Archive for the ‘Virtualisation’ Category

Understanding your options for desktop virtualization

Brian Madden has written a great summary of the various options available for desktop virtualisation within today’s market.

Before you jump on the desktop virtualization bandwagon, you need to figure out whether your organization can benefit from the technology. In this second segment of a four-part e-book Desktop Virtualization From A to Z, we’ll help you understand the different types of desktop virtualization — it isn’t all VDI.

Continue reading via Understanding your options for desktop virtualization.

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[This is a guest post from my colleague Alan Moore.  Alan investigates the paradox of desktop applications and platform stability.]

Since the arrival of the personal computing there has always been a desire to deliver ever more complex applications to users. This history has, over time, revealed a paradox that is still in the throes of being solved.

This paradox has been forced on us by the three facets that govern application development:

Sophisticated Development Tools – The higher the number of tools available to developers the more they can deliver solutions that can “do anything”.

Flexible Environment – The ability to layer on multiple applications gives the platform an ability to do an infinite number of tasks and frees organisations from the worry of platform selection.

Stable Platform – In order to deliver a good user experience and a highly available solution the stability of the platform, and the applications that run on it, is crucial.

The paradox is that only two of these criteria can ever be solved at any one time. This can be demonstrated by a review of the three companies shown in the diagram.

Microsoft Windows (Sophisticated and Flexible but not Stable)

The flexibility of the Windows platform is its greatest strength.  Unfortunately this has been achieved by the delivery of a vast array of development tools all of which allow applications to have an ability to directly control both the OS and hardware.  Developers are under no obligation to ensure their applications co-exist and once purchased the problem becomes the responsibility of the application owner not the supplier of the software or the OS.

Managed Desktops

The way to solve this problem in the corporate world is to impose a managed- “locked down” – application environment.  Any new applications that arrive are passed through a rigid and complex set of tests to ensure applications co-exist.  The upshot of this testing is that applications are changed, restricted or even removed.  Already we are seeing the reduction in flexibility in order to guarantee stability.

This rigidity has lead to an enormous amount of inertia being imposed on corporate desktop environments.  Organisations are faced with delivering an ever increasing numbers of applications.  Along with the requisite testing requirements this imposes huge costs for company-wide OS platform upgrades. This has become the primary reason why large corporations are reticent to embark on such projects.

Citrix Application Server (Sophisticated and Stable but not Flexible)

Initially it was hoped that Windows’ stability could be achieved by the use of Citrix. This server platform had a rigid set of guidelines that were imposed to try and protect the OS from corruption.  However there were some issues:

  • Complex application integration processes were still required.
  • Applications are still installed on all servers in the farm increasing administrative overheads and roll-out costs.
  • Users were forced to use a less friendly server operating system as their desktop OS.
  • Integrating distributed laptops and printing was always difficult.
  • Application co-existence was never fully solved at the expense of server sprawl.
  • Platform upgrades are still not cheap or simple.

Apple iPhone, iOS and the AppStore (Stable and Flexible but not Sophisticated)

With the dual benefits of hindsight and full control of both hardware and operating systems Apple has solved the problem of application integration by rigidly defining the rules for software development.  This has been the basis of the phenomenal success of the AppStore and the iPhone and iPad systems.  Word is that the next platform for inclusion will be their desktop and laptop OS’s.

This radical approach has led to a platform that is both flexible and stable but it is at the cost of reducing the tool-sets available to developers.  There is also a reliance on Apple continuing to do the right thing.

This is a similar model to the one adopted by Google with the Android platform.  They have less control over hardware and application efficacy but the open source basis to the platform ensures a more open attitude to development.  With plans to move to tablets and laptops Google has the size and influence to take on the dominance of Microsoft – watch this space.

Application Virtualisation – a new alternative?

Organisations that have been blessed with a long history of deploying Windows applications are looking for ways to simplify their desktop environments. Application Virtualisation is one way of achieving this. An agent is run on each desktop that isolates the applications and ensures that all communication with the OS is through a known and stable method thus dispensing with application contention.

There are still some issues:

  • Applications still have to go through an integration process, although far less complex.
  • Applications are still required to be distributed to all desktops and laptops. They can be run from a central file server if the network can support this method of repeated software delivery.
  • The applications are still “locked” to the underlying OS but OS migration costs should be reduced dramatically.


Application Streaming – Removing the applications from the desktop

Once application virtualisation has been deployed to a client the next step is to centralise the delivery of the applications to the clients. New applications are configured and then added to the central library. If required by users they are then streamed and cached on the user’s PC for daily use.

This technology reduces the complexity of application distribution and currency. It could also assist in a simpler license rationalisation processes including the ability to do real-time license monitoring.

Application Streaming and Citrix

The use of application streaming in a Citrix environment means that the servers do not have to have applications installed on them. This can reduce the number of servers in a farm. Upgrades and migrations could also be much simpler.

Summary

Although desktop applications can deliver quick and flexible solutions their use has, over many years, left organisations with large and complex administrative headaches. This stifles their ability to move with ever-changing technology.

In retrospect the promised move to web-based applications was correct however this is now being leapfrogged by “cloud” based applications all of which are, by definition, desktop independent.

For organisations struggling to manage their legacy application portfolios virtualisation and streaming are potential ways of reducing the headache.

What Will Windows 8 Be?

Posted: November 22, 2010 in Virtualisation, Windows
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Now that we are about half way through the period between Windows 7 RTM and the next planned desktop OS release from Microsoft, and Windows just had its 25th birthday party, I thought it would be worthwhile reviewing what we know about the next version of Windows.

What we know so far about Windows 8 comes in the main from two separately leaked Microsoft slide decks on the subject. One from earlier in the year gave us a quite a detailed look (for this point of the development cycle) at the product planning lifecycle, user interface and identity, hardware considerations, efficiency (power), Help & Support, and an App Store!

[Disclaimer: The information that follows is based on slides that were leaked on to the Internet in June 2010, and it is not official Microsoft information. This information cannot be taken as record of fact, and no planning should be undertaken based on the information presented.]

The following slide shows the Microsoft approach to the product development lifecycle.

Here Microsoft describes some of the trends that are shaping their development efforts:

Microsoft seems to be targeting three main PC form factors for the next version of Windows. I doubt that we are going to see the demise of the common desktop any time soon, but it interesting to see where they think things are headed.

Power Efficiency

One of the areas that received a lot of focus in the slide deck was the idea of energy efficiency. Microsoft is apparently planning to build a new feature that combines Logoff and Hibernate to create in a new “off” state.  It will apparently give the look and feel of the current Windows 7 boot/shutdown, but will be much faster.

This will reportedly result in a faster start-up user experience:

Windows 8 Push Button Reset

This is a very interesting idea. Microsoft appears to be planning functionality for a “reset” button that will reinstall Windows while maintaining all of your personal files, applications, settings, etc. without the need for the user to back up their content. A scenario is presented in one of the leaked slides to demonstrate how it would work.

1 – Jon notices that his Windows 8 PC is starting to perform poorly and he can’t figure out what to do. He presses the reset button and chooses to reset his Windows 8 PC.

2 – Wanting a fresh start, he chooses to reset his PC knowing that all his personal content is safe.


3 – Windows 8 automatically retains his files and personalisation settings, and migrates the user account(s).


4 – Windows 8 is restored to the factory image and restarts.

5 – After restarting, Jon can launch the Microsoft App Store to reinstall applications he purchased there, and see a list of other applications that he had installed outside of the App Store.


It’s a nice scenario, and one that all Windows users can relate to – that need to ‘get back to a fresh start for Windows’. I hope this feature eventually makes it into Windows 8 so we can make use of it in the field. I imagine it will be great in a Help Desk support scenario.

Microsoft Application Store

The user Windows reset scenario introduced the idea of the Microsoft Application Store. This is one of the features that created the most noise on the Internet when these slides were leaked. It’s like a feature that everyone has been waiting for, now that we are all used to the application store built in to all our smartphones and the Apple infrastructure.

It will be an application store which will allow you to purchase applications for Windows (and perhaps Microsoft mobile devices as well, such as Windows Phone, Zune HD, etc.). Microsoft has a solid foundation for this already, and as the slides below note, they’re anxious to bring this to fruition ASAP.

Microsoft defines Windows Store’s success for consumers as, “getting applications they want, that they can feel confident in, that they can use on any Windows 8 device.”

Interesting points of the Windows Store include:

  • User can hold $$$ credit in the store
  • A user gets a unified view of their application purchases across multiple devices and user accounts (Live IDs)
  • Customer Support processes can be accessed via the store
  • Application settings can follow a user between devices
  • There will be an eco-system built up around the store, including partner-branded experiences

The typical ‘Submit Application to the Store’ process that developers have become accustomed to with the mobile application stores seems to be the model Microsoft are planning for the Windows Store.

Symantec is the First Vendor to Solve Windows 7 Migration Issues relating to Internet Explorer 6

Symantec has released a new option as part of our application virtualisation product to virtualise Internet Explorer 6.  Many customers have not been able to move to Windows 7 because of numerous dependencies on the older web browser.  Symantec’s approach enables side by side Internet Explorer v8 and v6 compatibility without the need for something has ‘heavy’ as MED-V. More importantly the solution offers a secure implementation that is invisible to the user.

Administrators can determine which applications should have access to the specific browser – eliminating use beyond specified programs.  End users are never prompted on which browser to use – the correct version automatically opens for them based on policy.  This option will help you move faster and more efficiently to Windows 7 without spending thousands if not millions on upgrading software in the near term.

Check out the video online at WEBINFORMANT.TV.

This new functionality is part of the SP6 update for Symantec Workspace Virtualisation v6.1 (the software formerly known as SVS).  Other new features include:

64-bit endpoint support – 64-bit Agents are now provided for several 64-bit endpoint operating systems, including Windows 7.

Office 2010 – You can now package, stream, and virtualise Office 2010.

Automatic application streaming by file association – Provisioned applications are streamed automatically when associated files are opened on the system.  For example, Adobe Reader can be streamed automatically the first time a PDF file is opened.

Streaming Dependent packages automatically – You can indicate that a package has a dependency on an application in another package.  When the package that contains the dependency is streamed, the package on which it depends is streamed automatically.

 

Citrix have just announced that they have released XenClient 1.0 to the market.  Quote from Peter Blum on The Citrix Blog:

On behalf of the entire XenClient product team I’m thrilled to announce general availability of XenClient 1.0 and the Synchronizer for XenClient 1.0 as part of XenDesktop 4 Feature Pack 2. XenClient has been more than a year and a half in the making with countless late nights and weekends dedicated to creating this ground breaking bare metal client hypervisor.

This is an important software release for the desktop management arena.  The promise of the bare-metal client hypervisor is simplified co-existence of work and private life operating systems on the same workstation, and offline VDI.  This second feature is a major roadblock for many potential VDI implementations, so we have been looking forward to its release for a while.

See the full press release here:

http://community.citrix.com/display/ocb/2010/09/30/XenClient+1.0+Released

 

We’ve virtualised our servers, storage and networks.  We’ve virtualised our operating systems and we’ve virtualised our applications.

The final frontier is… the user.  How can we virtualise the user? 

A ‘user’ in the context of desktop management is embodied in the OS User Profile and User Documents.  The User Profile contains the users personalisation’s or what I like to call the “Digital Persona”.  The Digital Persona not only the user settings (credentials, OS customisations, persistent connections etc.) but also the user documents (pictures, videos, music and documents).

Why would we want to virtualise the user?

  • With a virtualised User Profile we increase the flexibility and reliability of the managed desktop.
  • We can stop using Roaming Profiles – which is where the increased reliability comes from.  Roaming Profiles have been a source of many support issues for a decade now, and it has been obvious to us that there must be a better way!
  • Information protection – We can ensure that the most vital information/data within the the users’ Digital Persona is stored in a location that the organisation manages and backs up.
  • We speed up the log on/off process for the users’ by removing the Roaming Profile.
  • Quicker recovery from a failed PC – the user can logon to a new or temporary PC and be up and running quicker as the dependency on their PC is greatly reduced.
  • Faster and more reliable migration to new computers for users, as there is less data resident on their current PC.

Other requirements of a successful User Virtualisation are:

  • Can laptop/netbook users work as they require when they are offline?  (Are all their personal data files and OS customisations they want/need available when disconnected from the network?)
  • Large data files, such as email archives, are handled appropriately so as to not impact user experience

Most of the companies involved in this area of the market have recognised the need to improve the flexibility and reliability of the user experience, and have been working on solutions for a while.

Citrix have User Profile virtualisation within XenDesktop, and VMware have it in View too.

Microsoft have prepared an IPD (Infrastructure Planning and Design) guide that provides guidance on how to implement what they call User State Virtualisation in your environment.

The Infrastructure Planning and Design guide for Windows User State Virtualization (USV) helps IT get started planning a Windows USV solution.

Windows user state virtualization helps IT find the right balance between centralized management of business-critical data and a rich user desktop experience. Follow the stepwise approach in this IPD guide to gather relevant user and IT requirements. Then compare and contrast Windows USV technologies (Folder Redirection, Offline Files, and Roaming User Profiles) in light of scenarios that are relevant to your business. Also, leverage the subjective real-world guidance based on analysis of Windows USV deployments in mid to large organizations, and interviews with domain experts.

Reduce time and planning costs by following the processes in this IPD guide to design a successful Windows USV strategy.

You can download the Windows User State Virtualisation Guide from Microsoft at the following URL:

http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff877478.aspx

I’ll be following this topic up in future posts, as it is a vital part of “the new way of doing things” that is changing the desktop management landscape.

Cheers,
Geoff.

 

When it comes to commentary on desktop virtualisation, there is few better than Brian Madden.

Take a look at this interesting read on his view of the Windows desktop in 5 years from now.

http://www.brianmadden.com/blogs/brianmadden/archive/2010/04/29/what-the-windows-desktop-will-look-like-in-2015-brian-s-vision-of-the-future.aspx

Geoff.