Evaluating Application Virtualization in Windows Environments

Tech Analysis: With vendors such as Microsoft, Novell, VMware, Symantec and Citrix rolling out application virtualization components to their offerings, enterprise IT administrators need to take a look at the technology. The promise of reducing expenses through application virtualization is there, but eWEEK Labs points out that more work needs to be done on the technology to justify the costs and achieve real ROI.

Virtualization has proven its worth in the data center, essentially giving enterprises a tool that enables them to reduce overall costs while increasing their computing capacity.

In recent years, virtualization has spread beyond servers into such areas as storage, desktops and applications. However, at the application level, work still remains before real ROI can be achieved. As a technology, application virtualization is steadily advancing in sophistication. But my work with most of the application virtualization tools available today shows that they do not provide the hardware, deployment or maintenance savings found in server virtualization.

However, major players are moving into the application virtualization space. Microsoft, Citrix Systems, VMware and Symantec have all added application virtualization components to their lineups, mostly through acquisitions of the technology over the past 18 months.

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Virtualization, when applied to applications, does two things that make it worth testing in a pilot program. First, it isolates applications from the underlying end-user Windows operating system. It also streams a clean copy of the applications from a central repository to the end-user system. The ability to rapidly reprovision users can significantly lower desktop management costs in the case of user misconfiguration or malware infection.

Right now, application virtualization is primarily a technology for Windows environments, thanks to the prevalence of the operating system. Application virtualization is meant to smooth software testing, deployment and patching across large numbers of managed desktops, and such desktops-almost without exception-run Windows.

There are several reasons to pay careful attention to application virtualization technology, and one of them may be cost reduction. Many application virtualization tools enable some kind of "just in time" delivery of centrally stored and managed applications to end-user systems at startup. This technique could significantly reduce the number of images and the amount of time needed to provision new workers.