In recent years the technology world has increasingly gone “virtual” in a number of areas. First we had virtual local area networks and server-based virtualization. This helped consolidate resources by allowing administrators to increase the density of servers per rack, and decrease the complexity of managing hundreds of servers. This is now a proven and well-respected approach which is considered best practice.
The next wave of virtualization is happening at the application level. Why should you catch it? Application virtualization provides the ability to deploy and execute application software at the host (local) computer without making changes to the local operating system, file system, or registry. Application virtualization is the next paradigm shift in virtualization, allowing you to create a virtual environment that encapsulates the application.
Historically, manual and remote installations of applications, licensing controls, legacy desktop management tools, and obsolete-standardization efforts have been a significant cost factor and constant challenge to IT departments anywhere. Indeed, escalating user demands for flexibility, speed, security, as well as the need for greater operational efficiency, have driven the need for a new vision in desktop management.
Achieving this vision requires a core framework of support processes that bring together human services and supporting applications in a way that enables optimum productivity in an organization. Application virtualization provides the “missing link” needed to make the elusive dream of a user-centric, on-demand, dynamic desktop with Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) capabilities – an application delivery model that allows a third-party to host and manage applications for use by its customers over the Internet – a reality.
Why go Virtual?
Application virtualization is designed to streamline the application management lifecycle. The advantages of application virtualization include:
- Provisioning and deployment of applications is as simple as adding the user to the appropriate Active Directory Security Group. The system will then place an icon on the user’s desktop or in the Start/Programs menu. When the user clicks on the icon, the application is delivered and executed on the local machine. Subsequent launch times will be executed from the local cached copy.
- Updating software as updates and fixes are released is a single-time event. Once an update has been re-packaged (re-sequenced) into an application you already have deployed, replacing the application is as simple as updating the package in the management console. The next time the user opens the application they will automatically receive the new update.
- Application decommissioning, retirement, and termination can be accomplished by simply deleting a user from the Active Directory security group associated with the application.
- No installation or alteration to your operating system is involved. This allows you to deploy and manage standardized baseline operating system images that will not become tainted or obsolete over time. While the application runs on the local machine, there is no traditional installation of applications involved. However, applications behave normally, as if they had been installed. One of the primary benefits here is that it is no longer necessary to have local administrator privileges to deploy applications.
- By eliminating the need for local installations and modification of the baseline platform, conflicts and regression testing needs are also eliminated; multiple versions of the same application can be run simultaneously on the same client computer and greater control and auditability are achieved.
Building Your Application Virtualization Solution
As IT professionals it is our responsibility to envision and design solutions that will meet the challenging demands of an ever-changing computing environment.
What are the tenets of such solutions in the applications world? First, data must be stored centrally in a secured environment that is also easy to access and manage. Each user in the network is assigned an individual profile that is accessible through a global directory and not tied to a specific computer. Further, users store data in the central repository and not on a local machine. Applications and services are managed through this directory as well, with access predefined according to user roles and group membership.
In this environment, managed desktops are user-neutral, providing secure and simple computing services, based on user login information, that are easy to manage and support. Application virtualization meets the standardization, performance, and flexibility requirements that every organization currently demands. A single base image, including the operating system and a number of fundamental applications, is loaded onto all clients. The goal of a managed desktop environment is to create client machines for which a minimum of maintenance is be required, since updates and applications that are installed locally are minimized.
Applications are delivered on-demand, based on user permissions, but executed locally so productivity on client machines is not affected. In addition, data and assets are stored on servers and accessed remotely, providing users with the latest information while allowing tighter control on the security of these data as no local data is stored on a user’s computer. This also helps to enable self-service amongst users, reducing their dependency on IT service staff.
Together, the combination of managed desktops, virtualized applications, and solid processes corporations increase security, reduce operating costs, and enhance the ability to be more responsive to business demands. Finally, elements such as self-provisioning and self-recovery, as well as applications that are available anywhere the user goes, provide a boost to productivity within an organization.