In my last post I explained the value of RingCube technology in addressing “long tail” apps.  In this article I want to explore how technology that virtualises “long tail” applications fits in the desktop virtualization layer cake.

Achieving the full management savings of VDI with a top-notch user experience requires technologies that turn a generic desktop into a personal desktop.  In addition to using Windows Folder Redirection to store documents (which I discussed in my last post), there are profile management solutions including Windows Roaming Profiles, Citrix Profile manager and products from partners such as AppSense, RES and Tricerat.  Finally, there’s application virtualization, where Microsoft App-V and Citrix App Streaming are preeminent.  In Citrix we group together all of the personalization technologies (Microsoft calls this User State Virtualization).  With so many technologies available you might be forgiven for being a bit daunted by the choices available and be wondering why you’d ever want to use Profile management, App-V and personal vDisks together.  You might even be wondering whether we’ll continue to invest in Citrix Profile management features such as cross-platform settings (the answer’s yes).  This post is my guide to how we think about the personalization technologies available – and why combining them gives users the experience they (rightfully) demand whilst realizing the management benefits promised by VDI.

For a long time, at Citrix we’ve advocated the benefits of separating desktops into their constituent parts:

Let’s explore these layers in the context of “personal vDisks” a little bit.

Profile management

Management of user settings (and the wider concept of user environment) has long been a part of XenApp, and now XenDesktop deployments.  First it’s worth separating the two basic capabilities – technologies such as Citrix Profile management concentrate on storing profile changes, with technologies like Microsoft’s Group Policy Preferences or VUEM able to control the user’s environment based on policy.  Other partners, such as AppSense, RES and Tricerat offer products that satisfy both needs in an integrated way.

Environment management needs a mechanism for dynamically applying policy, to adapt a user’s desktop to the real-time environment.  So, for that aspect of desktop management it’s clear – you will still see a lot of value from existing solutions – nothing about a personal vDisk displaces, or replaces that value.

What about storing the profile?  Should you store profile contents along-side each user’s long-tail applications?  You could, but there are use-cases for separating out the profile settings.  If you want to roam user settings between multiple desktops, or want the ability to revert / roll-back a user’s desktop without impacting their settings then having the profile held separately is still valuable.

Application virtualization

App virtualization enables significant management savings.  By pulling some apps from the base image you can reduce the number of base images required, pay for less licenses, enable self-service, and gain the ability to update applications independently of each other and of Operating System patches.  Virtualizing an application has overhead though – the cost of assessing compatibility and certifying it within the virtualization technology of choice.

Anyone with experience of a large application estate realizes that 100% application virtualization (whether through App-V / Citrix Streaming or hosted on XenApp) is rarely achievable, nor especially desirable.  As I mentioned in my previous post, application usage follows the long tail pattern – there are a very few applications, such as Office, that are used by, and licensed for all your users at the start of the curve.  As our Citrix Streaming guru says – these are the apps to install in the base image.  Then there are the apps that should be centrally managed and virtualized.  Finally, at the end of the tail you find a lot of applications, used by a few users each, that typically aren’t worth the investment to virtualize – the overhead of the assessment and certification process outweighs the advantages.

So, looking at the usage distribution of apps for VDI, today, it looks something like this:

By solving the long tail problem, you to retain the ability to manage a single image, and get to realize the value of app virtualization whilst enabling users to access to their full suite of applications:

Better still, app virtualization is inherently incompatible with certain classes of applications (device drivers anyone?) – by concentrating on app compatibility, solving the long-tail problem means even those troublesome apps may be delivered to users without the need to provision monolithic desktops.

The new layer cake

How does this new layer-cake look?

This can feel daunting, especially when you’re used to a single monolithic desktop – and transitioning from extreme to the other is going to change a number of your processes.  You don’t have to bite off everything at once though.

If you choose to start by virtualizing your applications within your physical desktop estate, you’re starting down the path to transitioning to desktop virtualization – and we’d recommend it to any organisation looking to improve management of their desktop estate.

Alternatively, you can get started with VDI with your core applications in a base image and treat the rest of your app estate as ‘long tail’ applications, managed using existing tools such as System Center Configuration Manager.  This new approach, we believe, is a game changer – minimal disruption to existing processes enabling a more rapid adoption of desktop virtualization.

What if you want more?

If you’re familiar with Citrix, you know we’ve acquired many technologies over the years – a recurring theme is that someone will question whether this spells doom for our relationship with other vendors in the space.  It doesn’t.  We firmly believe in both making customers successful using the capabilities we provide out of the box, and in having a strong partner eco-system that adds to those capabilities.  Take Citrix Profile manager – we’re still great partners with AppSense, RES and Tricerat.  Innovative companies such as Unidesk, with their vision to reinvent desktop management, are still highly regarded Citrix partners.

In Summary

Being able to address the long tail applications doesn’t remove the reasons for, or the benefits of, the existing technologies supporting the desktop layer cake.  With the long tail application problem solved, you do get a better on-ramp to desktop virtualization and sustained value in enabling a better management model for virtual desktops.