The mind behind Altiris' Software Virtualization Solution

Developer Randy Cook's SVS reduces support costs and makes software operations more efficient through on-demand application provisioning

In a perfect world, a computer would stay just as pristine and lightning-fast as the day it came out of the box. Performance wouldn't get bogged down by all the applications added and removed from its operating system over time.

Developer Randy Cook brings us closer to this performance utopia with the Altiris Software Virtualization Solution (SVS).

SVS reduces support costs and makes software operations more efficient through on-demand application provisioning. With its ability to switch applications on and off, making them virtually invisible, SVS eliminates application conflicts, makes instant repair of damaged applications possible and significantly reduces testing time for application rollouts.

With a combination of file-system filtering and multilayered, local caching of code and data, SVS intercepts application calls made to the Windows file system (including calls to the registry hive files) and redirects them to a private, hidden cache file. This redirection lets users install an application without modifying the PC's configuration. All changes that the installation program would make are isolated from the actual runtime environment.

Although the concept of application provisioning isn't new, "Altiris validated the technology [with SVS] and priced it at a point where it's set to become a mainstream technology," says Mike Silver, an analyst at Gartner.

Application provisioning has universal benefits. "A 10,000-user company could have 1,000 applications. Figuring out what the interaction is between those applications ... is difficult, if not nearly impossible," Silver says. "So allowing applications to run in their own virtual space reduces the amount of cross-application testing ... and lets you better manage your desktops."

Cook hatched the idea for SVS back in 1998. "I was trying to think about how we could uninstall software 100 percent all the time," says the SVS architect. He sought the help of a formerNovell Inc.colleague, Jared Blaser, who he knew would have the knowledge and contacts to get his idea off the ground. Together they formed a company in 2002 and, with private funding, began developing SVS in Cook's basement.

They toiled for two years. "The hardest part was probably doing the registry virtualization, because there is no documentation on the registry at that level," Cook says. One of his first "eureka" moments was while trying to virtualizeAdobeAcrobat Reader and Quicken applications. "The first time we saw icons blinking on and blinking off, we knew we had something going," says Cook.

Altiris acquired the company in 2004. Blaser retired for the second time shortly thereafter. In March, Altiris released SVS as a free download on its Web site. Thousands of users downloaded the software in the first three months, Cook says. For corporate users, SVS is priced at about US$27 per node, compared with $100 to $125 per node for competing products.

In the first half of 2007, Altiris plans to add the ability to virtualize operating system patches. "If you find that the patch does cause a problem, it's just a matter of turning it off -- you haven't made any changes to your baseline machines," explains Rich Bentley,Altiris'market segment manager.

In 2007, developers also plan to combine SVS with another product, called Protect, which virtualizes an entire user session. When the user logs off, anything that was added or deleted can be wiped away or restored the next time the user logs in.

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