Acresso talks AdminStudio and application virtualization

Acresso's AdminStudio offers support for Microsoft App-V, Citrix XenApp, and VMware ThinApp. So why do they focus on the application virtualization market?

Acresso Software announced during the Microsoft TechEd EMEA 2008 IT Professionals Conference that its AdminStudio application readiness solution is going to provide beta support in early 2009 for Microsoft's Application Virtualization (App-V) solution. This announcement gives Acresso bragging rights as the first vendor to offer built-in application virtualization preparation and packaging for Microsoft's App-V platform.

Acresso said that AdminStudio automates processes so that IT teams can get up and running with application virtualization projects in less time, simplifies decision making regarding which applications are appropriate for virtualization, and enables rapid conversion of existing packages to the virtual format.

The product sounded interesting. So to find out more about it and the application virtualization space, I spoke with Steve Schmidt, vice president of product management for Acresso.

AdminStudio - MSFT App-V Screen Shot.jpg

Q: Just so that we can set the stage, can you give us a little more background about application virtualization preparation and packaging for those of us who don't know much about it?

A: Application virtualization is one of many forms of virtualization, in which certain computer system resources appear to be dedicated but are actually shared. While the popular machine (or server) virtualization provides an abstraction layer between the hardware and the OS that's running on top of it, the abstraction layer created by application virtualization lies between the operating system and the applications running within it. Each virtualized application acts as if it is the only application running on the underlying OS, and each application is isolated from the other. This allows applications to be dynamically delivered as services that can easily be added or removed, reducing the risk of application conflicts.

Creating a virtualized application requires assembling all the appropriate application components as well as supporting information regarding how it should behave in the virtual container. The components and information are then converted into the desired application virtualization format, which is unique for each virtualization technology. Having the capability to automate these processes through an intuitive packaging interface enables IT teams to get up and running with application virtualization projects in less time.

Q: Where do you see application virtualization in the next year or two?

A: The debut of the updated and rebranded Microsoft App-V to the application virtualization market, which is also inhabited by VMware ThinApp and Citrix XenApp, signals the acceleration of growth for application virtualization.

Many enterprises will test and adopt application virtualization for at least some of their Windows applications, in an effort to reduce TCO by avoiding application conflicts, as well as to increase flexibility in provisioning users with additional applications. In the next year or two, these efforts are likely to run parallel to support for traditional MSI application packaging efforts. This will take place within organizations seeking to perform new OS migrations, update their application deployment solutions, and/or simply improve their traditional application preparation and deployment process. We've actually heard from several large enterprises that most organizations have already budgeted for application virtualization as a line item for 2009.

Microsoft, VMware, and Citrix are likely to continue to rapidly advance their application virtualization technologies, addressing an increasing set of target applications, while making their platforms accessible to the broadest market. The market for application virtualization may extend beyond the enterprise users to include some application producers as well.

AdminStudio will continue to evolve to make the use of the new capabilities easy for those creating the virtualized applications, and to increase manageability of the increasingly large set of applications in this format. An ecosystem of additional tools will form around these application virtualization platforms.

Q: Application virtualization has been around for a while now. What's been holding it back? Why doesn't it get as much press as server virtualization?

A: Application virtualization on Windows isn't new, but it does not yet have the history of machine/server virtualization, which has been available on various platforms for decades.

Now that significant industry players such as Microsoft, VMware, and Citrix have all released updated versions of their application virtualization technologies, questions regarding support and investment levels are being addressed. At a technical level, security and scalability gaps have been closed, and cross-application communication options have been added. From a positioning standpoint, application virtualization's role as a complement to machine virtualization within a dynamic enterprise infrastructure is being clarified. These changes will likely lead to increased trial and adoption within the enterprise.

Gartner recently predicted that "over the next 2 to 5 years over 50% of medium to large enterprises will adopt application virtualization -– to save costs, complexity, and time to value throughout their desktop lifecycle. The ability of upcoming application virtualization technology to work with multiple PC configuration tools is critical to reducing the overall complexity and realization of true costs savings of packaging, testing and deployment of applications and desktops."[Gartner Research Inc., "Strategic Planning for Application Virtualization", Ronni Colville, Terrence Cosgrove, May 16, 2008]

Q: How do you determine what applications are suitable for virtualization?

A: At the management level, widely deployed applications are typically good candidates for application virtualization. And due to application virtualization technology advances, a large percentage of desktop applications are suitable.

Many applications are good candidates for application virtualization, but there are some exceptions, and the challenge is to easily identify those that are not.

Q: Can you give examples of applications that are poor candidates?

A: One reason that an application may not be a good candidate for application virtualization is that it contains low-level drivers that require direct access to the system hardware. This may not be possible through a virtualization interface, or may negatively impact performance.

Another reason that application virtualization may not be the ideal path is that the application requires communication with a number of other applications. In this case, they may need to be packaged together in one common virtualized container, or connections in and out of the virtualization containers may need to be explicitly defined during the application virtualization process.

The existence of sophisticated configuration logic at installation time may pose other challenges to application virtualization. Identifying and review the content of MSI custom actions, for example, is recommended.

Q: How does your software help with this decision making about appropriateness?

A: The Pre-Virtualization Scanning feature in AdminStudio simplifies the move to virtualization by interrogating the MSI packages that the organization has already spent time and money creating. It automatically identifies which MSIs are good virtualization candidates based on a set of guidelines that have been captured within the product.

This set of guidelines is extensible, and we expect that it will grow to encompass more best practices and industry-level knowledge. Organizations can add their own rules to the system, and Acresso will be delivering additional ones as well.

Q: How does your product save consumer's time?

A: Without AdminStudio, organizations have to implement trial-and-error techniques and perform many manual tasks to adopt application virtualization.

AdminStudio saves organizations time and energy by scanning existing applications to determine which ones are good candidates for virtualization. It then provides automated conversion capabilities for these applications, leveraging the work the organization has already done with their MSI packages. In addition, AdminStudio provides process management capabilities, built-in best practice project steps, and cataloging of applications in a central repository for reporting and future access. Delivering all these capabilities via a product that is already familiar to thousands of organizations further increases productivity.

Perhaps this would also be a good opportunity for us to mention that as organizations move forward with the adoption of application virtualization, the majority of our customers have been telling us that they will need to continue to support the packaging best practices that they have developed around traditional packages as well. With AdminStudio, they will have the ability to manage both through a single, familiar solution set, thus eliminating much of the learning curve around creating virtual packages.

Q: Can you explain the synergies you offer to a customer since you work with three of the major application virtualization platforms?

A: Enterprises are increasingly adopting application virtualization, and many are choosing to pilot several application virtualization technologies at the same time to allow themselves greater flexibility and choice throughout the virtualization process. Acresso recently announced beta support for the Microsoft App-V solution. Adding this capability to Acresso's existing support for VMware ThinApp and Citrix XenApp, rounds out the company’s ability to help organizations navigate the best technologies for application virtualization.

Acresso is a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, VMware Technology Partner, and a Citrix Technology Partner, and with this support, holds a position as the neutral partner for enterprises who are using one or multiple virtualization options for deploying software. At the same time, we are continuing to offer advanced capabilities for traditional MSI deployments.

Working with all of the major platforms also gives our customers quite a bit of flexibility when it comes to choosing an application virtualization technology(ies) to move forward with. We are finding that a majority of our customers are currently evaluating their options to understand what technologies would be most suitable for their enterprise, and with AdminStudio, they have the ability to leverage a single interface to help them move forward with the right decision. This has made the proof-of-concept phase much less painful for many of our customers.

In fact, a new benchmark study released from the Tolly Group found significant benefits from projects managed with AdminStudio in combination with Citrix XenApp when compared to the solo use of the XenApp applications profiling too. In lab tests, AdminStudio decreased the time to prepare an enterprise-level application for streaming via XenApp by up to 60 percent.

We are closely engaged with each partner and are continuing to work to extend our support of their upcoming releases to provide our customers with support for the most current technologies as possible.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.