Using Microsoft App-V in your server farm

Microsoft says its App-V tool will soon work for servers as well as desktops, but it will take time for IT managers to trust the technology for application virtualization.

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Microsoft said it would evolve its desktop application virtualization tool, App-V, for server applications, but the company may find that IT pros are skittish about using the technology in this manner.

One of the slew of new Systems Center tools disclosed at the Microsoft Management Summit (MMS) 2010 in Las Vegas recently, the capability will be available in the next version of Systems Center Virtual Machine Manager in 2011, according to Microsoft.

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App-V is included as part of Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) 2010 to Software Assurance customers. App-V is also available to Remote Desktop Services (formerly Terminal Services) customers. In its current state, the tool competes with VMware's ThinApp and the application-streaming function in Citrix's XenApp.

While the idea of having one tool for both server and desktop application virtualization is appealing, it will take a while for IT departments and Microsoft partners to seriously consider server application virtualization.

Dan Powers, an Omaha, Neb.-based IT manager at Cox Communications, uses VMware View, ThinApp and App-V in his virtual desktop environment. Powers said he has run into problems with App-V because its immaturity, so he won't use it on servers anytime soon.

"There is a certain level of tolerance that [desktop] users have with miscellaneous application issues. Those issues in most cases only affect a few individuals, [but] this is just absolutely not tolerable on the server side," Powers said. "There is no margin for error in our server farm. [App-V for servers] just creates complexity and a point of failure that I'm not ready to take."
Powers added that he doesn't consider App-V a high-performing application tool because "it lacks redundancy options and is terrible when it comes to reporting."
One virtualization expert said he doesn't expect to see many IT pros or even Microsoft partners to support App-V for servers in the immediate future. "Microsoft partners are just getting around to supporting server virtualization, [so] how long will it take them to come around for virtual apps?" said Chris Wolf, an analyst at Burton Group in Midvale, Utah.

It is also questionable how useful a server/desktop application virtualization tool will be, since the teams that support those platforms are usually separate in most IT shops.

Even so, there has long been talk about using desktop application virtualization tools for server apps. In fact, Microsoft always intended to turn the application virtualization tool it gained through the acquisition of Softricity in May 2006 into a server tool, Wolf said.

"Microsoft never bought into the VM [virtual machine] appliance-delivery model -- they always saw App-V for server apps as their future," Wolf said.

Server App-V benefits
One of the benefits of a "Server App-V" tool is simpler application management. Instead of pre-installing an application into a virtual hard disk or running a script to get it installed after deployment, IT pros will be able to install server applications right into an application tier. Also, by abstracting the application from the operating system, a number of applications can be deployed using a single OS image, Microsoft said at MMS 2010.

Some other general benefits of application virtualization for servers include elimination of application conflicts, faster app deployment and easier management.

Microsoft presented App-V for servers as way to help companies move toward cloud computing because the tool abstracts applications and lets users move them to other platforms without conflict.

Ruben Spruijt, technology officer at a Dutch IT integration company that supports virtualization and application delivery, said App-V for servers will be useful to Internet service Providers and companies using cloud computing or offering infrastructure as a service.

What about VMware?
Microsoft is not alone in moving its application virtualization tool in this direction. Numerous VMware partners expected to see server support in VMware's own ThinApp by now, but the latest version, ThinApp 4.5, launched without server support in March. "At this point, ThinApp is still a desktop application tool," said Raj Mallempati, VMware's desktop and virtualization product marketing director," but he agreed there is demand for an all-in-one application virtualization tool.

"IT shops need one tool to manage desktop and server virtualization, which is why vSphere exists," Mallempati said. "Those needs are the same for applications; they want one vendor offering to support servers and desktops."

Burton Group's Wolf said VMware is working to adapt ThinApp for server applications, but it's tricky to deliver that type of offering because server apps are often tied to server host names, accounts, etc. and need to offer a higher level of reliability.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho or follow @BridgetBotelho on Twitter.


This was first published in April 2010

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