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