Applications on Demand – Streamlined Provision or Expensive Anarchy?

While everyone we talk with seems to be comfortable with the concepts of server virtualization, and understands the idea of making better use of idle CPUs with multiple virtual machines, we get the clear impression that the positioning of application virtualization in the enterprise is still suffering from lack of clarity. Benefits can include reduced licensing costs, reduced cost of administration and updates, and great alignment with the requirements of a hot-desk environment, but I suspect that a key factor in potential purchasers’ minds is the ‘self-service’ model and its implications for support and service delivery.

Most system administrators have spent their careers in stabilising the end-user computing environments. Homogeneity and consistency have been virtues. At a superficial level, the self-service model can appear to be a threat to this old order. The idea of the ‘typical’ end-user desktop community having access to a general catalog of applications is scary. Pity the help desk if the typical mortal starts playing with MS Project, or decides it’s time they got familiar with desktop publishing.

There will of course be categories of user where these risks are minimal. But I suspect that most sysadmins will want to ensure that the applications that 99% of their users can see on offer to them are closely profiled to their needs – potentially controlled through Active Directory. In which case – how does this differ from having applications conventionally deployed through AD?

I think the answer lies not so much in streaming itself, as to what it enables. If we take the definition of application streaming offered by Barb Goldworm, principal analyst at Focus on Systems,

“Application streaming is a form of on-demand application deployment, where the application is broken up into blocks and streamed over a network to be executed in a remote server or desktop, typically executing in a virtual application environment. The application image is stored centrally, but executed on the remote server or desktop.”

There is no limit here to the intelligence which can be layered on top, and through the control of the virtual application environment on the desktop. Application Jukebox, the streaming implementation  that we are concerned with, has powerful user-grouping and application administration capabilities that provide the owner with far more control than the product name implies, and more than can be achieved with conventionally installed applications. At Vector we have a particular interest in layering a request approval process over Application Jukebox, using the issue tracking and workflow capabilities of our HelpDesk architecture to handle instances where a user asks for an application for which they do not already have de-facto approval.

For our next post on this topic I’m hoping to welcome a guest blogger, Warren Free, of Virtual Network Partners. He gets to spend more time face to face with people charged with taking their organizations virtual, and it will be good to hear his latest feedback from the real world.