Application virtualization is the concept of running application software from a remote server, rather than a user’s computer. The remote server can be an organization-owned server or a server maintained by an outside vendor, which is much more common. Application virtualization accompanies many other types of virtualization currently underway at many organizations of all sizes, such as storage and machine virtualization. With application virtualization, each application brings down its own set of configurations on-demand and allows computing resources to be distributed dynamically in real time.
Application virtualization can provide significant flexibility and convenience, offering IT teams and users easier network maintenance and greater application portability. Before IT teams consider implementing application virtualization for the organization’s network, however, it is vital to understand the major benefits and also the downsides this architecture will provide.
Below are the top 10 benefits that IT managers should analyze when considering application virtualization:
No Installation Required – Application virtualization simplifies software deployment, meaning IT teams download an app once and don’t have to install it on hundreds of different computers. This also means that once the team knows that the app works in the virtual environment, he/she does not need to make sure that it works on all of the different desktop variations in their network, because configuration variations on desktops do not usually affect virtualized apps.
Easy Application Updates – This goes hand-in-hand with benefit number one, but with application virtualization, the host vendor ensures the newest version of the apps are available.
Easy Resets – If for some reason an app is no longer working properly on a user’s computer, due to changed settings or incompatible add-ons, the IT team has the option to reset the app to its original state.
Application Management – Similar to the whitelisting/blacklisting concept with security software, IT teams can set rules for which workgroups can download which apps. This can save a significant amount of budget and avoids taking the path of least resistance, which is sometimes to simply load every app on every machine.
Improved Security – By isolating applications from the operating system and other apps, application virtualization provides increased security by prevent malware from spreading from one app to others.
Reduction in Costs – Application virtualization is less expensive than either purchasing software licenses for all machines or moving to full desktop virtualization. For organizations with up-to-date operating system licenses, application virtualization provides the benefit or “virtualness” without replacing and paying for current OS software.
Helpdesk Support – Host vendor helpdesk personnel are available to provide support for IT teams if users run into any issues, questions, or even conflicts. The helpdesk personnel can easily access all available apps in the network and can test the app in the same environment as users, if necessary.
Improved Roaming – Some applications allow users to store settings in the virtual environment, so that when they access their apps from any computer anywhere, they will immediately see their personalized settings.
Multiple Software Versions – IT teams can make available multiple versions of applications concurrently, such as Word 2003 and Word 2007, which can save users time when working with files that may not convert easily between older and new versions of an app.
Operating System Independence – Since virtualized apps are typically OS dependent, users who work in Windows, MacOS and Linux can potentially use their apps on any machine within their organization.
Having examined the virtues of application virtualization, it’s important IT managers understand some of the limitations and downsides to this network architecture.
1) Bandwidth Requirements – Streaming apps to hundreds of users concurrently can require massive amounts of bandwidth. IT teams should make sure the cost savings from moving to virtualized apps isn’t swallowed up by extra bandwidth costs.
2) No Tolerance for Network Outages – If there is any disruption from the servers hosting the apps to the user – whether it’s within the host, in the internet connection or in the organization’s network, users are dead in the water with very limited resources to be productive.
3) Balky Apps – Some apps, particularly those that require installation of specific system drivers, work less well virtually. Some apps are better suited to virtualization than others.
4) Added Complexity – Apps from some vendors, most notably Windows, were not developed to run in a virtual environment. When there are problems, IT teams may not be able to trace whether the problem is with the app or the virtual environment.
5) More Work – If there are some apps essential to the organization that don’t function in a virtual environment, IT teams may find themselves managing two architectures with some applications running virtually and others running on users’ desktops. This scenario defeats much of the purpose of moving to a virtual environment.
From easier application deployment to running incompatible software side by side, application virtualization technology is potentially able to benefit and boost productivity for employees and for the organization overall. However, IT teams must consider carefully the benefits versus potential downsides, and analyze application virtualization within the context of their comprehensive network plan.
Only with a careful analysis of the organization’s network architecture and the computing needs of different types of users throughout the organization, accompanied by a detailed cost/benefit analysis, should IT teams embark on any project as impactful to a network as application virtualization. For this type of complex project, IT teams should consider bringing in outside experts who can complete this preliminary analysis and provide valuable expertise and experience with deployment and maintenance of a project as highly visible and important as this.
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