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Device Virtualization in the Cloud

Premise

Virtualizing technologies have provided solutions to making the logical server, storage and the network independent of the physical infrastructure resources that are deployed. A user or administrator can request the exact infrastructure definition required, and be assured it will map to the physical location without having to even think about it.

However, in this world of multiple devices, there is still a strong physical link between the application and the devices supported. The device support is coded into the application, and the functionality is often less than implied in the documentation. The result is a large number of applications that can only be run on a specific device. The cost of adding additional device support is high, and this type of enhancement is often low on the priorities and just doesn’t get don.

Sphere3D have introduced Glassware 2.0, a device virtualization software allowing the end user the freedom to use whatever device they desire, and application developers to provide automatic support for an application for any device without coding.

This research addresses the question “is device virtualization ready for prime-time”, and concludes with a “yes, with qualifications”.

Introduction to Device Virtualization

There are three key requirements for effective device virtualization:

  1. Ensure that the end-user’s device of choice can be used to run any application;
  2. Ensure that the application will be logically supported on the current hardware environment, and support any device;
  3. Hybrid support in the cloud and on premise.

Glassware 2.0 provides this device virtualization for applications build on Microsoft Windows OS. On-premise support is provided by Sphere3D appliances, and cloud support is provided on Microsoft Azure.

The key benefit is that an application, once installed on Glassware, can be accessed on (say) an iPhone, and the user can use (say) a pinch motion on the iPhone or Siri to drive the application. The most common applications are the Microsoft heavy hitters such as Outlook, Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, but can include advanced applications such as CAD/CAM.

Device Virtualization on Glassware 2.0

Containerization

Glassware 2.0 can be installed and run on Microsoft Azure, or on a Sphere3D appliance. It is built on Microsoft Windows application containerization technology. It is built on top of a Windows 2008 Server kernel and core, and utilizes the common Win32.exe kernel and Ntsys.dll binaries to build the base for containerization applications.

Glassware 2.0 builds templates for desktop applications without the need for the desktop itself, bringing the needed binaries and libraries for installable Windows desktop applications. The containerized application management technology is accessed from a web UI, and uses the .exe or .msi to “install” 32 or 64 bit applications into templates containers. These containers are used to deliver sessions to users. User profiles and policies are designed per application container template and make applications into objects which can be tied and licensed appropriately.

Glassware 2.0 Protocol

The Glassware protocol is RDP derived, with a back channel used for simply clustering and connecting and to the applications which have been containerized. Native clients can utilize local resources of Siri, printers and other devices.

Devices Supported
  • Windows Client
  • HTML5 Access
  • iOS Client
  • Java Client
  • Chrome Client
  • Android Client

The support of specific functions in each of the device types is given in Table 1 in the footnotes.

Applications Supported

Glassware containerizes 64 bit, and 32 bit applications created on Windows 3.1 onwards, including XP, Vista and Windows 8. Any 32 or 64 bit Windows application can use the Glassware web-based installer for a .exe or .msi to install an application into a container. Applications built on other operating systems (e.g., 16-bit or 3.1 type applications) may be containerized through a Sphere 3D professional services engagement.

Microsoft Azure Cloud Support

Glassware is supported on the Azure partner marketplace. The containerization technology allows Microsoft applications to be run efficiently on the platform, and specific application resources to be shared by all the users. The virtualization approach allows a significant reduction in the cost of running application, compared to the normal virtualization of a complete user desktop. 

On-premise Appliance Support

Sphere3D provide a set of appliances for Glassware for running on-premise. Details of these appliances can be found on the Sphere3D website.

Benefits of Glassware Device Virtualization

There are two main benefit areas for Glassware, performance benefits for containerization, and flexibility benefits for the end-users.

Performance Benefits

The containerization foundation of Glassware is very efficient, and the hardware can support many more users than traditional VDI virtualized machine desktop virtualization offerings from VMware(Horizon View) or Citrix (XenApp and XenDesktop ).

Flexibility Benefits

The advantages to end-users and IT of giving freedom of device choice for end-users cannot be underestimated. Users are passionate about their device, and IT departments that get in the way of choice, particularly in a “Bring your own device” (BYOD) era, can expect to suffer. Why force a kid to use a ChromeBook at home, if he has an Android phone? There is significantly increased productivity for an employee on the move to be able to just use an iPhone rather than waiting to find a WiFi source for their laptop.

Device virtualization removes IT from being involved with how end-users consume applications, and allows them to focus on providing applications. For application environments where there is effective support for device virtualization, it’s deployment should be a no-brainer IT decision.

Limitations of Glassware

Glassware runs in a Microsoft Windows environment, and only supports Windows applications. Windows 16-bit applications are supported, but require professional support from Sphere3D. Support for Linux-based applications would increase the attractiveness of Glassware.

In any VDI-like environment, there is a need to test for peak environments, such as “boot storms”. There is definitely a hardware limitation when launching applications whether browser or full applications with containers as well as anything else. The ability to burst to the Azure public cloud is potentially very important to implement, as the physical appliance can run out of resources if all users and accessing the same application at the same time.

In some circumstances, the use of devices other than those specifically qualified for use may cause potential compliance issues. There may be be specific procedures and/or workarounds required for these application types.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Glassware from Sphere3D is a pioneer in providing automatic device support for Windows applications. The implementation of Glassware on Azure makes it easy to test the technology, and Wikibon would recommend this approach as a first step to implementing device virtualization.

There is significant potential with the Glassware technology to provide a low-cost on-premise solution with better local performance and lower communication costs. The is suitable for environments with many users, such as schools or call-centers. Care needs to be taken in the management of resources for applications that are used by everybody.

Action Item

Doers that need or want to provide an enhanced end-user experience by supporting common devices used by their endusers, and want to allow them to use native device functionality on the Windows application, will find Glassware an innovative and cost-effective solution. The availability of Glassware on the Azure partner marketplace provides a low-cost and rapid way to test the technology. Wikibon would strongly recommend implementing a test system on Azure.

Footnotes

Sphere3D the Company

In the early days of mobile computing, there was a period of rapid prototyping of mobile devices. Sphere3D provided solutions for mobile device suppliers to achieve FCC approval. The necessity to provide a virtual environment to test the mobile devices led to the first Sphere3D device virtualization products.

A second problem for these same mobile providers was to demonstrate to prospective clients that the customer’s web applications used would work with the device they were being shown. In the showroom, the salesperson’s easiest path to success was to demonstrate the device he had in his pocket and was familiar with. Providing infrastructure for each sales office to run such demonstrations was clearly not an option. Enter the first cloud-based solution to this problem in the days before cloud term was coined, using Sphere3D device virtualization technology.

Glassware 2.0 Device Virtualization Support by Platform

Table 1 - Device Support for Windows Application in Glassware 2.0Source: Sphere3D 2016
Table 1 – Device Support for Windows Application in Glassware 2.0
Source: Sphere3D 2016

 

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