AppSenseLabs have released StrataApps, their long anticipated User Managed Applications Solution. StrataApps enables you to:-

  • introduce your own applications into your desktop even in a locked-down corporate desktop and without the need for Administrative Rights
  • Create a self-service ‘Follow-Me Applications’ set between various computing devices.

While newer tablet and smartphone devices have given users a very slick application discovery and installation method, PC environments have not been as quick to catch up.  For home users, application conflicts and issues can arise when different versions of applications, or similar applications are installed. For corporate users, user self-installation is fundamentally a dark, unhappy place with issues around support, stability and licensing: in a corporate environment it is often easier to decree user installed applications is impossible.

And yet, it could be so much easier – for home and corporate users – if there was a facility to install an application in such a way that it integrates into your existing environment but could cleanly be removed at any time – not only uninstalling itself, but  returning your environment back to the point it was before the installation.

Good things come to those who wait. Have AppSenseLabs released a proper reward for patience with  StrataApps? It is very likely you don’t have user installed applications now: has the time taken for delivery of a user-installed tool been too long? Has the moment passed? What does StrataApps do, and what does it not do?


User Installed Applications – is it important?

We’ve discussed before that User Installed Applications, as a function, are often unloved and unwanted.

The most straightforward way to deal with problem, and the one many have adopted, is to ignore it: to dismiss the requirement to support them as unnecessary, or make it somebody else’s problem by granting users administrative privileges and letting them manage their own applications.

And yet, almost every organization has a group of applications that fall outside the standard set that are administered and supported by IT, but are essential for a core business process. These applications may be needed by an entire department or by only one or two users.  Alternatively, a new application may not be essential for a core business process – yet. There may well be a need for a new application – but to validate that need, the user/team wants to install the application, kick its tyres, understand how it operates with their own data. Pushing that process to IT so that it can be virtualised or installed into the corporate desktop  can be overly time  consuming.

AppSense refer to this as the Long Tail principle.

In many organisations, if you consider the full application set you often uncover a wide range of applications used by only relatively few users. It is the delivery and installation of these applications that can contribute to delays in desktop transformation projects.

You may not have had user installed applications before,  but that isn’t to say your organisations would not benefit from that service.

 

How Does StrataApps Work?

Unlike existing Application Virtualisation solutions, StrataApps doesn’t require that applications be installed in a clean environment or sequenced by IT staff. The StrataApps client is a standard Windows  installation file (that does need to be installed by an administrator).  However, once that client component is installed users simply drag installation files into the application and the application installation process is run through and the application integrated into the user’s desktop environment as if the application had been installed locally.

This is not a fully sand-boxed environment per se. StrataApps’ isolation engine engages only during application installation – not during runtime as with other application virtualization solutions. This has the advantage that an application’s workspace integration is as if it is installed locally. Links with MS Office operate, file associations are correctly configured, integration with the browser is enabled.

Starting up StrataApps

Installing an application

From a directory and configuration perspective, each user instance stores settings within a specific directory (configured at set-up time). This directory holds installation files and registry settings to allow the applications to run.

User view of applications installed

How the launched applications look

Interesting and useful, does this pose a challenge?

Yes.

Users are installing applications into your environment. The application has full access to the resources that the user has. StrataApps isn’t providing intrusion detection, isn’t blocking an application. While some of these issues can be mitigated by pre-checking the installation files and having those kept in a central repository, you may consider that a risk you are willing to accommodate.

Still, a very neat function of StrataApps is its ability to uninstall an application and return the environment to its original state.   So, if you’ve used StrataApps to install AdobeX uninstall gets you back to Adobe Reader v9.2. Want to install a new plug-in for handling media content in a browser? Not a problem: and if it doesn’t work as well as expected, delete that app from StrataApps and punter is back to their original environment. Happy days.

Usefully, this technology doesn’t rely on desktop virtualisation in order to function. It is true that this isn’t the only user installed applications solution, Citrix have their Personal vDisk for example – however, Citrix’s solution requires XenDesktop and vDisk requires that your exclusively use a VDI environment.  An advantage that StrataApps has is that it can be used across platforms – be that a physical desktop, a VDI instance, or a client hypervisor… as long as you’re running Windows 7 and have .net v4.0 installed.

A difficulty with existing application virtualisation solutions is that often process to present that application is too long from the intial request for the application, to it being available. With a solution like StrataApps, the time  for applications to be available to users can be dramatically reduced.

Is StrataApps Enterprise Ready?

There are those who claim that allowing users to install their own applications, with administrative privileges, is if not a recipe for chaos. Me, in fact: I’ve said I’m not a fan. But that’s not to say there isn’t value in offering the service to accommodate effective change and business needs.

The client component, out of  the box, does what it says on the tin. But, relying on that product alone is the first step to the dark side. There’s a strong argument for incorporating other products, with StrataApps being the foundation for a service. For instance, integration with user virtualisation and application control products (such as AppSense’s Environment and Application Manager) to allow StrataApps to be used across environments and the use of the executables to be monitored; or to incorporate a method of monitoring application use to validate which applications are being used in an environment (such as Centrix Software’s Workspace Discovery, or Lakeside’s SysTrack Analytics). Perhaps even a wider application repository/store service that allows users the option to have a validated download area and the option to rate a particular application… I could go on.

Where this trips slightly is in the current licensing option for StrataApps. StrataApps is offered free for personal personal: there is no mention of what a corporate environment is to do, even a “free to distribute under license” would be handy. What some may fidget at, is the fact that  StrataApps does not currently include support. Obviously, AppSense want to understand how important this application is to a corporate environment before committing to support packages and new feature sets: however without a corporate friendly license and road map to when and how support could be employed, will there be the necessary momentum of take-up. A valid desktop virtualisation technology hampered by licensing: AppSense Labs have esteemed company there.

Is StrataApps Enterprise ready? It’s a bright new intern full of opportunity and new ideas, willing to take up a challenge. There’s definitely potential there to reduce complexity and effort in helping users get what they need to do done. The question is whether AppSense Labs and AppSense partners take up the momentum – there are a lot of old hands focused on the traditional ways, user installed applications is not just a technology problem: that was likely the easy part.

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Andrew Wood (144 Posts)

Andrew is a Director of Gilwood CS Ltd, based in the North East of England, which specialises in delivering and optimising server and application virtualisation solutions. With 12 years of experience in developing architectures that deliver server based computing implementations from small-medium size business to global enterprise solutions, his role involves examining emerging technology trends, vendor strategies, development and integration issues, and management best practices.

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