Three important VDI application deployment considerations

Brien Posey

When organizations begin considering VDI adoption, a lot of planning goes into the virtual desktop operating systems. However, it is just as important to think long and hard about desktop application support.

After all, the desktop OS only exists as a platform for allowing users to run applications. One of the first decisions you need to make with regard to application support is whether you want to install applications directly onto the virtual desktops or if it would be better to virtualize the various applications.

It might be tempting to come up with a really quick answer to this question, but with all the advantages and disadvantages to each approach, it's worthwhile to give it more thought. There are three important things to think about when deciding how to handle application deployment in a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) environment.

How often do your applications change?

One of the first considerations you must take into account is the number of applications that you use in your organization and how frequently those applications are updated. By "updated," I mean new application versions, not patch management. Depending on how your VDI environment is set up, there are usually ways to perform patch management that are similar to performing patch management in a physical desktop environment.

Paying attention to the number of apps and their level of change is important because there is administrative effort associated with the application management process, and the scope of that effort weighs heavily on the VDI application deployment method you choose.

Suppose for instance that the only application your users work with is Microsoft Office. New versions of Office are typically only released once every two to three years. As such, you would probably be fine including Microsoft Office in your golden image from which you base all of your virtual machines.

On the other hand, let's pretend that the situation is the same, but you decide to virtualize Microsoft Office. There is quite a bit of effort involved in setting up the application virtualization infrastructure, and there is a significant learning curve associated with app virtualization. If you have a small collection of applications that you update infrequently, then application virtualization might be overkill.

Of course, if you have a large and ever-changing collection of applications, then application virtualization is probably the ideal method because it allows you to get a handle on your applications without constantly having to create new desktop OS images.

Cost considerations

Another thing to consider with regard to virtualizing applications versus simply including them in desktop images is the cost of each approach.

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If you choose to virtualize applications, then you need a product such as Microsoft's App-V, and there are licensing costs associated with whatever tool you choose. Similarly, there are probably costs associated with training for the application virtualization tool, as well as implementation costs.

Conversely, if you choose to include applications in VDI images rather than virtualize them, then your primary costs are related to image management. Regardless of which management technique you choose, there are some administrative costs. However, image management tends to be much more labor-intensive than application virtualization in environments where applications are updated frequently.

Application compatibility and portability

As you consider which application deployment method to use, remember that app virtualization isn't just about making application management easier. There are other benefits to consider. For example, some app virtualization tools allow users to run applications on otherwise incompatible devices. In such situations, applications might even be able to be run remotely over the Internet.

Plus, application virtualization can sometimes solve compatibility problems. For example, prior to the release of Office 2013, two different versions of Microsoft Office could not be installed onto the same computer, but application virtualization can overcome this limitation. This concept applies to almost any application that has compatibility issues.

There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all method for application deployment in a VDI environment. Organizations must choose the path that best suits their organization's needs. As a general rule, however, application virtualization is best suited in larger organizations with burdensome application management needs.

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