Microsoft announces Application Virtualization 4.5

On the 12th of November Microsoft announced the Beta release of Application Virtualization 4.5 - the new name of Microsoft SoftGrid.

On the 12th of November Microsoft announced the Beta release of Application Virtualization 4.5 - the new name of Microsoft SoftGrid. Application Virtualization is part of Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack, one of the faster selling Microsoft solutions with 3+ million licenses sold so far. For Microsoft, Application Virtualization is a key component in delivering applications to a broad range computing models.  This article describes the functionalities and features of Microsoft Application Virtualization 4.5.

So what's new in 4.5?

Dynamic Virtualization

Dynamic Suiting, enhanced virtual application interaction, is a new feature that will prove to be very useful in the near future. This will give secondary applications access to the Virtual Environment of the primary application. There is no communication restriction between two Virtual Environments. Dynamic Suiting is (easily) configured within the OSD file and the dependency is set with in the OSD file. Re-sequencing of applications is not necessary. Applications Sequenced with 4.2 can be used.

This feature is very useful for Middleware applications (JRE, Oracle, MDAC,..) or plug-ins like Microsoft Office plug-ins. The Microsoft Application Virtualization team worked closely with the Office team and tested 400+ plug-ins with the Dynamic Suiting functionality. Integration of two large applications like Microsoft Office and the Autodesk Suite is even possible (but is not yet a wise idea due to performance problems).

Extended scalability with flexible deployment models

With Application Virtualization 4.5 there are different deployment models. Some of these models are covered in this article, and the rest will be covered in an Application Virtualization architecture and Design article that I am writing and will publish soon.

Traditional 'SoftGrid' design
  • A SoftGrid Virtual Application Server for streaming package data to SoftGrid clients. With 4.5 this server is called the Heavyweight Streaming Server (HWS). SQL Server and AD are needed.
  • Content location, responsible for hosting SoftGrid packages for streaming.
  • SoftGrid Management Console for management.
  • SoftGrid Management web service responsible for read/write requests to the Data Store.
  • SoftGrid Data store, SQL Data store responsible for storing all information related to SoftGrid.
Lightweight Streaming Server (LWS)

In order to address the needs of companies who want to take advantage of the virtualization and streaming capability of SoftGrid but don't want a full HWS, Microsoft introduced LWS (LightWeight Streaming server). LWS is especially useful in branch office scenarios since it is only a streaming server. In fact, LWS does not even require AD, SQL, or the SoftGrid Management Console.

Branch office deployment without using ESD

Using LWS to deliver applications in a branch office scenario allows you to place the LWS servers at the branch offices and stream your application data locally rather than across the WAN. This means that the only traffic going over the WAN is publishing information, which is fairly small to begin with. The same OSD files can be used between the HQ and the branch offices by configuring a new option in Application Delivery 4.5 - the Application Source Root, or ASR.

The ASR is used to configure the SoftGrid client to stream SoftGrid package files from a location other than what's specified in the application's OSD file. This setting is configurable within the client registry. The key is HKLM\Software\Microsoft\SoftGrid\4.5\Configuration and there are two available options: URL and UNC path.

Stand alone or remote locations

In previous versions of SoftGrid it was not possible to have a virtual application running on a SoftGrid client without a SoftGrid Server having been available at some point. There where some "solutions," but these where really "workarounds". With this new scenario, the user has the ability to "install" a Virtual Application. Of course, this is not the traditional installation of an application -- in this case it means it is actually publishing the shortcuts from the package manifest and loading the .SFT file into cache. This all happens through the Windows Installer Service and the use of an .MSI file that is generated by the sequencer through a simple check box selection. The "require user authorization" option on the SoftGrid client must be deselected during the (unattended) client installation. Microsoft will be creating a Group Policy template .adm file to control all the client settings.

Extended scalability

  • Auto loading capacity using BITS; (pre) load applications as a background process.
  • Device targeting with ESD solution only.
  • SDK, Management object for SGserver with .NET language support and a WMI provider. The provider can be used to get Client status information such as which applications are cached, are they fully cached etc, cache size information, etc.

Globalization

  • Globalization and localization, support for non-English client platforms.
  • Support apps and OS; Make sure that all the Microsoft and other large software vendors support their applications within a virtual application environment.
  • There are dedicated people within the Application Virtualization team who are primarily focused on this subject.

Microsoft Security Standards

  • Secured by default, example Kerberos authentication, PKI infrastructure for using RTSPS (RTSPS over TLS).
  • Secure communication, no OpenSSL as in previous versions, but secure communication is possible and setup as default, with a regular Microsoft PKI infrastructure.
  • Secure computing lifecycle and trustworthy computing; the development of 4.5 is secure by design. Testing of the solution is also focused on security.

Sequencer 4.5

Several new features:

  • Capture security information of files. You can use the Access Control List on files within the Virtual Environment. This only applies to files, though - not registry entries.
  • Faster deployment of upgraded applications. When an application was upgraded with the 'Package Upgrade' scenario the FB1 was completely restreamed to the client. With 4.5 only the updates within FB1 are streamed. This leads to faster application upgrades and deployments.
  • MUA, Microsoft Update Agent integration within the sequence process.
  • Sequencer saves as MSI, Deploy a SoftGrid application within a MSI file. Benefit is example integration in 'Add or Remove Programs'. This integration is useful for meeting and auditing license usage.
  • MSI generation, needed for a standalone usecase.
  • Command line sequencing is upgraded.

Microsoft Application Virtualization 4.5 will be released in summer 2008, features and functionalities are subject of change. There is a beta available here. There is no official Microsoft support for this beta, however the Microsoft newsgroups can be used to ask support questions. Also, the community forums of www.brianmadden.com and www.softgridguru.com can be used for installation, design, issues or configuration questions.

 If you have questions or remarks please let me know ruben@rspruijt.com.

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