Monday, January 18, 2010

Application Encapsulation or Application Virtualization

One of the problems in distributed desktop environments is application lifecycle management. Lifecycle management is the testing, deploying, upgrading and removing applications that are no longer needed. In addition installing applications into a standard desktop image increases the number of images that need to be maintained. With every unique application workload a separate image is developed so different users or business groups have the appropriate applications. This leads to desktops being segregated based on the types of applications; e.g. finance uses a finance image and marketing uses a marketing image and so on and so on. While manageable from a desktop perspective, it can lead to operational overhead in building, managing and maintaining the number of standard images.

In addition as application incompatibilities are discovered desktop images became locked to a specific build with static application and operating system versions.  In a terminal server environment this caused servers to be silo’d based on application compatibility; on desktops this leads to a long refresh cycle. Application encapsulation or application virtualization was originally developed to solve these problem on terminal server environments however it was ported to the desktop space to deal with the same issues.

Application encapsulation is a form of virtualization that isolates the application in a separate set of files that have read access to the underlying operating system but only limited or redirected writes. Citrix XenApp Application streaming leverages the Microsoft cab file format (Microsoft’s native compressed archive format) for its encapsulated packages. VMware acquired a company called ThinStall (VMware ThinApp) which encapsulates the application into a single exe or msi. Once applications are repackaged for application virtualization they can be removed from the desktop image and run from a file share as an exe (VMware) or streamed to the desktop using RTSP (Real Time Streaming Protocol) (Citrix) to run from a cached location. By abstracting the application from the images the number of images that need to be maintained in reduced. In addition, depending on the software the applications can be delivered to users based on file or AD (Active Directory) permissions. The big benefit to implementing application encapsulation is that applications can be tied to users vs. the more traditional approach of installing them into a desktop image. It is common for organizations to over license software by installing it on every desktop instead of just to the required users to simplify licensing compliance. Obstructing the applications on the desktop through virtualization allows the image to be truly universal as a single image can be applied to all users.

Unless you have the same application workload for every business unit you should consider application encapsulation or “application virtualization” to reduce the operational overhead of managing applications in a VDI environment. Encapsulation eliminates application interoperability problems and reduces the management of deploying new applications. Because the applications are pre-packaged, the application configurations are centrally managed lowering application support. While these technologies are available without desktop virtualization, they are more problematic to implement as it is difficult to maintain a consistent desktop OS baseline in a physical environment even if user changes are restricted. Because of the consistent representation of physical hardware within a virtual machine a standard desktop baseline is much easier to enforce in a VDI environment.

VDI presents the opportunity to effectively reduce the administrative burden of applications through the integration of application encapsulation. These solutions have been bundled by the vendors in a way that allows customers to easily incorporate this technology.  Keep in mind that when managing a VDI project you should allow ample time for the testing and integration of application virtualization technology.  The heavy lifting in deploying application virtualization is the repackaging of applications. 


2. Application encapsulation is a form of virtualization that isolates the application in a separate set of files

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