Delivering software on-demand from centralized servers or the cloud was the great promise of application streaming technology. But Osman Kent, CEO of startup Numecent (formerly known as Endeavors Technologies) says that promise was tarnished. Kent believes it's time the technology delivered.
"The industry is littered with customers who have tried legacy application virtualization, block-streaming or progressive download solutions and who became disbelievers," Kent says. "These approaches failed to live up to their promise by delivering only 50 percent of the applications and managed to confuse the terminology of streaming along the way."
Numecent, which emerged from stealth on Monday, plans to change that with its cloudpaging technology, which it says can deliver 100 percent of Microsoft Windows applications, including ones with plug-ins, as cloud-enabled versions with full license control. It can even deliver the OS itself. These applications can be run without installation nearly instantly on any PC, tablet or even a phone at native speeds by streaming native x86 instructions. The apps appear in the Start menu just like local software, and all data is also stored locally. When the user is done with the software, the application vanishes without a trace from the target device. It leaves behind no registry changes and no DLLs.
"With cloudpaging, we not only address the digital transport issue, which has long been ignored, but also deliver a complete end-to-end solution for virtualized application deployment for consumers and enterprises alike," he says. "We want to be to software what Dropbox is to data-but with a secure yet friction-free license control the rights-holders need."
Reducing Digital Delivery Time with Cloudpaging
Kent says that by first virtualizing the asset to be delivered, Numecent's cloudpaging technology can reduce the digital delivery time of any native software and other non-linear content by between 20x and 100x.
Numecent, born from a UCI/DARPA project in the late 1990s, "cloudifys" legacy applications by dividing them into small fragments called 'pages' which are stored on the server-side and fetched on demand over HTTP/S using a Virtual Memory Management Unit (MMU) on the client.
"In modern computer architectures, an MMU is used to virtualize RAM to reduce the memory footprint of an application," explains Art Hitomi, co-founder and CTO of Numecent. "By deploying a Virtual MMU in the communication path, we are in essence reducing the network footprint of the deliverable."
Application streaming depends upon the fact that only specific parts of an application need to be available at any instance for the end user to perform a particular function. The bigger, more complex and feature-rich an application, the more efficiently it can be delivered under this model. In Numecent's version of application streaming, these parts are pages, which can be delivered over the network as and when required. For instance, Numecent can deploy a 66GB Hyper-V Virtual Machine by fetching only 900Mb. A user accessing a 10GB application can start using once the client has fetched as little as 100Mb. Pages are cached locally, so Kent says subsequent access to the same page provides an experience as good as a local install. It also means users can still access the application while off-line. The party delivering the application can control how much of the application is allowed to cache on the local machine.
Heuristic Prediction Engine Boosts Performance
To really boost performance, Numecent takes that a step further by heuristically pushing pages using a predictive engine based on what it calls the "software genome." The system creates a statistical tree of page requests for a given application from multiple users, essentially mapping the "DNA" of global software behavior. It then infers the relationship between page requests and uses its predictive engine to push pages to the client before the client requests them. In addition to making an application delivered with this method as responsive as applications running locally, it also provides detailed data on how users progress through apps, which is potentially valuable instrumentation tool for developers.
Even graphically dense applications, like the game Unreal Tournament, can be delivered via the technology to a clean box within moments and run with no discernible performance degradation.
One Numecent customer is a global architectural engineering and construction firm. Before it adopted Numecent's (then Endeavors Technologies') solution eight years ago, it had a big problem. It had about 2,000 end users-engineers and CAD designers-who each needed high-powered workstations and access to a handful of the more than 400 large Windows-based applications used in the firm's work.
"For our end users to get access to an application to work on a particular project, it required a high degree of manual touch," explains the CTO of the organization, who asked not to be named for this article. "It was becoming untenable."
Before turning to Numecent, the CTO's team had to deploy software to each workstation and then spend many hours configuring each application for use.
"There's many, many things you have to do before the engineer or CAD person can start drawing," he says.
Application Streaming Gets Employees Working in Minutes
Now, he says, engineers go to a web-based portal (which uses single sign-on) and choose the project they're working on from the portal. They select their discipline and the desired application and the system delivers it and has the engineers up and running in about five minutes.
The led to a host of other benefits, he says. First, the organization was able to tie the application delivery system to its license management servers, meaning that every license was accounted for and software audits became a snap. Additionally, he says the IT organization more or less eliminated the need to touch end user machines because all patches and updates could be deployed once to the servers hosting its applications.
"We don't have to worry about the end user changing the configuration," he say. "We stopped all that nonsense. We pretty much shut down all the calls to the helpdesk."
In fact, he says the firm's total cost of support has not increased in the eight years since it first deployed the solution.
He also notes that the cloudpaging technology has given the organization an extremely rich information on how the applications it deploys are used.
"At the back-end, we're getting so much intelligence that we can mine," he says. "We get statistics on the fly of how many concurrent users of what, who's using it, how many times a day and for how long. We've got eight years of records of everything we've done."
Thor Olavsrud is a senior writer for CIO.com. Follow him @ThorOlavsrud.