Using VMware ThinApp with desktop virtualization to reduce TCO and increase ROI

Over the past couple of years, users have remained wary of virtual desktop technologies. Unlike server virtualization, desktop virtualization has not yielded clear return on investment (ROI) and has historically been costly. But recently, with an increasingly mobile workforce, customer demand for virtual desktop technologies has grown. In response, companies such as Quest Provision Networks, Pano Logic and VMware have begun to offer effective virtual desktop technologies with more definitive ROI and lower total cost of ownership (TCO). With VMware's acquisition and re-branding of ThinStall's ThinApp, VMware's Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) has become an increasingly viable option.

In the first part of this two-part series, I look at the benefits gained from adding VMware's ThinApp into the VDI mix. Part two, coming soon, is a tutorial on packaging and testing a single application with ThinApp.

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With VDI, the concept focuses on virtual desktops. People in the tech industry are quick to believe this concept just encapsulates the presentation of the desktop. This virtual desktop is often a duplicate of an existing image, used on laptops and desktops in the customer environment.

Decoupling applications from an OS
To maximize the ROI achievable from a VDI environment, you need to combine multiple solutions. This is where the VMware acquisition of Thinstall comes in. Recently rebranded, VMware ThinApp allows you to decouple the applications from the operating system. The applications are virtualized and stored as discrete packages that can be streamed to the desktop. For example, Microsoft Office 2007 can be wrapped up in to a ThinApp package and stored on a file server. This package can be streamed on demand by a user to their desktop, allowing full use of Office 2007 without any potential compatibility issues. The application has zero foot print on the user's computer, meaning that application compatibility issues and operating system pollution is no longer a concern. As you would expect, application interoperability works just as it would, should the application not be delivered within a ThinApp wrapper.

If you utilize ThinApp within a VDI environment, you immediately receive multiple benefits. For one, you are truly delivering a dynamic virtual desktop experience. Be streaming applications into the virtual desktop for the user, desktops can be used by any user at any time. Secondly, the virtual desktop stays clean; user settings are stored in their profiles meaning that whichever virtual desktop a user connects to, their application data moves with them, as do their applications. Thirdly, support costs are reduced. You won't receive problems with application conflicts anymore. Users can not mess up application settings as the applications aren't installed on their virtual desktop. Your application packaging teams can start to breathe a sigh of relief.

Reduced storage footprint
Finally, you can reduce your VDI storage footprint. In typical VDI environments, each virtual desktop with core applications could consume anywhere between 5 to 10 Gigabytes of SAN space. The operating system forms a large percentage of this, however so do the applications. With 100 virtual desktops, you have 100 instances of your core applications duplicated on your storage.

With VMware ThinApp, your applications are stored once on a file server, or virtual disk share, with each user connecting to the same application package. Imagine 100 users connecting to one stored instance of Microsoft Office 2007 as opposed to 100 stored Office 2007 instances -- that's a lot of space saved.

The applications can be streamed to both physical desktop and virtual desktop representations simultaneously, meaning that mixed environments can receive the same great benefit. No agents are required on the target machines and application distribution software is not needed. The applications are streamed and loaded in memory, so only application shortcuts need to be provided to your users. You can do this using existing software distribution software or via login scripts.

Overall, ThinApp within a VDI environment extends the benefits that you receive, enables better ROI and continues to lower the TCO of your virtual desktop estate, further promoting the benefits of utilizing VDI.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Davey is the CTO and co-founder of Xtravirt Limited, a U.K. based company that provides virtualization consulting services. He has worked in the IT industry for over 12 years within various areas of technology. He can be reached at paul.davey@xtravirt.com.

This was first published in October 2008

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