Microsoft Application Virtualization 4.5 enables large organizations to provide applications to end-user computers without installing the software on the local Windows operating system. Although this reduces application conflicts by isolating applications from each other and the underlying OS, my tests showed that IT managers will be tasked with significant packaging and setup burdens to make App-V 4.5 work correctly.
App-V 4.5 is just one of many contenders now engaged in a full-fledged fray to garner the attention of IT desktop managers. Competitors include Symantec's Altiris Software Virtualization System (SVS), VMware's ThinApp 4, Sun Microsystems' VirtualBox, Novell's ZENworks Application Virtualization and Citrix Systems' client-side application virtualization. IT managers not only must decide if application virtualization is useful as a strategy for unifying the corporate desktop and reducing support costs, but which vendor will fit most easily into the existing infrastructure.
There are several factors I consider when I test application virtualization products. The most important is the ability to significantly reduce application conflicts in the production environment, followed by being able to improve centralized configuration control dramatically, license management, and desktop and application security.
In the case of App-V 4.5, the product did significantly reduce application conflict because application virtualization enables a program such as Word to run as if it were the only program running on the end-user system. The amount of back-end work to make the gain a reality was considerable. All told, I installed an App-V management server, a streaming server, a sequencer (where applications are packaged for delivery) and an App-V client on all my Windows end-user systems.
App-V 4.5 can be tightly integrated with Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager 2007 to handle application package distribution. Sequenced packages can be delivered by third-party electronic software distribution systems as well. Compared with VMware's much simpler ThinApp 4, Microsoft's App-V 4.5 handles application packaging using the App-V sequencer, a component that is installed on a PC with a clean install of the Windows OS that matches that of systems deployed in the enterprise. In App-V 4.5, the sequencer has been streamlined and now requires only a single wizard to package applications. Advanced configuration settings such as using HTTP, HTTPS or the RTSP protocol (among others) to use for deployment can be fine-tuned after the basic sequencing process is completed.
App-V 4.5 can use the management server or streaming server to distribute sequenced applications to end-user systems, but is also designed to integrate with Microsoft System Center software distribution and management tools. For enterprises that use System Center Operations Manager, there is a management pack that specifically monitors the App-V management server. The management pack checks system health and can signal if a problem is detected with the content directory (where the packaged applications are stored), security certificates that are used to secure communication between App-V servers and clients, or in client handling requests.