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Automate application virtualisation to reduce costs and save time

By Vincent Smyth, EMEA VP, Flexera Software.


Date: 20 Feb 2012

As the industry moves from the PC era to a Cloud era, desktop virtualisation is growing rapidly in popularity, accelerated further by the proliferation of new and unique consumer devices and user demands for mobility. Changing the desktop model to a virtualised and separated set of resources (operating system, applications, and user data and settings) provides the benefit of independently managing each layer and applying it, where needed and as needed, across many technologies. Organisations want Windows 7, virtual desktops, and session-based solutions, but they often lack the knowledge to transform their application portfolio into solutions that meet the needs of a constantly changing IT landscape.

This is where application virtualisation becomes a building block of the new desktop model. Today administrators are changing the desktop computing model, combining new operating system deployments with virtualisation technologies. Application virtualisation enables accelerated deployment, improved support, and increased flexibility, reducing the effort of implementing new technologies. Applications are the essential resource that each user needs to be productive. The problem for organisations is how to take hundreds or even thousands of applications in various formats and create packages that can be delivered to traditional desktops or desktop virtualisation technologies like VDI and session-based that support thin clients, tablets, smartphones, non-managed and non-Windows devices.

Let’s start by looking at application management from an IT perspective. Today IT departments are deploying Windows 7 (including 64 bit, and browser updates), building VDI infrastructures, and enhancing their session virtualisation solutions. However, these solutions all require applications that are tested, remediated, and optimised for each technology. Application virtualisation provides a solution that enables these scenarios, but with a few caveats. These new formats have separate tools for creating packages, but they still require a deep, application-level knowledge and since existing applications are not in a virtualised format, they require the packaging of each application into a new format. Requiring packaging staff to learn another tool decreases current productivity that is critical to maintaining an application catalog today, especially since the catalog likely sees changes of 30 percent per year. Application virtualisation does not support all applications, which means additional work becomes necessary to package applications traditionally when they are not compatible.

With automated application virtualisation conversion, organisations can leverage their current application packaging resources and previous work and automate application packaging using one tool, with one process, in any format required (Microsoft® App-V™, VMware® Thin App™ and Citrix® XenApp™.). Automated application virtualisation validates compatible applications and batch-converts those applications into virtual application packages. Packaging resources can focus on applications that work with application virtualisation, but require additional configuration. The first automated step is the repackaging of applications in a standard format (MSI). Next, the applications are remediated for operating system and web browser compatibility issues, and finally, compatible applications are automatically converted. Throughout this process, packaging engineers are presented with troubleshooting guidance for traditional and virtual applications.

Key Steps to Automating Application Virtualisation
Automating application virtualisation is an ongoing IT process that doesn’t end with the initial conversion. An organisation that converts 2,000 applications into a virtualisation format will see an average of 600 applications that are refreshed each year, in addition to newly acquired software. Organisations currently struggle to complete application packaging today due to the volume of new software and updates to existing software, and this is without the addition of IT projects and initiatives that require new package formats and delivery endpoints for testing. Today packages have to work on traditional desktops, virtual desktops, session-based solutions (Remote Desktop Services and Citrix) to support user access from any device.
Automation is crucial for application virtualisation projects, enabling IT to take software from their application catalog and check for compatibility for both Windows 7 and application virtualisation formats, fix application compatibility, and convert the applications into standard MSI and application virtualisation formats using one tool, eliminating manual testing and remediation, significantly reducing the workload.

Since application virtualisation projects may come on the heels of other, larger initiatives, it is critical to reduce the time and effort of completing a transformation from software to application virtualisation packages. In order to be successful, the current application catalog and process needs to be evaluated. Application virtualisation projects should focus on shifting the current application management from reactive to proactive. The goal of automated application readiness is to take in software from any source and produce consistent packages in various formats for delivery to any device. Application delivery specialists then have the flexibility of having software packaged in a compatible format required for the next project, as the packaging team has already created and placed them in the application library. Transitioning from an-hoc application packaging process to a repeatable, consistent one requires a broader view of the process. The following diagram provides the six steps to Application Readiness.

The first step is to obtain an accurate view of the applications that are deployed across the organisation in order to begin estimating the effort required to complete the project. Since the benefits of application virtualisation increase as a greater percentage of applications are virtualised, this is a good time to capture the current inventory of applications and identify the ones that are, or are not, being used. Also, since application virtualisation is often part of an operating system deployment, the data obtained can be used for both purposes. Most applications will be virtualised, but some will need to be installed traditionally, so having an accurate inventory of applications is the best place to start.

The next step to automating application virtualisation is determining which applications are actually needed from the application inventory. Many organisations have had the same operating system for years and their applications catalogs have grown to include multiple versions of the same application, applications that are not used, and duplicate applications that perform the same task. By consolidating these applications, organisations can reduce the amount of software that needs to be remediated for the new operating system and converted for application virtualisation and reduce purchases and costs associated with maintaining duplicate and multiple versions of the same software.

Assess Compatibility
Rationalising the applications will provide a list of applications for conversion to application virtualisation packages, but application virtualisation doesn’t ensure application-to-operating system compatibility. Applications still require compatibility testing prior to virtualisation. Typically only 30 – 50% of applications that run on Windows XP will run on Windows 7 without requiring some modification. Manually installing and testing each application on Windows 7 and exhaustively testing all features of the application to ensure they work is difficult and time consuming. Many applications may initially appear to work for an IT professional, but as features and functions in the application are used by the business users, compatibility issues may arise causing unpredictable application performance and loss of productivity. Utilising compatibility tools like Microsoft’s® Application Compatibility Toolkit and Flexera Software’s™ AdminStudio® Application Compatibility Pack together enables an organisation to identify applications that need to be fixed in order to run on Windows 7, as well as those with un-fixable compatibility issues that will need to be replaced or updated.

When embarking on an application virtualisation project, IT professionals need to assess compatibility with Windows 7 and identify which applications work with specific application virtualisation technologies. All of the virtualisation solutions have specific guidance on what won’t work, but utilising that information requires knowing applications at a very deep level. Application vendors may offer troubleshooting information for applications that won’t work using the supplied packaging tool, but they often provide only limited prescriptive guidance. This lack of substantive information often slows or stops the process of packaging applications in a virtualised format. Automated virtualisation technology provides packagers with information regarding what applications will work virtualised, as well as known issues and prescriptive guidance for remediation. This troubleshooting information can save considerable time, eliminate working on incompatible software, and provide guidance for accelerating solutions to known issues.

Many organisations do not having adequate information when planning and budgeting for projects. Since application compatibility and packaging are costly and time-consuming components of an application virtualisation project, having an accurate view of the applications targeted for migration and their readiness for application dependent projects provides data for budget and resource allocation.

The work completed in the Rationalise and Assess Compatibility phases provides a list of rationalised applications and the details of compatibility issues which need to be addressed. With this information you will have a clear view of the magnitude of the project enabling you to accurately calculate costs and likely timeframes.

Fix & Package
Applications which presented issues during the “Assess Compatibility” phase must be fixed or replaced prior to deployment on Windows 7. Manually researching and remediating (or “fixing”) applications produces varied results and requires dedicated and highly-skilled resources. Automation that fixes compatibility issues should create standards‘ based MSIs for traditional delivery. Organisations also implementing application virtualisation as part of their desktop transformation initiative can create virtualised application packages from remediated installations, or have them automatically converted into a specific application virtualisation technology, such as Microsoft App-V™, VMware ThinApp™, and Citrix XenApp™. This can all occur as part of the “Fix & Package” phase from products like AdminStudio from Flexera Software which simplifies the move to application virtualisation by creating both traditional (MSI) and virtualised packages during the same process without additional tools or processes.

With the automated application virtualisation approach, the resultant packages are automatically added into the electronic software distribution (ESD) solution without additional copying of files and manual hand offs. An automated solution can pass packages to virtually any deployment solution, including Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager, LANDesk® Management Suite, Novell® Senworks®, and others. This enables an organisation’s deployment specialist to simply pick a package from the catalog and deploy it to the appropriate targets. Since most of the manual process has been removed eliminating potential errors, the deployment specialist can be confident that a consistent and supportable package has been delivered.

The last important piece of automated application virtualisation is the capturing of tracking and trending information. Packaging departments don’t always know how many packages are produced over a period of time, therefore they struggle to properly estimate the resources and effort required to adopt new technologies that require application readiness. Therefore, workflow management and reporting are critical components of a complete Application Readiness process.

Automated application virtualisation readies applications for new technology adoption. This process enables packaging staff to accept any format of application, remediate it for compatibility issues, evaluate it for application virtualisation, and produce consistent packages in any desired format, from MSI to application virtualisation. Automating application virtualisation enables organisations to move towards completion of Windows 7 deployment projects, adopt VDI and session virtualisation, and deliver applications in a user-centric solution. An automated virtualisation solution, when combined with the ability to publish packages to common application delivery technologies, reduces IT department resources and enables packaging staff to produce quality packages for predictable deployments.


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Tags: Server Virtualization, Storage Virtualization, Network Virtualization, Desktop Virtualization, Citrix, RedHat

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