Extensive Application Deployment with Minimal Resources

In the summer of 2003, Central Michigan University (CMU) deployed more than 40 applications throughout the university. Using the technology we had at our disposal, this would have taken at least six months. We didn’t have nearly that much time.

Resource-Consuming Obstacles
We run most applications via Terminal Services and Citrix MetaFrame Presentation servers to enable more cost-effective, centralized management. However, to meet this back-to-school deadline we had to overcome challenges that, to date, had made deploying applications extremely time-consuming:

· Inability to run multiple versions of the same applications on the same server:
Seven of ourkey applications used various versions of Crystal Reports, a popular data-reporting program. Since different software versions cannot run on the same server simultaneously, we would have had to build and manage separate Terminal Services server groups, each running a different version of Crystal Reports. This would have required eight different servers. It also would have meant that each server would have been significantly underutilized, running at perhaps 30-40 percent of its capacity.
· Applications that would not run more than one instance in Terminal Services:
Several applications, including the conference scheduling software many of our staff rely on, could not run multiple instances in Terminal Services. Because they couldn’t be deployed via our server-based system, IT had to manually install and support these programs on every user’s desktop. This went counter to the very reason we were using Citrix server-based computing in the first place, since one of its greatest strengths is to centralize the administration of applications.

Application Virtualization
Our implementation vendor, RapidApp, told us we could totally eliminate these application conflict and multi-instance problems by using a new platform that virtualizes applications. The system, called Softricity SoftGrid (www. softricity.com), transforms Windows applications from products that must be installed and managed locally into virtual services you can deploy and manage centrally—even to remote laptops—without any recoding.

To eliminate application conflicts, SoftGrid avoids writing files directly to the registry and instead redirects them to its virtual “sandbox,” a protective run-time environment that executes programs without altering the host computer.
Table 1 shows how the Windows application installs normally—permanently modifying the operating system’s settings, including writing to the Registry, and installing specific versions of Dynamic Link Libraries (DLLs). Table 2 shows how a Windows application runs with SoftGrid—using a virtual copy of all its settings so they do not modify the operating system upon which the application is executing.

Accelerating Deployment, Simplifying Management
Using SoftGrid, we met our back-to-school deadline—and built a flexible software infrastructure that easily and cost-effectively accommodates future growth and changes.

By simplifying each phase of the application management process and centralizing deployment of all applications, even those used by remote users, we were able to complete the project in just one month instead of the six months it would have taken. One of the keys to enabling this was the elimination of regression testing, which is used to ensure that applications won’t conflict with each other by overwriting one another’s systems settings. Since it’s estimated that up to 30 percent of Windows applications conflict when installed, regression is critical—yet incredibly time-consuming and tedious. By virtualizing applications and updates, we’ve eliminated the need for this process and vastly accelerated time-to-deployment. As a result, we can be much more responsive to ongoing end-user needs.

Centralized Environment
By eliminating application conflict, we can run any version of Crystal Reports on the same server at the same time. In addition, the applications that we had to manually install on every desktop, now run multiple sessions on each server. As a result, we can centrally deploy and manage all our applications. This is significant because we had chosen server-based computing because of its total-cost-of-ownership savings, but having even one application that can’t be centrally managed this way significantly reduces those gains. Being only partially centralized is not enough—the goal is to manage all applications from a single console, and now we can.

Enhanced Security
We can now give students access to key applications and still maintain high security because the applications reside on the network, not the desktop. This also helps us easily manage deployment of critical security patches. Instead of having to go from desktop to desktop installing patches, now all we need to do is make one change on our server and it stays up-to-date Given the increasing frequency of updates and patches with all the viruses and worms that have invaded networks, this has become an essential part of our infrastructure.

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