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Remote Programs can simplify application management

Remote Programs, a feature of Windows Server 2008, is capable of greatly reducing the administrative overhead associated with managing applications. Expert Brien Posey tells you how it can potentially decrease costs for the IT department.

One of the most expensive IT tasks for many organizations is application deployment and management. The deployment process isn't as big a deal as it used to be because almost no one deploys applications manually anymore. At the same time, though, the days of installing an application and never having to do anything else with it are gone forever. Today, most applications are updated on a regular basis, and the challenge presented to IT departments is to be able to deploy the applications to the desktop and to install any necessary updates to those applications with minimal effort and without disrupting the end user.

The most common solution to this problem typically involves using mechanisms that automatically deploy applications and patches. For example, an organization might use an application management program such as Microsoft SMS Server to deploy applications and patches. Another common technique is to use Group Policy settings to assign applications to machines and then use a patch management program such as WSUS to deploy any necessary patches. Although these methods do work, they can still be a little bit tedious.

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The initial deployment process often involves creating a custom installation package, which can be a lot of work. An organization typically also has to take the time to verify that any required patches have been distributed to all desktops. While this may not sound like such a big deal, in my experience there are always a few desktops on which the update process just doesn't want to work right. This often means manually deploying patches, and then taking the time to figure out why the update process did not work for those machines.

What is Remote Programs and what can it do for you?

One way to simplify the entire application management process is to use a new Windows Server 2008 feature called Remote Programs. It requires the use of a terminal server, but not in the way you might expect.

Remote Programs leverages a terminal server. Rather than requiring the user to work within the confines of a thin client environment, only certain applications are hosted on the terminal server. The user's desktop runs its own copy of Windows, and locally installed applications run right alongside hosted applications. Typically, the user is oblivious that some applications are not installed locally and are actually being hosted by a terminal server.

Application management, simplified

So what does this approach do for application management? For starters, it simplifies the deployment process because the only thing you have to deploy is a link to the host application, not the application itself.

It also simplifies the patch management process. After all, there is only one copy of the application in question, and that copy is being shared by all of the users. This means that rather than deploy patches to every user's desktop, you only have to worry about keeping one copy of the application up to date. Because all of the users share that same copy, users will always have the most current version of the application.

Using Remote Programs also has the potential to reduce help desk costs. Since a hosted application is not installed locally, the chances of a user having problems with the application are greatly reduced. When a user does have a problem, it is typically a connectivity or authentication-related issue.

The biggest downside to using Remote Programs is probably that it is not compatible with every application. Some applications cannot be shared, and therefore cannot function in a thin client environment. Even so, the majority of applications can be hosted with no problems.

About the author: Brien M. Posey, MCSE, has received Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional Award four times for his work with Windows Server, IIS and Exchange Server. He has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities, and was once a network administrator for Fort Knox.

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