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Symantec Starts With The Endpoint

Its desktop virtualization strategy pulls together several products it has acquired.

Symantec is making a more concerted push into desktop virtualization, with a vision for virtualized user "workspaces" that looks bound to compete with established vendors in the market.

It's not offering a new hypervisor. Instead, Symantec's Endpoint Virtualization Suite, which is expected in April, will start by simply delivering a Windows desktop to a PC in a VMware virtual machine. One differentiator for the product is that it will virtualize one desktop application at a time. But even more ambitious is a product due by midyear, called Workspace Profiles, that aims to free employees from being tied to a particular machine and instead provide a portable desktop workspace that appears the same on a desktop PC, a mobile Linux-based netbook, or a BlackBerry smartphone.

Symantec has the advantage of a huge footprint in computing through its antivirus software, which should give it insight into blending controlled user access and virtual-user flexibility. However, the Endpoint Virtualization Suite, which pulls together several products Symantec has acquired in recent years, will compete with established virtual desktop infrastructures and product sets from the likes of VMware and Citrix.

There are two main pieces to Symantec's suite that will come out in April. Workspace Streaming takes a Windows application on a central server and streams the application code to users, where it runs on their machines. The user environment may be virtualized or remain unvirtualized but, either way, IT staff gains the benefit of centralized application administration. Symantec acquired the app-streaming capability in its acquisition of AppStream and nSuite.

The product is geared toward the day when companies no longer supply cookie-cutter computing gear to employees. Rather, they'll give employees a budget and let them pick a computer that meets their needs and assume the virtualized desktop environment will work with it. For now, though, that desktop had better not be an Apple Macintosh. For at least the next 12 months, Workspace Streaming will only support Windows.

The suite's second major component is Symantec Workspace Virtualization, which manages end-user applications, whether they're running on a central server such as Citrix's AppStream or Windows 2008 Terminal Server, or being streamed to end users.

Virtual Apps On Call

Workspace Virtualization is an expanded version of a product acquired with Symantec's purchase of Alteris. Unlike other desktop virtualization schemes, Workspace Virtualization will let applications be virtual- ized one at a time as the end user taps them, while still working together once they're running. In some cases, the applications will be running on a central server; in others they'll be working on the end users' machines, delivered off a central server.

The company's strategy gets a lot more interesting if it delivers on Workspace Profiles later this year. It promises to save employees mobile device configurations in a central directory, so a desktop can be downloaded to a wireless device like a smartphone.

The new offerings are all built around products that have been available, in some cases for years. Nevertheless, Symantec isn't one of the first companies people think of for virtualization. When it comes to virtualization, "most of the conversation is driven by our existing security customers," acknowledges Doug Coombs, Symantec's director of product management. That sounds like a good place to start.

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