Virtually amazing

Altiris 6 Software Virtualization Solution

|GCN Lab Reviewer's Choice|

Performance: A+

Ease of Use: A

Features: B+

Value: A

Price: $29 per client (volume discounts available). Government price $20.86 per client for 10-999 nodes (more discounts for greater volume). Free for personal use.

Reviewer Comments:

This software facilitates standardization between desktops by installing everything virtually.


Altiris Inc.

Lindin, Utah

(888) 252-5551

One View: SVS aggregates the real and virtual file systems.

[IMGCAP(2)]As the domains of the network administrator get larger, and the variety of software that is required by each user is greater, maintaining some sort of standardization can be nigh impossible. All too often a program will become corrupt or otherwise unworkable, and then the administrator must spend valuable time reinstalling. And installing so many different programs on a single computer will inevitably lead to conflicts, causing the various pieces of software to fight over the same computer resources.

One way out of this mess is with Altiris Software Virtualization Solution 2.0. SVS can simplify the program maintenance for a single computer, or an entire network.
The way virtualization works is a little tricky to get your head around at first, but once you grasp it, the basic concept seems elegantly simple.

When a program is installed through SVS, a Virtual Software Package (VSP) is created. This package contains all of the necessary files to run the program, and a record of all of the changes that were made to the registry and hard drive during the installation. The Filter Driver uses this information to interface that program with the operating system.

Once a VSP is created, you have the option of activating or deactivating its layer. While a layer is deactivated, it is totally invisible to the system, as well as the end user. The program exits if it is running, all of the files 'disappear' (including ones that were open), and its presence is 'removed' from the registry. It is essentially as if it were never installed.

Each VSP layer can be activated in a matter of seconds, without the need for a reboot. As each layer is totally independent, they can be activated in any combination that you see fit, and certain layers can be set to activate upon system start-up. This can either be done at the computer in question through the Software Virtualization Admin console, or remotely through Altiris' free Notification Server or some third-party products.

One aspect of this solution that might be especially useful for product testers is that with SVS you can have different versions of the same software program installed and running on the same system. This is not usually possible by conventional means without drive partitioning or a similar process.

Probably the greatest benefit to a busy network administrator is the way SVS facilitates distribution. Once you have installed a program and created a VSP on one computer, you can export it to what is called a Virtual Software Package Archive (which is just a fancy name for a WinZip archive of a VSP). You can then distribute them to the rest of your machines via the Notification Server, or even on a key drive, CD, or attachment in an e-mail. Then the VSA can be imported to a VSP and activated like any other layer. If you choose to distribute through a management interface such as the Notification Server, the import and activation can all be done remotely.

Altiris users have developed a thriving community for Altiris products, including SVS. If you have a question about how to implement something, or just wondered what others were accomplishing, the Altiris Juice community ( will likely have the information you need. The presence of such an active and devoted user community usually speaks well of the product.

As powerful a solution that SVS is, we were pleased to see it at such a reasonable price. Each copy of the SVS client has an MSRP of $29. In addition, the Notification Server is free to any Altiris customer, and the SVS itself is being distributed free for nonbusiness use.

Once you get used to the idea, it should become apparent that the Altiris SVS might be just the solution you need. Most network administrators should find it invaluable.

About the Author

Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.


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