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By now you have no doubt heard about virtualization. VARs can extend this concept further with a new twist called virtual application streaming.

The idea is simple: Send all the bits that are needed for running one application to a user’s desktop at the moment they are needed, similar to how a video or music file is streamed when requested from a server. Rather than install the application, take up disk space and consume software licenses, you keep the applications centralized and archived, ready to be used when needed. “What VMware does for operating systems, we do for applications,” said Henrik Rosendahl, CEO of Thinstall, in San Francisco.

Thinstall is the David to Microsoft’s SoftGrid Goliath. There are other companies in this space, too: AppStream licenses Thinstall’s code, and Symantec’s Altiris has something called Software Virtualization Solution ( that licenses a part of AppStream (but not the Thinstall piece).

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While the idea is simple, the implementation is far more complex. You have to package the application in such a way that it can be virtualized, and make sure that everything that is needed to run it is in the package and in working order. You also have to make certain that the application is isolated and protected from other applications that could prevent it from running on the target system.

Then this package is sent across the Internet and needs to be optimized in such a way that it won’t consume huge quantities of bandwidth. Finally, there is the integration with the enterprise’s software distribution system. “No large company is satisfied with their software delivery strategy,” said Brad Rowland, vice president of marketing for AppStream, of Palo Alto, Calif. “Some [of them] even need solutions that support multiple software delivery systems.”

There are several advantages to the concept. First, the applications are always patched and current, so upgrades are trivial. This has appeal, especially when it comes to those applications that can expose an enterprise to security issues such as Web browsers and other Internet connectors. Second, users can work from any Internet-connected computer—for example, at an airport or a copy shop. And as an IT shop rolls out new, internally developed applications, they can be quickly deployed with centralized access controls to those users who need to run them and no one else.

There are some drawbacks, however. The offerings from Microsoft and Thinstall are still a bit rough around the edges, and it will take some effort to learn how to deploy them, which is where the opportunity comes in for the VAR. Both have many moving parts and extensive prerequisites to get the full solutions working.

Thinstall requires a Microsoft network shared drive to deliver its package, while AppStream and SoftGrid can work across the Internet. Finally, not all applications can be virtualized, at least not yet. “Any [application] that requires direct access to the OS or that [installs] specific services or communicate with each other can’t be virtualized,” said Gordon Dunkley, solutions group leader for Project Leadership Associates, a Chicago-based virtualization VAR that sells both Microsoft and Altiris solutions.

The software virtualization companies have extensive training and third-party support organizations, such as Altiris’ Juice developer network and Microsoft’s Desktop Optimization Pack virtualization partners. “We are looking for VARs with virtualization experience, and there is a strong overlap with both VMware VARs and security VARs,” Rosendahl said.

David Strom is a technology freelance writer, consultant, blogger and podcaster and can be reached at