A common difficulty when transforming user workspaces is how to accommodate the unique, the different, the individual. A commonality between users is their desire to be different. A number of  vendors provide tools to decouple components of user workspaces, to provide for personalisation within a standard environment. This provides cost savings by allowing core standardisation, while reducing the impact on the user to change their working practices – allowing them to be as productive as possible. Still, keeping an individual’s settings persistent is all very well, how do you accommodate individual user’s applications?

Liquidware have announced the availability of the latest release of their user virtualization and profile management solution ProfileUnity.  ProfileUnity v5.0. now includes FlexApp, providing the ability not only to have settings persistent across sessions, but self-installed applications too. Allowing user installed applications is often cited as being an enabler for wider VDI/DaaS adoption.  Liquidware’s enhancement allows them to join the likes of AppSense and Citrix in providing such functionality.

Some may argue that allowing users unstructured access to install applications is what leads to high management costs. Some may argue that the user access rights required to deliver this service are all important. Are “User Installed Apps” truly important? It is nor hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man. O, be some other name? How does Liquidware’s flexing of its innovative muscle stand v5.0 out?


What is FlexApp ?

FlexApp adds the option for self installation of applications. Provided your users are running on Windows 7 (x32 or x64) they can use FlexApp’s functionality to dynamically provision a VHD (virtual hard disk) to store their applications and user settings separately from the OS and local session environment.Applications are installed just as they would be normally, and the FlexApp component  ensures that the particular application installation is encapsulated on a dynamic disk (.vhd) dedicated to that application.

Are user installed applications important?  In desktop transformation projects – especially in transforming from physical to virtual desktops –  organisations must prioritize corporate and departmental applications over low demand user installed applications. However, the failure to deliver the low demand applications can delay even halt a project: or can (over time) leak “traditional” desktops back into the environment as users try and find ways to circumvent IT.

Citrix XenDesktop users may well consider this a solution very similar to Personal vDisks  which is available in the Enterprise and Platinum XenDesktop editions: they’d be right although perhaps the experience doesn’t require you to have created instances with vDisk support.

What Does ProfileUnity with FlexApp Offer?

ProfileUnity, is a user virtualization and profile management solution for virtual desktop deployments and physical PCs. Liquidware’s message for ProfileUnity is that it is resource light: it utilises existing AD resources rather than requiring complex external database resources.  What does FlexApp add?

  • Simplifies management of non-persistent Windows environments – because fewer master images need to be maintained.
  • Promotes greater desktop virtualization ROI through improved economies of scale  as more staff can use the virtual desktop infrastructure.
  • Virtualizes the installation of an application location, not the application itself. Thus, applications can be more readily available, as they don’t have to go through a virtualisation packaging process which they may not  support.

That’s not to say ProfileUnity with FlexApp can’t complement virtualised application technologies: indeed now organisations can support both corporate applications (which may can/have been virtualised) and self-installed applications for those that are still waiting for packaging, or cannot be virtualised.

Indeed, the work and development of the May release reflects the “heavy lifting” for the next version of ProfileUnity with FlexApp which is (currently) scheduled for the Q3 2012. This release  will deliver departmental installed applications (DIA) in addition to UIA. It is the combining of these three types of application that could create an ultimate application-delivery triad and be the backbone for a corporate Windows Application Store. A corporate Windows App Store could  permit the most cost-effective virtual desktop environments by reducing the number of master images needed as well as storage.

FlexApp – User Install or Self Install?

All the marketing fanfare for FlexApp heralds the coming of user installed apps: and that functionality can be useful. Yet, allowing your users to install their own applications; what does that introduce into your network? It may well be an enabler for one user, but how does this new application’s use of resources impact others?

Corporate application stores can speed VDI delivery, can improve the perception of IT and productivity of users.  But, without laws there is no freedom: allowing unregulated installation of applications is going to lead to issues longer term.

Liquidware’s incorporation of the FlexApp functionality into ProfileUnity provides you with a level of management and control: this is Good Thing. However, the v5.0 release does rely on user having administrator privileges in their session. It is arguable (and recent AppSense blogs are awash with Veronan grudge) that if you’ve admin access; you could install the applications anyway. True, but not in a way that decouples the application from the workspace and enables your applications to move with you.

Still, it is best security practice is to run with least privileges, not the easiest privileges. There will be customers who are willing to accommodate Liquidware’s current requirement, but there is a  wider customer base who will likely make use of this function when permissions are changed. Hopefully work is progressing well in rights management solution that can used. In the meantime, FlexApp is a solution that is more than a “personal use only” option.

Perhaps the most intriguing option for the FlexApp delivery model is it can be used to allow application instance to be isolated and stored on a variety of storage options. A longer view could be to allow organisations to offer a departmental applications, using the FlexApp core technology to deliver individual applications to users and business groups from a central store: perhaps even an option for software vendors or VARs to package their applications in a FlexApp format.  I would say for that to truly work, FlexApp should be offered as a licensable option, separate from ProfileUnity, allowing organisations to utilise the application de-coupling in existing user settings solutions.

The key is not providing a locked down and restricted environment, nor an open and freely available workspace to misconfigure, but in  allowing the user a managed platform and choice and to extend your application delivery model. With the release of Liquidware’s ProfileUnity with FlexApp organisations have such an additional level of self-configuration.

If Liquidware can deliver a framework for a corporate application store quickly, they’ll have a very compelling solution for enterprise desktop architects to consider.

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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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