Microsoft's application virtualization tool: A closer look

Microsoft's latest desktop virtualization tool, MED-V 1.0, is a comprehensive desktop virtualization platform that enables enterprise management.

With the recent release of Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization, formerly known as Kidaro, Microsoft has

added application virtualization to its product lineup.

Application virtualization is the process of taking a single application and isolating it from the rest of the operating system. It can run in its own sandbox, regardless of the OS, for example, Microsoft Office 2007 and Microsoft Office 2003, Internet Explorer 6 and IE 7 can all run simultaneously.

Application virtualization also makes applications very portable. I carry around a 16 GB flash key with Microsoft Word, Firefox, Snag-it and other applications that were all packaged using application virtualization. This allows me to work with my favorite applications on any computer.

Desktop virtualization allows you to create a package that contains a full desktop OS, which is useful to run applications that aren't compatible with your current OS. Two examples of desktop virtualization are Citrix XenDesktop and Virtual PC, which is available as a free download.

Microsoft's desktop virtualization has been available, but until recently was missing a key piece of the desktop virtualization space: management. There was no easy way to manage desktop virtualization across a corporate network. To fix this, Microsoft bought Kidaro and repackaged it as Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization-V (MED-V).

Med-V leverages Virtual PC to provide an enterprise solution for desktop virtualization. Previously, you had to download and install Virtual PC to build images with no real control on the corporate level. With Med-V, you can deploy the Med-V client and Virtual PC to desktop machines using standard push technology. Additionally, you can push out to desktop users an installation package that includes the client install of Med-V and Virtual PC. After the push, a Med-V agent sits in your taskbar.

Med-V also allows you to upgrade to Windows Vista on your corporate network and seamlessly deliver applications that run previous versions of Windows for legacy applications. For example, you can run Internet Explorer 6, 7 and 8 on Windows Vista while running a desktop virtualization solution on the sly. The entire virtual OS can be pushed out via a management tool.

The Med-V solution is comprised of a master "virtual PC" image that has all applications and service packs loaded. You build a library of virtual images that are stored on an IIS server. All deployment and creation occurs on a Management Server, which also has a Management Console that enables you to control all images from a repository.

Med-V system requirements include the following:

  • A management server loaded with Windows Server 2008 (standard or enterprise)
  • Dual processor
  • 4 GB RAM
  • Management server connected to an Active Directory domain
  • Image repository (IIS Web server)
  • Optional reporting database (SQL Server Express, standard or enterprise)

On the client side, the following is needed:

  • Windows Vista SP1 (32-bit, 2GB RAM) or Windows XP (32-bit, 1 GB RAM)
    • Virtual PC 2007 SP1 is required on either platform. Med-V supports guest OSes with Windows XP SP2 and SP3 and Windows 2000 SP4 (both are only supported on the 32-bit platform).

In my initial testing of Med-V, I was very pleased with what it had to offer. I downloaded the Desktop Optimization pack from my MSDN subscription and was working with the software within an hour. If you do not have a current MSDN subscription, Med-V is only available to enterprise customers with Microsoft Software Assurance who purchase the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack.

It was easy to push applications to a host start menu. I also liked the Web browser redirection feature. My host OS was Windows Vista SP1 and my virtualized desktop OS was Windows XP SP3. Windows Vista had IE 8 loaded and my virtualized desktop OS had IE 6. With the management console, I was able to specify what website I wanted to automatically open in IE 6. Printing was also easy within the desktop virtual machine. You can print to a local printer in your virtualized OS and it redirects to your host printer.

With Med-V, Microsoft now offers a well-rounded desktop virtualization platform that allows for enterprise management. By combining Med-V with Hyper-V and App-V -- formerly Softgrid -- gives you a robust virtualization alternative to VMware's products.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Steven S. Warren is a freelance writer with a passion for learning. He is the author of The VMware Workstation 5 Handbook and is a Microsoft MVP. When he is not writing, he is spending time with his family and friends. You can also find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

This was first published in April 2009

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