With a wide range of application and desktop delivery solutions available, determining which solution can best accommodate your requirements and desires is no simple matter. What are the different Application Virtualisation solutions, which suppliers are operating in the Server Based Computing and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure segment, and which players offer applications and desktops as a service from the cloud? In this article Ruben Spruijt discusses the most widely used application and desktop delivery solutions to give a clear picture of the current situation in this booming market segment.
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The art of application and desktop delivery
At many organisations the IT department determines what an end user may or may not use. I believe the IT department not only determines functionality for the end user, it is particularly responsible for access to applications. With this approach the IT department becomes the service provider for users; ’IT @ your service, as-a-service’. I call the conveyance of this message 'The art of Application and Desktop Delivery’. What exactly is application and desktop delivery? Application and desktop delivery is a process with the purpose of being able to offer applications independent of location and workplace so the user can work anywhere and anytime; onsite, online, offsite and offline.
The journey and the destination
To understand the different application and desktop delivery solutions it is very important to interpret the right concepts in the right way. When conducting research answering two questions is of vital importance
1. What is the applications' execution platform? The execution platform uses system resources such as a CPU, memory, disk and network to run the Windows and web application. The most common execution platforms are: Desktop, Laptop, BladePC, VDI and SBC. Well-known suppliers for these platforms are: Microsoft, Citrix, VMware, Microsoft, Provision Networks and HP.
2. How are applications made available on the execution platform? An execution platform can be attractive, certainly with Windows 7 in the pipeline, but if no applications are made available on the platform this platform is of no value to the user. The second question is accordingly how are the (business-critical) applications delivered on the execution platform? There are various solutions to make Microsoft Windows applications available on the execution platform. The most common forms are installation or virtualisation. With installation, applications are installed automatically and unattended at the workplace, where the execution platform or the workplace is adapted. When applications are made available by means of virtualisation they are available ‘On-demand’. The execution platform is then not adapted. The most common application virtualisation suppliers are Microsoft, Citrix, VMware, Altiris and InstallFree.
Making applications available to the end user independent of the technology used is the ultimate aim of an ICT infrastructure. This article gives an overall picture of the various current application and desktop delivery suppliers with associated solutions.
Server Based Computing (SBC)
SBC is a solution for access to desktops or separate applications executed on Terminal Servers at a datacenter. Access to the desktop or application is not bound by a location or end user machine. Program execution and data processing take place centrally on the Terminal Servers. The information appears on the client screen via RDP or ICA. Server Based Computing consists of various infrastructure components for management, load balancing, session control and support.
Microsoft Windows Server 2008
Microsoft made the Windows Server 2008 platform available in February 2008. Its functionality is particularly intended for smaller and less complex environments. This focus ensures that third party suppliers such as Citrix, Provision Networks, Ericom and 2X have room to develop further functionality on the Microsoft platform. Windows Server 2008 is brimming with new functionality, including Terminal Services Web Access. The Windows Server 2008 version is available as a 32- or 64-bit version. The successor to Windows Server 2008, the R2 version, is only available as a 64-bit version. If you want to use Windows Server 2008 as a Terminal Server platform, investigate the advantages and disadvantages of this platform and seriously consider using the x64 version.
After Citrix's take-over of XenSource, all that can be heard from Citrix is 'Xen, Xen, Xen’. In Citrix language Xen is equivalent to ‘virtualisation’. Citrix XenApp offers two possible ways of virtualising applications. Possibility one is also called ‘server-side application virtualisation’. This is a nice name for the well-known and proven Server Based Computing concept. The other form of application virtualisation is ‘client-side application virtualisation’. Here applications are offered at speed and extremely simply on a desktop, laptop or terminal server, where the application is made available on the relative platform in an isolated environment. Citrix XenApp 5.0 ‘server-side virtualisation’ is a new name for (Metaframe) Presentation Server and is the most up-to-date version. This solution is added to the Windows Server 2003 or 2008 platform. Three versions of the platform are available: Advanced, Enterprise and Platinum. A description of the different versions with their associated features can be found at: http://www.virtuall.nl/articles/ProductInformation/Citrix With the introduction of Windows Server 2008 in April this year the Terminal Services platform has been given new and very significant functionality. Citrix WebInterface is one of the updated functions within the XenApp 5.0 solution. With each new or updated Microsoft Terminal Server version a (good) discussion originates about the added value of Citrix XenApp on this platform. Citrix's vision extends much further than only Server Based Computing, even if that is mainly where its history lies. The following article is certainly worth reading to help get a clear picture of the added value of Citrix XenApp on Windows Server 2003 or 2008: http://www.virtuall.nl/articles/ProductInformation/Citrix/CitrixXenApp5TSFeatureCompare.pdf
Provision Networks is a part of the major Quest Software concern. Provision Networks provides two solutions for the Terminal Server platform. The Virtual Access Suite (VAS) 5.6 Enterprise and Standard Edition. This software adds functionality to the basic Microsoft Terminal Server platform. The price/quality ratio of the Virtual Access Suite is very good, although this solution is not yet so frequently used. Out of sight, out of mind is one of the reasons. The Multimedia Redirection technology offers interesting functionality. This is a technology that enables the use of multimedia applications with RDP. A full summary of the functionality of the Virtual Access Suite can be found at: http://www.provisionnetworks.com/solutions/pmf_ent.aspx
Ericom, 2X, Propalms, Jetro and Sun
The software supplier market adding value to the Microsoft Terminal Server platform is extensive. Ericom PowerTerm, 2X Application Server and Jetro Cockpit are solutions each adding value in their own way. These solutions are not common in the SME+ and Enterprise segment, certainly not in Europe. One solution that is increasingly being used is one from Sun. The Sunray Software solution can offer a combination of SBC and VDI solutions on Windows, Linux and Solaris. The Sunray desktop appliance with its own smartcard and SingleSignOn functionality offers worthwhile applications in education and health care.
Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)
Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) gives remote access to Windows XP or Vista desktops run centrally on virtual machines at the datacenter. Server virtualisation solutions such as Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix XenServer or VMware ESX Server comprise the infrastructure basis for the virtual (Xen)Desktops. Access to the personal desktop is not bound by a location or end user machine. Each end user has a unique, dedicated desktop environment. Program execution, data processing and data storage take place centrally on a personal desktop. The information appears on the client screen via RDP/ICA or RGS. The protocol for displaying the correct information depends on the operating system, bandwidth, application properties and technical or operational requirements. In essence VDI can be divided into two parts: ‘server hosted’ and ‘client-side’. Server hosted is where the virtual machine is run at the datacenter. With client-side VDI the running of the virtual machine is effected from the desktop or laptop. The ‘Server hosted’ VDI applications most used in Europe are VMware VDM, Citrix XenDesktop and Quest Virtual Access Suite. Parallels Virtuozzo, Sun Ray and HP Consolidated Client Infrastructure (CCI) are solutions worth taking a look at.
VMware Virtual Desktop Manager version 2.1 is the ‘server hosted’ VDI solution from VMware. The origin of the VDM solution lies in the take-over of Propero in 2007. VMware VDM seamlessly integrates with the VMware Virtual Infrastructure platform. As a result, desktops are created or removed on-demand, and various configurations such as pooled and assigned desktops are options. The close cooperation with Wyse means multimedia applications with RDP can be effectively used locally on the ThinClient. The VDM solution also includes a Connection Broker, a VDM security server and components for integration with Virtual Center. We see that an increasing number of organisations are opting for VMware VDM. With the arrival of ‘VMware View’ at the end of 2008, this solution is a formidable competitor for Citrix XenDesktop. VMware’s strategy and focus chiefly concern datacenter automation. With the addition of VDM and ThinApp to the product portfolio, there is also increasing VMware focus on Application and Desktop delivery, a good thing!
The ‘server hosted’ VDI solution from Citrix is XenDesktop. The most up-to-date version is 2.1. This version supports the use of VMware ESX, Citrix XenServer and Microsoft Hyper-V as virtual infrastructure platform. XenDesktop 2.1 can use VMware’s Virtual Center, Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 or Citrix XenCenter. This enables the automatic creation, removal and switching on and off of VMs. With the application of Citrix Provisioning Server 5.0, obtained through the Ardence take-over in 2006, it is very simple to create a pool of virtual machines where one image (vDisk) can be used synchronously by all pooled VMs. The management of 30, 300, 3,000 or 30,000 virtual machines simply entails the management of one single image. Use of Provisioning Server also drastically reduces the storage costs of the VMs to the storage of one single image. As distinct from other suppliers, XenDesktop does not use Microsoft Remote Desktop protocol but the Citrix ICA protocol. The different SpeedScreen Multimedia/Flash/Browser/Latency Reduction and Progressive Display functions with XenDesktop 2.1 are present to a certain extent. Application of this has a very positive effect on the end user experience. Further developments will ensure that 3D, Realtime Communications, Multimedia and NextGen applications will also be very possible via a remote display protocol.
Besides the two solutions for the Terminal Server platform, Provision Networks also supplies a VDI solution, the Virtual Access Suite. An interesting aspect of the Provision Networks solutions is the ability to manage both a Terminal Server and a VDI infrastructure from one management console. Quest has made an interesting document available in which Provision Networks VAS, Citrix XenDesktop and VMware VDM are compared with each other. http://www.virtuall.nl/knowledge/ProvisionNetworksBrokerComparison.pdf
Brian Madden gave an interesting presentation about VDI on BriForum 2008. The ‘VDI Smackdown’ presentation describes the different protocols, suppliers and solutions. BriForum is a vendor-independent congress, and worth taking the trouble to visit. The presentation can be download here: http://www.virtuall.nl/knowledge/BF2008VDISmackdown.pptx
Besides the ‘Server hosted’ applications there are also various ‘client-side’ VDI solutions. With its Assured Computing Environment (ACE), Player and Workstation, VMware accordingly has an interesting set of client-side Desktop Virtualisation solutions. With the take-over of Kidaro at the start of this year, Microsoft has added a very promising client-side Enterprise Desktop Virtualization application to the Virtualisation portfolio. This solution will be available next year as an MED-V part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP).
Microsoft – VECD
Understanding the Microsoft software licensing structure is a feat in itself - the fact that there is a separate certification program for licensing already says enough (LOL). VECD, Vista Enterprise Centralized Desktop, is a special licence required when you want to use a number of instances of XP and/or Vista in a ‘server hosted’ or ‘client-side’ VDI solution. VECD is a licence that must be purchased on top of Vista Enterprise, and can only be obtained when users have taken out Software Assurance on Vista Enterprise.
Application Virtualisation enables Windows applications to be made available at a workplace without you having to make changes to the local operating system. Neither do you have to install the application at the workstation. In other words, even if the application is not locally installed you can simply run the application, save data with it and print. The local client does not have to be adapted.
Microsoft - App-V
Softricity, taken over by Microsoft in 2006, forms the basis for Microsoft App-V. Microsoft App-V 4.5 is the Application Virtualisation product from Microsoft. Many new functions were added with the introduction of version 4.5. One of them is the flexibility and scalability using different deployment models. Integration with System Center Configuration Manager 2007R2, the heavyweight and lightweight streaming services and the standalone mode make this a powerful virtualisation solution. Dynamic Suite Composition (DSC) ensures that virtualised applications can communicate with each other, and is a new function in App-V 4.5 Microsoft’s Application Virtualisation solution is available for Desktops, Terminal Servers and in a specially licensed form for hosting providers. The Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) also includes App-V 4.5, and is only available with Software Assurance for Windows Desktops. App-V is a proven virtualisation platform.
VMware – ThinApp
VMware obtained ThinApp with the take-over of Thinstall at the start of 2008. It offers possibilities that other solutions such as Microsoft App-V, Citrix XenApp and Altiris SVS cannot offer. With ThinApp 4.0 Windows applications are run without a local client/agent and without back-end infrastructure at the client workplace. The applications are fully virtualised and can where necessary even be used from a removable storage medium. ThinApp offers an Application Virtualisation Platform with which Windows applications are available as ‘self-contained’ EXE files. Administrator or PowerUser rights can be assigned to these EXE files without any installation. ThinApp can be used on x86 and x64 execution platforms. ThinApp is a ‘straightforward’ Application Virtualisation solution and is being used in projects increasingly often. VMware Thinapp is also made available as OEM via LANdesk.
Citrix - XenApp
XenApp 5.0 ‘Client-side virtualization’ is the Citrix solution to make Windows applications available on desktops, laptops and terminal servers. Application Streaming, Streaming Services and Project Tarpon are other, obsolete names for this delivery platform. Citrix XenApp is the correct name and fits in with Citrix's total vision of converting the datacenter into ‘delivery center’. XenApp is being used in an increasing number of projects, and certainly when a part of the infrastructure already uses Citrix. Compared with other solutions not all functions are available. Citrix is, however, certainly making good progress. The vision and integration with other solutions in the Citrix portfolio do make XenApp ‘client-side’ virtualization a really interesting solution.
Altiris – SVS
Altiris, taken over by Symantec in 2007, has a complete application delivery solution in SVS Professional. With the take-over of Appstream in 2008, Altiris Software Virtualization Solution (SVS) Professional contains streaming technology that is particularly powerful in WAN infrastructures. SVS Professional is a solution that works differently to the solutions from Citrix, Microsoft, VMware and InstallFree, both technically and functionally. As may be expected this has advantages and disadvantages. The big advantage is that the Altiris SVS applications perfectly integrate with other applications and are not, as with applications, insulated in a 100% separate environment. For various organisations this advantage is also a disadvantage because one wants the guarantee that applications cannot conflict with each other. SVS 2.1 is a ‘straightforward’ solution, Altiris SVS Professional is a complete ‘virtualisation’ solution. The Symantec vision as regards application and desktop delivery could be communicated more clearly, and developments seem to have been few in recent times. Maybe this is the calm before the storm…
InstallFree, a new supplier in application and desktop delivery, supplies two products; InstallFree Bridge and InstallFree Desktop. InstallFree Bridge is an application virtualisation solution on steroids. This technically very advanced solution offers client/agentless application virtualisation whereby all applications can also be centrally and extremely simply managed (no marketing fluff). From a technical perspective a very powerful platform on which much R&D takes place. A disadvantage of this solution is that it is still not a proven solution. InstallFree Desktop turns the local execution platform into a ‘portable desktop’. With this newer form of Desktop Virtualisation all OS and application changes are written to a removable storage device or central fileshare. The desktop itself runs in a Virtual Environment, and together with the user-specific information forms a personal ‘portable desktop’. InstallFree offers interesting solutions; a supplier to be watched carefully!
Desktone, Endeavors and Xenocode
Desktone does not actually supply a software product, but VDI as a complete service - ‘Desktop-as-a-Service’. The Virtual-D platform offers a solution to make virtual desktops available as an outsourced subscription service. Different Server Virtualisation, VDI and Application Virtualisation solutions are used for this platform.
Two less well-known Application Virtualisation solutions are ‘Endeavors Application Jukebox’ and ‘Xenocode Virtual Application Studio’. Endeavors Application Jukebox is an application streaming solution where you can meticulously determine if an application must be installed or virtualised. With the advanced streaming technology in combination with licence meeting this solution is mainly known in the Software-as-a-Service market. Xenocode Virtual Application Studio is functionally comparable with ThinApp. From a technical perspective less developed than VMware ThinApp at present. Through an OEM agreement this solution is also known as Novell ZENworks Application Virtualization solution.
The Matrix – Reloaded
Which application virtualisation solution is best of all!? I am often asked this question in many a form. To be able to provide an answer to this question you must exactly know what the requirements are. The requirements often involve strategy, technology and licensing. A document has been compiled to provide a full picture of the different application virtualisation players in this field. This document is called ‘Application Virtualization Solutions Overview and Feature Matrix’ alias ‘The Matrix – Reloaded’. The article can be downloaded here: http://www.virtuall.nl/articles/applicationanddesktopdelivery/ApplicationVirtualizationSolutionsOverviewandFeatureMatrix.pdf
Access to applications - that is what users need. They need flexibility, mobility and user-freedom at the workplace. An increasing number of organisations are strategically opting for the ‘Bring Your Own Computer’ concept. The user then has freedom at his/her workplace where the core applications are offered as a service. The BYOC concept is being seen by an increasing number of organisations as an important philosophy within the application and desktop delivery concept. Various delivery solutions are available. Solutions such as Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), Server Based Computing (SBC), Application Streaming and Virtualisation and OS streaming are key components of the BYOL concept. The demand for this and other functionality makes the use of different ‘Application and desktop delivery’ technologies crucial. At many organisations there is the need for clarity concerning application and desktop delivery! This means clarity about the different concepts, the solutions within the concept, the vision of the supplier and the advantages and disadvantages of the different products. With all these different solutions it is important have control and an overview of the different delivery services. ‘Access to the application’ is what it is all about for the end user.
This ‘Lonely Planet’ should help you on the journey to the ‘application and desktop delivery’ destination. “Application and Desktop delivery is a Journey, not a Destination ....".