In this first segment of a two-part series, we will cover the intricacies of applications (apps) as part of transitioning to a virtualization infrastructure. The second installation will delve into automation tools that can address the assessment of applications so as to minimize the work effort necessary to achieve success.
Although this piece will focus primarily on Citrix solutions, many of the same concepts and tools are applicable to VMware Horizon environments, and distinctions will be highlighted.
The success of any virtualization is all about the apps. Users just want to click an icon and have the application automagically function. Users don’t know or care how it works: they just want it to work.
Whether virtualization of applications or desktops or a combination of the two is the best solution for your enterprise, there are three main components from the user standpoint:
- Operating system
- User personalization/preferences
The operating system is the most straightforward of the three components. In general, the most recent operating system version makes the most business sense in order to avoid an upgrade right after the virtualization project is complete.
Secondly, user personalization/preferences add some complexity, but improvements to Microsoft user profiles, as well as numerous third-party solutions, enable administrators to choose the best solution for their environment. As with any decision, the criteria should be based on business and technical requirements. First, take a look at the free solutions provided by Microsoft and the respective virtualization vendor. Citrix includes User Profile Management as an option, and VMware offers User Environment Manager. Aside from the cost benefit of these inherent solutions, the “one-stop shop” facilitates integration and support; however, third-party solutions should be reviewed when these basic options are insufficient.
Of these three, apps are the most complicated and will often determine the success of a virtualization effort. Why? Old apps, new apps, complex apps, simple apps, apps accessed daily, apps accessed monthly or quarterly—and everything in between—will comprise your environment. Not only must they function individually, but application socialization is critical.
Where application virtualization such as XenApp will be implemented, integration of apps typically brings with it significant complexity. In addition to planning for a 1:many ratio, applications must function together without issue, and peripherals must likewise support multi-user functionality. Although XenApp provides a lower cost of ownership due to multiple users accessing a single server, a higher cost is borne initially for application integration and functionality.
On the other hand, because desktop virtualization is based on a 1:1 architecture, integration of applications is easier, though not without some challenges. Most desktop virtualization projects are based on the newest Windows operating system, which translates to integration and compatibility with Windows 10. Despite the headlines advising to prepare for Windows 10, the most significant issue is often learning that 16-bit components are part of applications that functioned fine on a 32-bit operating system, but aren’t compatible with a 64-bit operating system. With few exceptions, apps that functioned on Windows 7 x64 are compatible with Windows 10 x64.
Starting on the application phase of a virtualization project is much like purchasing a never-before-seen house with the intention of remodeling it and selling it. You don’t know whether the plumbing functions correctly, whether any or all appliances are present, or what the general condition of the interior is. You may get a pleasant surprise and find that only a few repairs are needed, but you’re more likely to find that a significant amount of work is necessary.
Just creating an inventory of applications is not enough, and manual processes for analyzing applications will add significant time and effort to the virtualization project. For example, that HRIS application that users access only a few times a year to enter vacation days, create annual review documents, and make annual benefit care selections may be overlooked when asking users about their application set. Further, does that HRIS app contain antiquated code that isn’t compatible with a virtualized infrastructure, including peripheral functionality such as printers and scanners?
Automating the analysis of applications is a significant time saver that will help keep your project on schedule. In part 2 of this series, several application analysis tools will be reviewed in order to provide you with guidance as to which product(s) may be most beneficial for your environment.