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App Virtualization: Why We Need Better Options

Golden disk images are simple, but they won't cut it as implementations get more complex. Here's the problem and what vendors are doing about it.

The evolution of virtualization has made the job of configuring virtualized applications incredibly complex.

Where virtualization was once just about wringing the most efficient use out of a server, it's changed into a whole new application platform, whether that's a private cloud inside your data center or infrastructure as a service from a cloud provider. That evolution means IT now must maintain multiple virtual machine instances of an app, providing patches and updates on an increasingly diverse array of hardware, hypervisor platforms, and cloud services. Each of these application endpoints demands different tools and interfaces for configuration and ongoing administration.

As IT gets comfortable with virtualized infrastructures, companies also are deploying much larger and more complex production applications on them. They're also virtualizing more of their environments: 63% expect to have at least half of their servers virtualized by the end of next year, the InformationWeek 2011 Virtualization Management Survey finds (see chart, above). IT used to have to tend to only a few virtualized Windows development and test servers. Now it's multitier, mission-critical enterprise applications.

As a result, the longstanding practice of distributing VM disk images as virtual application appliances is showing its flaws. While these "golden images" are a fast way to deploy a new machine, the images quickly diverge from their pristine initial condition once they're in use, so you no longer have a single app type to maintain. Furthermore, they don't always work if you're using more than one vendor's hypervisor or using public infrastructure-as-a-service platforms. A similar problem afflicts IT teams trying to configure and instantiate virtualized resources--like compute cores, memory, networks, and storage--on different hardware platforms in a repeatable fashion.

In an ideal world, application and infrastructure requirements could be expressed in a machine-readable meta-format that IT could use to automatically configure and deploy instances on a variety of virtualized platforms--whether private or public. We're still a long way from this cross-platform "configure once, deploy anywhere" vision. But the industry has made some progress in creating tools for repeatable cross-cloud application deployment. So we'll focus on ways to decouple virtualized applications from the underlying physical infrastructure.

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User Rank: Apprentice
11/9/2011 | 5:58:51 PM
re: App Virtualization: Why We Need Better Options
Great article around the complications enterprises face as IT environments become even more complicated G㢠the change agents here being virtualization and the Cloud. Changing the desktop model to a virtualized and separated set of resources (O/S, apps, and user data & settings) provides the benefit of independently managing each layer and applying it as needed across many technologies. Organizations want Windows 7, virtual desktops, and session-based solutions, but they often lack the knowledge to transform their application portfolio into solutions that meet the needs of a constantly changing IT landscape.

This is where application virtualization becomes a building block for desktop transformation. Applications are the essential resource that each user needs to be productive. The problem for organizations is how to take hundreds or even thousands of applications in various formats and create packages that can be delivered to traditional desktops or desktop virtualization technologies like VDI and session-based that support thin clients, tablets, smartphones, non-managed and non-Windows devices. CIOs are realizing that the previously manual process of testing applications, upgrades, patches and fixes, for compatibility, and then packaging them for the myriad environments in which they will operate G㢠is an IT black hole.

So the question becomes G㢠how can enterprises Gă future-proofGăÍ their IT environments with strategy and best practices that embrace disruptive technologies? This is where Application Readiness has taken center stage, as automated tools are now essential to ensure that the application estate is future-proofed, and that key applications are up-to-date and in the hands of business users, when and where they need them.

Flexera Software recommends the following 6 step strategy for Application Readiness to ensure enterprises applications can be easily deployed and maintained in all environments G㢠including virtualized and Cloud-based environments:
(1) - Identify - getting an accurate view of the applications currently deployed to ascertain effort required for deployment, and identifying any not being used

(2) Rationalize G㢠determine which applications are actually needed from the application inventory

(3) Assess compatibility G㢠applications still require compatibility testing prior to virtualization

(4) Plan G㢠many organizations lack adequate information when planning and budgeting for projects, having an accurate view of the applications targeted for migration and their readiness for application dependent projects provides data for budget and resource allocation

(5) Fix and package G㢠applications which presented issues during the assess compatibility stage must be fixed or replaced

(6) Deploy G㢠with an automated approach, the resultant packages are automatically added into the electronic software distribution (ESD) solution without copying of files and manual hands off.

As Kurt Marko points out in his article, application environments are more complex than ever. And it is no longer practical to implement Application Readiness best practices manually. Implementing Application Readiness solutions to automate the most time-intensive and complicated aspects of the process is essential.
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