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VMware ThinApp deep dive: Deployed vs. streaming execution modes

Application virtualization is a great way to simplify desktop management, providing server admins a way to virtualize apps

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regardless of whether they have physical or virtual machines in their environment. VMware’s application virtualization tool, ThinApp, for example, provides IT shops flexibility from desktop operating systems by converting an application to a single executable file and abstracting it from the base OS.

Virtualizing an application using ThinApp is easy enough, but once it’s done, the challenge becomes how best to deliver these applications to the users' desktops. Specifically, VMware ThinApp application virtualization requires IT admins to choose between two different execution modes: the local deployed execution mode, and the remote streaming execution mode.

Deployed execution mode
The first VMware ThinApp mode is the deployed execution mode. In this mode, application packages are copied to the user's desktop and then executed directly from that local copy. The obvious benefit of deploying VMware ThinApp packages to the desktop is that it eliminates network dependencies for accessing applications, allowing the user to roam outside the corporate network using a laptop or VMware View's Local Mode functionality. Deployed execution mode can also decrease application launch times because you aren’t accessing large packages across a slow or unreliable network connection.

You can deploy the VMware ThinApp package by simply copying the package files to the user's desktop manually or copying them automatically using a logon script, startup script, folder synchronization or other automated file copy method. There is also an option to create a Microsoft Installer (MSI) package when building the ThinApp package. This MSI package copies the ThinApp package to the target desktop, and you can deploy it like any other MSI package, using existing software deployment tools such as Active Directory Group Policy, Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager or Symantec Altiris.

Streaming execution mode
The second VMware ThinApp mode is the streamed execution mode. In this mode, ThinApp packages are stored on a central network repository and executed from this location. This approach to application virtualization allows you to update packages easily and provides centralized package security, storage savings and quicker application deployment. This mode is especially useful in a virtual desktop infrastructure where the desktops are centrally located in the data center near the ThinApp network location.

To provide users access to the virtualized applications -- whether in deployed or streaming mode -- the VMware ThinApp package must be registered on the desktop using the ThinReg utility. This utility creates shortcuts in the Start Menu and on the desktop, adds an entry in the Add/Remove Programs section of the control panel, and creates the necessary file extension associations. You can easily script the registration process and run it as a logon script in streamed execution mode. (If you use an MSI package to deploy a VMware ThinApp package, the ThinReg utility is built-in and runs automatically during the MSI install.)

VMware more closely integrated ThinApp with VMware View in its latest versions, 4.5 and 5. To further facilitate deployment, the View administration console includes a ThinApp deployment utility. To set up deployment through View, you have to create VMware ThinApp packages with an MSI package and place them in a ThinApp Repository configured within View. You can configure the packages as deployed or streaming mode, and then assign them to desktop pools or individual desktops. (VMware View doesn’t yet allow you to assign ThinApp packages to individual users or groups of users.)

Several third-party utilities also have ThinApp deployment capabilities built into their products, including ProfileUnity and AppSense. With these deployment techniques for delivering virtualized applications with VMware ThinApp, you can simplify your virtual desktop infrastructure and take a step beyond server virtualization.

This was first published in January 2012

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