3 Questions for MokaFive Founder John Whaley

Desktop virtualization is far from a new topic, in fact it dates back to the inception of the client-server model. But there are still virtualization startups out there, among them Redwood City, Calif.-based MokaFive, which is gunning for a chance to go up against Microsoft, IBM and Citrix with its own desktop-in-the-cloud model, which debuts on Tuesday.

I chatted with MokaFive founder and CTO John Whaley about what makes MokaFive’s model different from that of its competitors, and how reliable a desktop-in-the-cloud might be.

GigaOM: How is the MokaFive desktop different and why did you guys go with a cloud computing storage model?
John Whaley: Running a desktop off of a server is expensive and you have to be connected to the server. You can generally fit only a certain number of desktops on a server and the servers processing all the information can run really slow. So we chose a client running on a computer carried via a USB drive.

Another benefit to running a desktop off a client is we have this feature that keeps all of the data separate from the OS and the applications. So if you ever mess up the system with malware, viruses, etc., you just shut down and restart with a pristine OS and applications.

GO: Are customers concerned about reliability of the Amazon infrastructure and the idea of storing their desktop in the cloud rather than on dedicated hardware?
Whaley: We have over 60 customers and they can host the data themselves or we use Amazon S3 to host only the bits for each user. We don’t store the code with Amazon. If a user isn’t connected to the Internet for some reason the data is stored on the travel drive and syncs back up to the cloud when the user is online again.

GO: What is your and backer Vinod Khosla’s vision for the future of computing that led to the founding and funding of MokaFive?
Whaley: Your computer is living in the cloud and you can access it from anywhere — from a desktop, a laptop or a cell phone. That means your desktop can be maintained by someone else for you. From the IT administrator’s point of view his job is easier and for you it’s like a new machine in the cloud that keeps working and is constantly refreshed without the problems of spyware and virus attacks. I think this will be common in 3-4 years.

Stacey here: For those curious and willing to try the MokaFive concept, the company has a section of its site devoted to publicly shared virtual environments for testing. One that looks particularly interesting is its Fearless Browser download, which allows you to create an anonymous browsing environment on your PC. Given the lack of privacy on the web, this may come in handy.