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App streaming vs installation: what's best when

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Desktop Effective desktop management isn't just about working with operating systems – it's also about managing the applications your users are using.

There are many reasons for managing applications, from licence management, to ensuring regulatory compliance, to avoiding the support headaches that come from application proliferation.

It's easy to have a common desktop image for your OSes and common applications; it's not so easy to manage all the thousands of off-the-shelf and bespoke applications that are used in the typical enterprise.

Streaming applications from a central server simplifies application management. Instead of supporting individual desktops, all you need to manage is the central repository of application images and the policies used to handle just how they're deployed. There's no local installation, just a client that handles streamed and cached data.

You can never deploy more applications than you have licences (and are able to monitor deployments to see if you're over-licensed). Profiles ensure that users get the applications they need, while local application caches let users work without needing a connection to the corporate network.

Patch work

The real benefit of application streaming comes from avoiding support headaches. With thousands of desktops in a typical large enterprise, it's no wonder that application patching is a significant issue. Too many businesses put themselves at risk with older versions of applications because it's near-impossible to ensure every desktop PC has been patched – and that every patch has been tested in conjunction with every other application in use.

With a single image for each application, there's no worry about supporting several different versions of each application. Helpdesks won't spend time working out which version they're managing, and desktop configuration teams will be able to provide as up to date a version as possible. Update an image, and the next time they log on all your users will be running the most up to date version.

Using application virtualisation and application streaming you're not only using a single master copy of every application, with tools like Microsoft's App-V you're also running each application in its own sandbox. And as each sandbox is an independent, protected, area of memory, there's little or no risk of unintended application interactions. A sandbox also means that there's no direct interaction between the application and the desktop, protecting applications and data.

"Too many businesses put themselves at risk with older versions of applications"

There's an added advantage of the sandboxed approach: you can deliver applications to temporary users or contractors without worrying about removing them from unmanaged machines at the end of an engagement.

Similarly, if a user changes role, all you need to do is change their application profile to deliver the applications needed to support their new tasks.

Life enhancing

Application streaming can also extend the life of desktop PC hardware. Where traditional application installations require the whole application to be present, streamed applications often only have 10 to 20 per cent of the application resident.

That's a significant saving in disk and memory, and can help reduce the need for expensive desktop refresh programmes. Older hardware can be re-purposed for task workers, with newer, more capable hardware reserved for information workers – who can also use cached applications on mobile devices.

Where application streaming really pays off is as part of an optimised desktop, where application virtualisation lets you manage and support key business applications while giving users the freedom to install unmanaged applications as required.

Not all applications can be virtualised and streamed, so there will always be applications that will need more traditional deployment and management.

This hybrid approach gives IT departments the flexibility they need, while keeping support costs and complexity to a minimum. It's also a step on the road to full desktop virtualisation, where the next generation of virtualisation management tools will be able to mix OS and application virtualisation, delivering custom images as required – giving users access to self-service desktop deployments. ®

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