When most people talk about virtualisation, they mean server virtualisation. But you don't need to look any further than VMware's IPO to realize that particular train has already left the station. When Wall Street gets it, it's no longer the Next Big Thing.
The really exciting virtualisation technology -- in fact, the most exciting technology to hit IT in a long time -- is application virtualisation. It hasn't been widely deployed yet, but it's poised to take off.
Microsoft and Symantec have seen the potential: The former acquired Softricity Softgrid, while the latter purchased Altiris. But many other players have entered this emerging market, including Citrix, Datasynapse, Thinstall, and Trigence, to name a few. And the startup activity in this space is still full of life.
Each application virtualisation vendor takes a slightly different approach, but the objective is the same: to separate application code from restrictions imposed by individual servers, operating systems, and clients, allowing the application to run regardless of its environment. Application virtualisation liberates the application from the operating system much like server virtualisation has liberated the operating system from the underlying hardware.
One immediate effect is that the complexities of upgrading and patching are eliminated. Because only one instance of the installed application exists for many clients, only one instance needs to be upgraded or patched. The process is easier, faster, and far cheaper to administer.
IT departments not only can see what applications are in use, they can also manage and control the applications to stay within license compliance. And it's in the best interest of software vendors to create their applications so they can be packaged in the correct format to be properly virtualised.
Longer term, the technology will foster more separation between user data and the underlying application itself. In essence, users will enjoy a desktop environment that follows them around.
And best of all, application virtualisation will be married to streaming technology to deliver both the application and the "roaming" desktop to the end-user instantaneously, whether he or she works in the office or remotely. Application virtualisation solutions will bundle security, license management, and the ability to revert the application back to a pristine state -- or turn the application on or off from a central location.
The economies of scale are mind boggling. Can anyone imagine a technology with a more direct impact on IT workload and software costs?