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Throw Away Your Laptop, Says MokaFive

If virtualization were a state, Stanford University would be its capital. That's where Diane Greene, Mendel Rosenblum, and others worked on the technology that would eventually lead to the founding of VMware in 1998, allowing virtualization to cross the chasm into potential widespread adoption.

Now another brain trust spun off from Stanford is off and running with a startup called MokaFive that's going after desktop virtualization in a unique way. The company has some formidable competition including the big three (i.e. Microsoft, Citrix, and VMware) and the thin client providers. It has also targeted the desktop as a service (DaaS) market that other startups such as Desktone are going after with a vengeance.

I always enjoy looking under the hood and finding out what makes a new start-up tick. But tech moves so fast that history sometimes get shortchanged. We're all so focused pursuing the Next Big Thing it's hard to take the time to appeciate how the technology was actually developed. That's why in this case it was nice to look on the Website and see a company cognizant of its roots. There, a downloadable .pdf of the original paper that started it all "The Collective: A Cache-Based System Management Architecture" was prominently highlighted. (Not that anyone except maybe some competitors are actually going to read it.)

With a slew of new vendors knocking on Virtualization Review's door for briefings, we're trying to keep up. Editor Keith Ward and I recently spoke with John Whaley, one of the founders and the CTO of MokaFive, to get a handle on what they're all about. According to the site, John is responsible for "technical vision" and it's a pretty interesting one, bringing one version of the notion of utility computing a step closer to reality. (In this context --- and speaking of history --it's interesting to look back at what John McCarthy said about utility computing at the MIT Centennial in back in, uh, 1961. "If computers of the kind I have advocated become the computers of the future, then computing may someday be organized as a public utility just as the telephone system is a public utility ... The computer utility could become the basis of a new and important industry. Welcome to 1961 folks!)

So let me see if I can lay it out a bit. Let's say you're a road warrior and you walk into your hotel room. There are some "utility" devices in the room: a TV, a refrigerator and a general-purpose computer. The computer has some chops but no personality. The real computer is hanging around your neck or on your key chain -- a thumb drive containing your PC as a virtual machine. It's the ultimate sneakernet: plug it in to the USB port, boot up, and you're good to go. Such an approach, if widely adopted, would give rise to a wide proliferation of similar utility devices in public places. And unlike the Internet kiosks you see in airport terminals, these ones might actually get used.

MokaFive's LivePC virtual machines contain an entire operating system and application stack that fits on a USB flash drive and updates automatically with Internet connectivity. And of course the company also offers DaaS with a model than stands in technical performance opposition to the thin client model. I asked Whaley what he thought of new approaches to thin clients like what Wyse is offering with its recently announced Viance portfolio. (See our May/June issue for a story on this.) He contends that MokaFive's PC-based offering can provide much a better multimedia experience than what's available from bandwidth-constrained thin clients, even with these enhancements.

We'll have a lot more to say about this company and its competitors going forward. But for now, let us know what you think of MokaFive's vision for utility computing and whether it's likely to enjoy widespread adoption.

Posted by Tom Valovic on 05/05/2008 at 12:49 PM


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