Virtualizing Applications – which solution is best for you?

technology-life-easier-600x350Whether you’ve been tasked with a VDI deployment to include not only desktop virtualization, but application virtualization, or you’re simply trying to dust off your Horizon deployment and add some sweet flair, knowing where to invest your time and energy for app virtualization can leave you scratching your head. Hopefully this post can help you take that first step in the right direction.

Why write this post?

When you first begin looking at serving applications to your end users in a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), you’ll find at least 3 big players mentioned over and over: ThinApp, View Hosted Apps (RDSH), and App Volumes (this post is of course geared toward a VMware Horizon environment). I’m going to give a breakdown of each solution as I see them. This is very much an “opinion” post with lots of facts and quotes from official documentation thrown in to inevitably persuade you to look back and think that this was a useful read. Tricky.

ThinApp

Back in 2008, VMware acquired Thinstall and rebranded it as ThinApp.

What does it do
ThinApp takes application installers (e.g., a .msi file) and bundles them into a self-contained executable that requires no additional configuration to run, essentially decoupling it from the underlying OS. This allows you to package an application that can in turn be pushed to VDI Desktops. The result is a ready-to-go application that requires no end-user install.

How are the apps deployed
ThinApps can be pushed to the end users’ system over the network, provisioned via Horizon Administrator, via vIDM (Workspace One), streamed over the network from CIFS share, via an app stack using App Volumes, or even transferred via a good ‘ol flash drive

What’s it best used for
Legacy applications. Think IE6. You don’t want to be installing that on anyone’s system nowadays. But maybe that’s the only browser option supported for whatever reason. Another example is a home-grown application that doesn’t get updated regularly. You can package it and its dependencies together so users aren’t complaining about having to login to that old XP system just to run the company’s proprietary software.

One real life example I can think of is the mixture of Salesforce, Avaya, and FireFox. We had a soft phone extension for Salesforce and Mozilla FireFox 3.5 was the only supported browser to use it. ThinApp would allow us to package FireFox 3.5 while allowing the latest and greatest FireFox version to be installed on the same system.

What’s the latest version
ThinApp 5.2.1, released March 2016 (Release Notes Here)

Additional reads
https://www.vmware.com/files/pdf/VMware-ThinApp-DS-EN.pdf
https://www.vmware.com/support/pubs/thinapp_pubs.html
https://communities.vmware.com/community/vmtn/thinapp

View Hosted Apps (RDSH)

In 2014, VMware released Horizon 6 which utilized Remote Desktop Services Hosts (RDSH).

What Does it do
View Hosted Apps (or RDSH apps) consist of a Microsoft Server 2008+ server that has the Horizon View Agent installed, as well as the desired applications. The great thing about this configuration is that a single install of the application can server multiple end-users when configured as an application pool in Horizon View Administrator.

How are the apps deployed
The View Hosted Apps are entitled and provisioned through Horizon Administrator. An example of typical use would look like this: the View Admin entitles user sloopJonB to Application Pool X. The next time sloopJonB launches his Horizon View Client and is presented with his entitled desktops pools, he is also presented with individual applications. When launching the application, he doesn’t see the entire OS loading with the app on the desktop, but instead sees just the application being presented.

What’s it best used for
Other than being able to run Windows Apps on your iPhone, View Hosted Apps in my mind is the ‘poor man’s’ app virtualization solution. This point could be argued as it’s not currently included in the Horizon 7 Standard edition, however, I see this as app virtualization-lite. There are some great administrative capabilities to using RDS Hosts as your app servers, but the downsides could outweigh the benefits for some (SOME) customers. These include, but are not limited to, the need to build out multiple RDS hosts for scaling, managing those multiple servers with their OS patching, individual application upgrading and maintenance across multiple servers, Microsoft Licensing, and performance.

What’s the latest version
Horizon 7.0.1, released June 2016 (Release Notes Here)

Additional reads
http://hrzn.ws/29PWxQ5
https://www.vmware.com/support/pubs/view_pubs.html
http://hrzn.ws/29PVW0M
http://hrzn.ws/29VZLnO

App Volumes

In 2014, VMware acquired CloudVolumes and rebranded it as VMware App Volumes.

What does it do
App Volumes changes the playing field for managing and provisioning virtualized apps. It can dramatically reduce storage usage and image management, all while allowing admins to provision or upgrade apps faster than ever before. This is the solution for the IT Admin who is looking to really drive app virtualization for the next generation. If you’re serious about decoupling your applications from standard images and confinements in an attempt to adopt a robust app delivery model that’s highly flexible,  App Volumes should be taken very, very seriously.

How are the apps deployed
“Applications are stored in read-only virtual disks that, with the click of a button, instantly attach to individual or groups of virtual desktops, published application servers, or users. To the end-user, applications perform like natively installed applications. The platform that App Volumes is built on also supports user profile and policy management, application isolation, and advanced monitoring capabilities.”
– from the App Volumes FAQ

These “read-only  virtual disks”, or AppStacks, can also host ThinApps on them, and all be served up through RDSH Application Pools.

What’s it best used for
For rapid application delivery and management, and OS-agnostic application configuration, App Volumes will be your go-to. I’ve seen it in action where I logged into a Horizon Desktop with nothing but standard windows applications installed on the system. Then once a script was hit to attach my AppStack, I had 40 additional applications ready to use in a matter of seconds. Unlike strictly using RDS Hosts for hosted applications, there is no Image maintenance, OS patching, or VM rebuilding involved just to remain up to date – just maintenance of the AppStack and the applications therein.

How about its performance you ask? You’ll want to keep in mind App Volumes is heavily read-intensive, so your storage will need to be up to the task. As noted in the App Volumes Deployment Guide, “Proper planning for storage can affect many aspects of an App Volumes implementation, including cost and performance” so you’ll want to carefully architect your implementation.

What’s the latest version
App Volumes 2.11, released June 2016 (Release Notes Here)

Additional Reads
http://www.vmware.com/files/pdf/techpaper/vmware-app-volumes-reference-architecture.pdf
http://www.vmware.com/files/pdf/appvolumes/vmware-appvolumes-faq.pdf
http://pubs.vmware.com/appvolumes-211/index.jsp

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