Q&A with Harry Labana CTO and VP of AppSense

I recently had a chance to get Harry Labana, CTO and VP of AppSense ‘s view on User Virtualization and Desktop Transformation. So, here are my questions to him and his answers to them.

Just to get started, can you give a quick overview of AppSense and your offerings and industry space?
It’s an exciting time in our history as we find our selves at the intersection of exponential technologies. As mega industry trends like consumerization, virtualization, cloud, mobile, data and social mature. Diverse client and data center architectures are rapidly becoming available to the enterprise in a race to provide solutions. In this heterogeneous world of differing environments; traditional models of device centric computing break down since they were never designed to be used across diverse architectures, leading to complexity and cost. To rationalize this complexity a new approach is required to deal with the sophisticated demands of dynamic enterprise customers that operate at scale. That approach is user virtualization, which enables individual IT by putting people at the center of computing. 

The AppSense User Virtualization Platform decouples the user from all aspects of their apps, operating system, delivery method (e.g. VDI) and device and delivers it back on demand across different architectures. This means the users have the ultimate predictable experience across any platform, device, etc. and IT can manage the users separately which means much simpler management of their environment and never having to migrate again because the user does not reside in devices, operating systems, apps, etc.
AppSense has been in business since 1999 and matured from a point solution focus to a global independent software vendor and the market leader in providing user virtualization platform solutions to enterprise organizations. The depth and breath of the AppSense platform has led to many years of successful growth and advancing capability. This has also enabled us to invest in high quality support infrastructure and professional service capabilities for enterprise customers.

In February 2011 this independent progress attracted a significant $70M dollar investment from Goldman Sachs only one month after their Facebook investment.

Following the investment from Goldman Sachs, AppSense has bolstered its leadership team recruiting many industry leaders into its ranks.

In May 2011 AppSense was elevated to a Managed Independent Software Vendor (ISV) Partner status by Microsoft Corp. Less than five percent of Microsoft ISV partners achieve Managed ISV Partner status. As a Managed ISV Partner, AppSense works closely with Microsoft to ensure its user virtualization platform enhances and extends the enterprise user management capabilities of Microsoft System Center, Windows Server and Windows Client.

Our momentum continues. In January 2012 we were delighted to appoint John Connors, former Microsoft CFO, to our board. We also announced record 46% orders increase for the first half of our financial year 2012, and expanded our global workforce by nearly 40 percent. AppSense also announced it is expanding operations into Asia-Pacific and Latin America. In the second half of its 2012 fiscal year, the company will open offices in Brazil, Hong Kong and Singapore.

What is your view on the importance of Desktop Transformation, and how important will this be in 2012?
My advice is to first forget about just Desktop Transformation and ask yourself a more important question, will my job exist in 5 to 10 years? I discussed some thoughts in Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ciocentral/2011/09/19/does-it-still-matter/

If you understand my point in the Forbes article you will understand that everything is becoming “as a service.” The data center of tomorrow will not be the data center of today and that means organizational transformation will be required if you want to remain relevant.

Desktop transformation is a step to the ultimate desktop. A desktop (and I use this term to be all encompassing so including iPads, smartphones, virtual desktops, etc.) where both user and IT expectations are met and exceeded. A place where data, apps, policy and personalization follow the user no matter what device or method of access they use and IT have the lowest cost model with the simplest management overhead. This is something we call User Centric Computing and you get there with user virtualization. Desktop transformation is all about moving to lower cost services based models and is a step in achieving this.
For some organizations, the word “transformation” is used for no other reason than to replace the somewhat feared word, “migration.” For these organizations they simply need to move to the new version of the Windows OS as quickly as possible.
For others, desktop transformation means a change in the way the desktop is being delivered and managed. This may still include migrating the user from one OS to another, but in many cases, a desktop transformation project will fundamentally change the way the desktop, the applications and/or the user is being delivered or managed.
These changes in management and delivery could include but are not limited to, virtualizing the desktop, moving to a remote desktop infrastructure, virtualizing or streaming applications, introducing automation and software delivery technologies, removing admin rights, introducing App Stores, self-service, and many more. As an example we have seen a massive increase in the number of customers using Microsoft SCCM and App-V over the last couple of years. In many cases, such technologies form part of a transformation project, which still includes a migration from XP to Win 7, but the fundamental transformation is the way in which components of the desktop are being managed.
As we edge towards 2014, the urgency to migrate from Windows XP increases. For the first type of organization, the migration phase will be challenging enough without introducing any additional complexity around VDI, RDS, Streaming, App Virtualization etc. For those others, the migration itself provides an opportunity to introduce new technologies and management tools, which in some cases help and enable the migration, but more importantly help reduce the on-going cost of the environment, post migration.
The most successful transformation projects we have seen at AppSense have been where the various teams within an organization (Desktop, AD, GPO, RDS, Packaging, Security, etc.) have come together to plan and produce transformation projects that encompass all aspects of the environment, ensuring economies of scale are achieved from working smart and using solutions that are autonomous. From an AppSense perspective, we have seen a number of transformation projects start by managing the user component first. Depending on the customer and where they are at, will depend on where they start their AppSense journey – some will simply migrate the user first and manage later; others will completely manage all aspects of the user, allowing the user to roam freely across the environment.

With Windows 8 coming up, do you think User Virtualization will be more important to get right, and why?
People understand that migrating from one OS to another is costly, time consuming and complex. Migrating users (or in our case, removing the need to migrate ever again) is just one benefit a true User Virtualization solution can bring. However, regardless of the OS version, the need to manage the user not the device is what is important. There will be less users than devices, so why continue to manage the user and their devices as one monolithic entity? Managing the users’ applications, enforcing governance, securing the operating environment and ensuring the perfect balance between IT policy and the users’ freedom will continue to drive the need for true User Virtualization solutions. As for “profile management” solutions, the need will be reduced. Whilst people will still need to migrate, it’s not a long-term strategy.
The ability for a user to install applications in their Virtual Desktop is key, what is your take on User Installed Applications?
Let’s be up front and honest on this topic! Users installing their own applications in any environment is an IT challenge. Users installing their own applications in a VDI environment, in the data center; well that’s a nightmare waiting to happen! User installed applications is not for the fainthearted and will always be a “use case” that needs solving.
Let me also state that User Installed Applications is not a “product” or magic solution that any single vendor will solve. User installed applications is a challenge, which IMO is misunderstood on the majority of occasions.
In your question you are referring to UIA in a VDI environment….I would argue this can be solved today….. Just give the user a dedicated desktop with Full Admin rights! Of course, that is not what you meant – Therefore understanding the customers’ need and requirement is key – IMO, mainly due to the lack of qualification used when discussing requirements with customers, confusion rules…and with confusion comes product comparisons and even more complexity.
Let’s take VDI for example…don’t solutions from Citrix now offer User Installed Application solutions? Well yes it does; especially if you’re looking for a technology that can roam a user’s applications from one VDI environment to another. Its “personal vDisk”, formerly technology from RingCube, means that the application the user installed yesterday can now be seen tomorrow. 
However, dive deeper and ask the customer what the real challenge is. They may tell you that the challenge is more about allowing a standard user who is not an admin to install applications in the first place. In this case, you need a completely different solution that deals with user rights management and the ability to elevate admin privileges.
Couple a solution like Citrix Personal vDisk and AppSense Application Manager’s User Rights Management and you may have a solution that meets the customers’ needs!
Those who follow AppSense will however also be aware of a technology we have called Strata. This FREE piece of technology promises to change the way in which users install applications in their traditional desktop environment. It overcomes the challenges with admin rights and allows app stores to be used – you can learn more here,
https://www.appsense.com/blog/post/2011/10/19/Free!-User-Installed-Application-Madness-With-AppSense-Strata.aspx but in essence it makes the desktop disposable, allowing users’ own applications to be managed by them, not the IT department.
What is your take on device freedom? And that the User profile follows the user no matter what device they connect from?
Device Freedom, I like that! We love it – we believe it – our customers do! Our take on “device freedom” is all about “freeing the user” – managing that user regardless of the device, OS or apps that are being delivered. It’s a similar terminology, but in short means the same thing – stop managing the device; start managing the user.
It’s not just about reducing cost and complexity either – in many cases “freedom of the user or “freedom from the device” also enables other technologies (VDI, RDS, App Virtualization) and accelerates desktop transformation projects.
I would however comment on the use of the words, “user profile” – whilst it’s true that roaming the “user profile” is key, it needs to be contextual and controlled. A profile that follows the user without context becomes bloated and useless to many of the environments it roams to. Take the Windows quick launch bar in XP as an example – it doesn’t need to roam from XP to Win 7 and back again as it was replaced in Win 7. The same may be true when roaming from physical to virtual PC and or RDS.
Hence we believe that the user profile is a thing of the past and has little to do with User Virtualization… Application control, governance, elevation, performance, user applications, configuration and permissions all truly enable device freedom.

The pace of innovation will continue to challenge enterprises to respond with solutions that enable user centric possibilities. As a result customers need to know that they have a platform that they can grow with today and future proof for tomorrow vs. worrying about integrating low capability point solutions that have little certainty of direction or worse spin in several directions. That requires us to intensely focus on doing what we do best, helping bridge people and computing with user virtualization. We will avoid the trap of getting distracted with divided focus and building inch deep mile wide capabilities, as I discussed here.   https://www.appsense.com/blog/post/2012/01/22/Divided-we-are-focused-Learning-from-BMW.aspx

Enterprise customers need sophisticated capabilities to help them simplify the complexity that is increasing in their world. To be successful at that AppSense will remain laser focused to serve our enterprise customers with user virtualization.
Any comments on the “Twitter war” recently with Liquidware Labs about User Virtualization?
If I proclaimed that the Nordics was the same as Scandinavia or despite friendly reminders continually insisted that Norwegians were the same as the Swedes then what would you think? You could believe it not knowing any better, think I’m ignorant or conclude I’m not very smart. I would not be surprised if your reaction was to simply point out that I should understand the facts before talking about you. I’d hardly call that a war.
What was not cool was LiquidWare Labs on their home page misrepresenting what AppSense does, a Gorilla marketing tactic that other point solution competitors of LiquidWare Labs don’t feel the need to do. So technically educating those who incorrectly position our technology was a necessity and we produced hard facts and video’s to illustrate the truth. https://www.appsense.com/blog/post/2012/01/19/Just-Clearing-the-Air.aspx As a result, LiquidWare Labs were left with no alterative but to remove fundamental untruths about AppSense from their home page.

AppSense is proud to be the creator of the User Virtualization market. As an organization we employ many long serving, passionate, technically experienced individuals who understand this space better than anyone. Over the years we have developed and created a platform that allows our customers to embark on a journey to User Virtualization. For those customers looking to solve a tactical pain point with profiles, we have always provided (and always will) an infrastructure-less profile management solution. However, as time has evolved our solutions have too. Customers have realized that profile management alone is not enough and hence User Virtualization becomes more strategic to their business. We support competition and for many years have worked alongside other profile management technologies such as Immidio and Sepago, in some cases using AppSense UV alongside their profile management solutions. Competition grows the market and helps amplify the value such solutions can bring; and hence AppSense are happy to support small and growing companies such as LiquidWare Labs. We know what it is like to be small and unfunded, and historically we have not needed to comment on such topics, but in this case we were not happy with the false comments and matrixes they had placed on their website regarding both AppSense and RES Software. However our objective is to unlock technology to free human potential, we are all about delighting our users and our customers, not about fighting with our competition. Let’s leave it there.


Is there a demo of one your products you can provide a link to?


Sure—We have an AppSense YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/AppSense1


One of my favorite videos even has us singing with our friends from Citrix.



We also posted a video on your site explaining how our EM product can be configured in some alternate ways that other’s claim we can’t do…


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