Are Dynamically Attached Applications via Layering the Answer?

Finding a solution that allows an application to be packaged and shared across different versions of Windows operating systems can be a challenge.  In my experiences with trying to streamline application delivery processes it’s been near impossible. While having worked on many application packaging projects in the past; today we will look at application deployment in virtualization environments, more specifically we are going to dive into the project where the most challenges surfaced and from there, we will look at some solutions.

The Trenches

Deploying applications into virtualized environments is not a small task, and the environments can be of any size.  Use of virtualized applications can also vary, from just being used for remote workers, disaster recovery, the most critical and largest of applications, or for enterprise legacy applications to name a few. My experiences have provided insights into all these use cases, and at the end of the day manually installing your virtualized applications across every server that delivers application can be slow and complicated.

Naturally as administrators we then seek other ways to simplify application deployment, but even that for me had proven to be a dead end over time.  Let’s take a closer look at one project specifically.

Application packaging from the real world and it’s many challenges

During this project we first discovered how virtual applications were being used.  The first case for virtualized applications was legacy applications.  Basically, any application that was still used for business function, but couldn’t be upgraded to run on the latest desktop operating system used in the enterprise.  So, these legacy applications were installed on older server operating systems that typically had a longer support available then published to the user for availability.  The second use case for virtual applications was for the organizations largest mission critical application in the enterprise hosting over 2,000 users.  Two extremes at play here.

Solutions attempted

Before trying to package applications, they were all installed manually except for Microsoft Office which was baked into the server image.  As the environment grew and new applications were added it was clear this continuing was a manually approach was not a good option.  So, many possible solutions were assessed and two were ultimately attempted.

Key Challenges  

  • End of support – a solution native to the virtualization application was selected, and it worked for over ½ of the applications deployed. Within a year though, the company no longer offered the product and new options needed to be looked at.
  • Complex solutions – on the journey to find a new way to package applications several 3rd parties were evaluated. It was clear that most were complex, required repackaging of an application for each operating system deployed to, didn’t work for all applications, caused slowness at login, didn’t work with the cloud, required a dedicated staff member, and were typically expensive.  In the end, a product was selected, and due to time constraints and once again learning that not all applications could be packaged the solution wasn’t completely deployed.
  • Project put on hold – in the end our team kept with the manual proven processes in exchange for the ability to avoid that challenges that came with implementing virtualized applications through a 3rd party solution. Then reviewing annually to determine if a better solution would come along.

Fortunately, as time has gone on there are better solutions to implement application deployment in virtualization.  Let’s look at one possible solution.

Liquidware FlexApp

There are a few things about Liquidware FlexApp application layering that help overcome the challenges faced in the project we looked at today. FlexApp is different than other layering solutions you may be familiar with. Instead of layering complex parts of the Windows OS and applications, the solution focuses only on applications. In fact, an argument could be made that FlexApp does not layer but dynamically attaches applications from virtual hard disk containers to desktops with a proprietary system filter driver. The Windows OS itself remains unchanged, therefore greatly simplifying base image management.  Here are the highlights.

  • One Package per application – The application packages function at the same level as the operating system which is different than other layering technologies. This uniquely allows a single packaged application to work on just about any operating system once it’s packaged.
  • Control over Login and Performance – Ultimately login performance can be controlled because the application can be delivered to the user in different ways. At boot, login, through desktop shortcuts, or filtering to control logon hours.
  • Simple deployment – With minimal server architecture, the use of virtual hard disks (.vhd) or .vmdk’s, an agent, and an .ini file this works in a simple way on-premises or in the cloud. It is designed to continue to function even if its server infrastructure becomes unavailable.   This solution also integrates with FSLogix, and more information can be found on this here.

This is a solution for overcoming the traditional challenges of application packaging leading to application virtualization success.

You should consider FlexApp if you are looking to streamline your application delivery for your Windows enterprise, especially if you are leveraging virtual desktops from Citrix or VMware. The solution is also already compatible and fully supports Microsoft WVD (Windows Virtual Desktop). With this in mind, those familiar with similar layering concepts found in Citrix or VMware stacks are sure to find FlexApp as a clear alternative that is perhaps more flexible with its support of all of your well-connected Windows desktops.

Concluding Thoughts

Application deployment in virtualization can be challenging. Managing a virtualization environment with virtualized applications is complex and historically has not come without challenges and management complexities.  Users expect their applications and administrators need efficient ways to do their jobs.  Having an understanding of the challenges and possible solutions will go a long way for the success of your enterprise workflows.


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Click here to watch a brief video and learn more about FlexApp in a WVD environment.