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VMware Inc., known for its virtual machine technology for servers and workstations, is turning its attention to the client space.

The Palo Alto, Calif., company on Monday is rolling out software designed to enable PC administrators to distribute secure computing environments—a virtual machine—to the extended enterprise, such as mobile and contract workers.

Using VMware ACE (assured computing environment) administrators can put everything from operating systems, applications and data onto a DVD, which can then be loaded onto a worker’s PC, said Michael Mullany, vice president of marketing at VMware.

They also can set policies, via Virtual Rights Management technology, that range from how long the environment will be in effect to who can access what information in the network, Mullany said. In addition, the hardware-agnostic software offers copy-protection controls and automatic encryption, protecting against unauthorized copying of network information.

ACE’s isolated computing environments will enable enterprises to give telecommuters and contract workers a way to securely get onto the network without the company having to give them a company computer while at the same time protecting the network from various viruses. Businesses also don’t need to build specific hardware images for the computers.

Instead, for example, if contractors are hired for 60 days, ACE is loaded onto their computer and administrators can set it to expire after those 60 days.

AG Edwards & Sons Inc. has been beta testing ACE for about three months in its development and test laboratory, where the company uses a lot of contract workers, said Chris McClanahan, desktop product manager. The contractors can use their own laptops, while AG Edwards can control the policies on the software and quarantine the network from any viruses that might be on the user’s computer.

“We can create images and can deploy it to servers and PCs,” said McClanahan, in St. Louis. “With the [virtual machine] environment, they can connect to our network only through the VM rather than their own machine. … We can prevent viruses from getting into our network.”

Arizona State University has been beta testing the software since July in its computer laboratories and with MBA students who don’t want to buy a computer or whose computers don’t support the Tempe, Ariz., school’s Microsoft environment. ASU can simply give the students a DVD.

“It’s so much easier to do everything once,” said Scott Worthington, technology support analyst at ASU. “It’s a self-contained installation package. … You deploy as one single DVD and they deploy it as one installation.”

VMware ACE will be generally available in the fourth quarter, starting at about $100 per user.

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