Applications are in the spotlight now that Cisco has unveiled its Application Centric Infrastructure, and even Cisco competitors concur that applications should drive networks. But why not change the manner in which the applications themselves are delivered to ease the burden on the network? That's what Numecent aims to do, and with deployments at 40 universities in the United Kingdom, Boston-based Numecent spin-off and partner Software2 is demonstrating the effectiveness of Numecent's model.
Founded by two former Numecent employees, Software2 deploys Numecent's Application Jukebox Suite to educational institutions to enable "cloudpaging" of applications. Cloudpaging is an application virtualization and streaming technology that delivers small fragments of software instructions from "cloudified" applications to end user machines. Applications do not download or stream to machines in full, but rather in fragments heuristically pushed by Numecent's predictive engine. This reduces bandwidth load and improves perceived network performance. According to Kent, these benefits and others have been key in Software2's success thus far.
Historically, educational software's cost and licensing complexity have limited schools' ability to offer the software on anything but dedicated machines in campus labs. This, in turn, limits students' opportunities to benefit from the software. These limitations grow ever more problematic as higher education increasingly emphasizes distance learning and the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) model of instruction.
At the UK universities that have deployed Application Jukebox Suite, on the other hand, "students can use their software from anywhere and from any of their own machines," Kent told me, adding that "seeing how those students are now liberated is extraordinary." This has proved particularly important to students with assisted learning needs. Often, students with special needs are provided with their own customized laptops, which they use in lieu of regular lab computers. "The software can now be provisioned to the assisted learning machines, empowering and liberating those students as well," he said.
From the universities' perspective, meanwhile, cloudpaging creates significant cost benefits, according to Kent. "They save millions of dollars annually because this has made IT zero-touch as far as these machines are concerned," he said. Support calls drop. After deployment at the University of Surrey, for example, IT received "our lowest calls for software issues at the start of an academic year" and experienced reduced ticket count as well, as Roger Stickland, director of IT, told me.
Additionally, cloudpaging reduces the load on the network compared to other application streaming technologies such as pixel streaming and remote desktops. It also performs well under less-than-perfect network conditions. Damian Branigan, client device development manager at Oxford Brookes Information Solutions and Oxford Brooks University, told me that "it enabled us to provide the same functionality in areas where our networking infrastructure was sub-optimal or scheduled for upgrade outside the cloudpaging timeline."
The universities have reduced their costs and needs while providing more resources to students than they did before. "The universities are now using this as a competitive weapon to attract students," Kent said.
As far as implementation challenges go, meanwhile, none have been major or insurmountable, according to the universities with which I spoke. Oxford Brookes University experienced some issues "locating some of the media and licensing," Branigan said, and "in one instance we retrofitted files and registry settings for want of an installation executable, which the Jukebox Studio facilitates very easily." Branigan found compatibility issues and software bugs easy to handle through Application Jukebox. At the University of Surrey, challenges mostly revolved around "moving from a computer to a user-based methodology," Stickland said, but the change was "received very well."
Numecent and Software2 claim that their higher-education partnership has so far delivered approximately 10,000 cloudified applications to more than 250,000 students and staff, including a growing number of BYOD users. The companies approached the UK market first to remain in stealth in the States, but now that the cat's out of the bag, that will change.
"We are already working with a number of universities in the U.S., and these are prestigious, high-end universities," Kent said. Community colleges may also prove an important market, since the financial constraints such institutions face could make cloudpaging an attractive option.
More and more industry players are recognizing that the application is key. Whether for an enterprise or a university, what matters at the end of the day is how well mission-critical applications can be delivered to the end users who need them. But that doesn't mean that it's only the network that needs to change. As Software2's growth across the pond shows, there's room to change the way the applications traverse the network, too.
Jude Chao is executive editor of Enterprise Networking Planet. Follow her on Twitter @judechao.