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New departmental installed applications tool virtualizes tough apps

Liquidware Labs' new FlexApp departmental installed applications tool gives IT another way to deliver apps to end users in VDI environments.

A new departmental application tool gives IT another way to deliver tough-to-virtualize corporate apps to groups of end users in virtual desktop environments.

Liquidware Labs' FlexApp Departmental Installed Applications (DIA) tool pushes out apps to designated end users upon logon, and the applications appear native to Windows. This feature was announced last year and will be generally available on Feb. 4 as part of ProfileUnity 5.5.

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FlexApp beta testers use it to fill the gaps of application virtualization tools, such as Microsoft's App-V, to deliver apps that are difficult to virtualize and have many dependencies, such as QuickBooks, according to a Liquidware Labs spokesperson.

This approach may be of particular value to organizations that have applications that cannot be packaged very easily, and for shops that don't have software packaging skills in house, said Steve Wood, a technical consultant for the U.K.-based SITS Group, a beta tester and Liquidware Labs partner.

"You can FlexApp pretty much any application, including those that don't make good ThinApp candidates," he added.

The tool does this by using symbolic links rather than encapsulating apps the way application virtualization tools do. There are pros and cons to this approach.

"It doesn't have the encapsulation [of app virtualization], so if it is a problematic app, it is problematic," said Gunnar Berger, an analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. "But they solve the management challenge."

Departmental apps also give admins another way to deploy applications to users.

"While I haven't played with Liquidware's solution yet, I do like what I've seen in terms of creating and managing packages," said Gabe Knuth, an industry expert and blogger.

How FlexApp DIA works

Administrators capture an app, install it to FlexApp, make customizations, stop the capture -- and that's it, Wood said.

Administrators can easily control the FlexApp deployment using the ProfileUnity Filters, which in version 5.5 include many options. For example, IT can choose to only deploy certain applications to users who connect to a certain desktop from a specific geographic location by filtering on a specific IP subnet or Active Directory site name, Wood said.

We want our persona, our apps and our data to follow us, and that's what this does.

Gunnar Berger,
analyst, Gartner Inc.

"It's all very simple to set up," he added.

A few "gotchas" that IT pros need to keep in mind include having sufficient storage space to store the virtual hard disk (VHD) files used for the FlexApp process, Wood said.

"Although these are not massive in size -- typically a few GBs per user, depending on usage, of course -- you need to make sure you have sufficient storage on your network to accommodate this," he said.

In addition, there is some latency when packaging large files with many symbolic links.

And for now, FlexApp supports only non-persistent virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) environments; support of physical and persistent environments is expected for next year. It supports Windows 7 today, and beta tests for Windows 8 are in process.

"Until the solution can be broadened to persistent VDI and physical desktops, I'm not sure how useful it will be," Knuth said.

When it does support physical and persistent virtual desktops, another interesting use would be with terminal servers, Knuth added.

The bottom line is that it gives VDI shops a way to ensure departmental apps are always available to the end users that need them, Berger said.

"We want our persona, our apps and our data to follow us, and that's what this does," he added.

ProfileUnity is licensed at $24 per user for the standard version, and the company now includes its previously released FlexApp User Installed Apps tool as part of that. Customers who paid a $39 per user premium for that feature can now get the DIA feature.

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Does the DIA feature appear useful?