Accelerate your Windows 7 deployment with App-V

Finally, it’s time. After some years it’s time to migrate to the next Operating System on the desktop, Windows 7. After the very low adoption of Windows Vista within companies I am really happy to see in the field is that a lot of companies are planning, or at least considering to migrate to Windows 7. I’ve talked to a lot of customers that are in the planning phase of a migration to Windows 7.

Migrate but innovate

What my story is about now, is to convince you that this is exactly the right time to innovate in your desktop infrastructure as well. Don’t just upgrade each component and think you’re done. Because you will end up with a brand new infrastructure with a lot of the same issues you have now. Also, requirements for the desktop infrastructures must have changed for your IT infrastructure during the last couple of years. Take new technologies into consideration when designing your new desktop infrastructure.

Most migrations to Windows XP within companies were done between 2002 and 2005. It’s been a while, a lot of things have changed in the mean time and everyone has gotten more dependent on IT –often more than they realize. And most probably your company is using more desktop applications than 5 to 10 years ago. The longer a company exists, the more legacy (applications) they have.

Besides the growing dependency and application landscape, technology in the desktop infrastructure area has progressed. Some examples:

  • The deployment of Windows has improved
  • The way drivers are handled is much better
  • It’s possible and even easy to maintain one image for different types of hardware
  • Deployment tools like WDS and Microsoft Deployment Tool (MDT) have matured
  • Enterprise management solutions like System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) have matured
  • The overall user experience has improved dramatically. It will in anyway feel new and not old for users. It could even be a boost of image for the IT department.

Your biggest migration issue

So, taking all this into consideration we can agree it’s time to start preparations to migrate to Windows 7 and try to do everything better that was done wrong the last time when designing and migrating to a Windows XP environment.

But I have one question: what was the biggest issue in your last desktop migration project?

I can hear you thinking: “the applications”.

Probably the desktop infrastructure was ready to go, but not all applications were packaged, (regression) tested or they simply did not work on the new platform. Probably the whole migration planning was not met because of those applications. There are two reasons why applications are such a problem with each desktop migration:

  1. People tend to underestimate the work and wait until the migration project has begun, before starting to handle the applications for the migration. There is just so much time-consuming work to do. Especially running user acceptance tests tends to take a lot of organizational time.
  2. The technical issues around the traditional form of application “installation” cost a lot of time and effort. For each application you need to create new packages or at least test them on the new platform to see whether the installer and application work, check for conflicts, etcetera. All time-consuming work mostly caused by the concept of “installation”. This is where Microsoft Application Virtualization (App-V) comes in-to play.

We all know the benefits and flexibility we gain from machine virtualization, but it does not generally solve application installation issues. Microsoft App-V does so by applying virtualization on another layer, decoupling the application from the underlying operating system. No more worries about application conflicts, no more regression testing on a app-to-app level. For more general information on how Microsoft App-V works, visit: http://www.microsoft.com/systemcenter/appv/techoverview.mspx

App-V migration benefits

Because most time constraints in a desktop migration project are caused by the technical issues around applications, using Microsoft App-V will provide many benefits to help achieve your planning goals.

  1. Sequencing an application (i.e. packaging for App-V), generally speaking is faster than (re-)packaging an application into .MSI format.
  2. Almost no regression testing necessary. Applications run isolated in their own virtual environment. Virtualized applications do need to be tested on the OS to which you want to deploy. Most problems around virtualized applications that do not work once they are deployed are caused by inadequate app-to-OS testing.
  3. Application delivery through App-V streaming technology is on-demand and very fast compared to “traditional” software delivery, keeping OS images small and making them fast to deploy. Also there is much less worry about lengthy waits for the applications to be deployed to the users on their freshly installed PC.
  4. Updates are only made to the central package, no more praying that your 10.000 advertised update packages were successful.

If you have not experienced a desktop migration in detail, please talk to someone who has and you will see that these three points would have saved a lot of time and issues at that time.

Not migrating any time soon

The reality is that not all environments will be migrated to a Windows 7 desktop environment right away. Still I have advised a lot of my customers to start using App-V in their current Windows XP environment and make sure that all new applications or major application updates are delivered through Microsoft App-V technology as this will get them ready for migration. I also tell them to test all those sequenced applications (App-V name for package) on Windows 7 as part of their packaging process, making sure these virtualized applications will work once the desktop is migrated to Windows 7 in the future. Each application you virtualize now is one less application to virtualize when migrating to Windows 7. You can get started by reading the App-V sequencing whitepaper or by watching the video on how to create a virtual application using App-V.

So, clearly my advice is to start using Microsoft App-V now because it provides benefits for the future.

NOTE: It is important to realize that there is no guarantee that an application virtualized on Windows XP will automatically work on Windows 7. You still need to test and in a worst case scenario virtualize the application once for each operating system.
App-V benefits after migration

Besides the migration benefits, App-V also provides a lot of benefits in a Windows 7 or even Windows XP environment. Some of them overlap with the migration benefits, but here is the list for completeness.

  1. Faster than packaging and less worries about conflicts. Meaning you can respond to business demand faster. Also changes on applications are much easier and faster.
  2. Run conflicting legacy applications side-by-side on the desktop.
  3. Because of application streaming no more waits on application delivery, especially for users that roam between desktops.
  4. Application updates

App-V and Windows 7

Microsoft App-V has been around since 2006 when Microsoft acquired Softricity which have been developing the application virtualization technology since 1998. Since Service Pack 1 for Microsoft App-V 4.5, the 32-bit version of Windows 7 has been fully supported way ahead of other vendors in this space with the following feature set specific for Windows 7:

  • Seamless user experience regardless of application format (pin to taskbar and leverage jumplists)
  • AppLocker integration. Increase IT control, enforcing compliance of virtual applications
  • BranchCache support. Leverage BranchCache technology to deploy virtual applications over the WAN, eliminating the need for streaming servers in every branch.
  • BitLockerToGo support. Stream virtual applications from USB storage devices, allowing only authorized users to access the virtual applications.
  • Integration with 3rd-party LDAP directories

But now Microsoft releases App-V 4.6 which was designed with Windows 7 and Office 2010 in mind. The following features have been added to App-V to support Windows 7, Remote Desktops Services (including VDI) and Office 2010 even better:

  • Enable App-V to run on 64-bit Windows Desktops and Servers
  • Enable App-V to launch true 64-bit applications
  • Thirteen new languages added for localization in support of global businesses
  • Extend virtual Office 2010 usage
    • Improved SharePoint integration to Open, Save, Edit files.
    • Find your email items quickly with Outlook’s Fast Search
    • Connect to your inbox using Microsoft Outlook Send To functionality
    • Print your documents directly to OneNote
    • Find contents within your documents using Office Document Indexing
    • Open Web based calendar items and RSS Feeds in Outlook
    • Perform advanced mail configuration using the Virtual Mail Applet
  • Point to shared cache instead of streaming into virtual desktops or mount within virtual desktops
  • Reduces storage requirements on SAN by eliminating redundancy of application binaries
  • Improved Sequencer experience with ability to sequence true 64-bit applications
  • Faster virtual application availability when using System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM)

I really think the future of application deployment is to do this through application virtualization and no longer worry about the concept of “installation” on devices; “Apps can now follow users versus devices”. And all the developments around version 4.5 SP1 and 4.6 of App-V really show that this technology is here to stay and Microsoft is putting in all efforts to become the standard on application virtualization (bye bye .MSI).

Especially considering that the App-V for RDS CAL license is provided for free for each RDS CAL you purchase for Windows 2008 R2 there seems to be no reason left to not start using App-V. And since we all are migrating to Windows 7 the coming years there is no better time than doing so right now.