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Application Delivery Strategy: A Key Piece in the VDI Design Puzzle

By Michael Bradley and Hans Bader

Let’s face it: applications are the bane of a desktop administrator’s existence. It seems there is always something that makes the installation and management of an application difficult and challenging. Whether it’s a long list of confusing and conflicting requirements or a series of software and hardware incompatibilities, management of applications is one of the more difficult aspects of an administrator’s job.

It’s not surprising that application delivery and management is one of the key areas that often gets overlooked when planning and deploying a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), such as VMware’s Horizon View 6. This often-overlooked aspect is a common pitfall hindering many VDI implementations. A great deal of work and effort goes into ensuring that desktop images are optimized, the correct corporate security settings are applied to the operating system, the underlying architecture is built to scale appropriately, and the guaranteed end-user performance is acceptable. These are all important goals that require attention, but the application delivery strategy is frequently missed, forgotten, or even ignored.

Before we go further, let’s take a moment to define application delivery. A long time ago in a cube farm far, far away, application delivery was all about getting the applications installed on the desktop. But with the emergence of new technologies the definition has evolved. Software application delivery is no longer solely about the installation; it has taken on a broader meaning. In today’s end-user environment, application delivery is more about providing the end-user with access to the applications they need. In today’s modern enterprise, end-user access can come in many different forms. Some of the most common examples are:

  • Installing applications directly on the virtual desktop, either manually or by using software such as Microsoft SCCM.
  • Application virtualization using VMware ThinApp or Microsoft’s App-V.
  • Delivering the applications to the desktop using technologies such as VMware App Volumes or Liquidware Labs’ FlexApp.
  • Application presentation using RDS Hosted Applications in VMware Horizon 6.

All these examples are application delivery mechanisms. Each one can solve a different application deployment problem, and each can be used alone or in conjunction with a complimentary one. For example, using App Volumes to delivery ThinApps.

An application delivery strategy should be an integral part of your VDI design; it is just as crucial as the physical infrastructure, like storage, networking, processing and the virtual infrastructure. It is perfectly alright to have a top-notch VDI, but if you can’t deliver new and existing applications to your end-users in a fast and efficient manner, you might be spinning your bits and bytes. Your end-users need applications delivered efficiently and quickly, or the VDI project becomes a bottleneck. The prime factor to remember about VDI is it forces you to change the way you operate. Features―such as VMware’s Linked Clone technology―can change the application delivery paradigm that many desktop administrators have grown accustomed to in a physical PC world. Let’s face it: how effective is it to push and install applications to linked clone desktops every time a desktop refreshes or recomposes?

To this end, if an application delivery strategy is so important, why is it often missed or ignored? There are three primary reasons for this:

  • First, it is simply forgotten, or the VDI designers simply don’t realize they need to consider it as part of the design.
  • Second, application delivery is often considered too big of a challenge, and no one wants to tackle it when they’re already facing tight deadlines on a VDI project.
  • Third, and probably most commonly heard in enterprise environments, is there is already a mechanism in place for application delivery for physical PCs, so it is assumed that what exists will suffice.

Once the need for an application delivery strategy is established, you need to determine what goes into one. First, you need to consider all tiers of your applications: tier one, tier two, tier-n. With that be sure to identify which are most common. Determine which applications need to be provided to all end-users versus which ones go to just a small subset. That will help determine what could be installed in the base image, as opposed to being delivered by some other mechanism. For instance, Microsoft Office may be an application that would be included in the base image for all users, but a limited use accounting package may only be required for the accounting team, and therefore delivered another way.

Next, consider the delivery mechanism for your virtual desktops. Are they all full virtual machine desktops – or linked clone desktops? Determining which type you are using will play a major part in what your application delivery strategy looks like. If you are using all full virtual machine desktops―which deserves serious consideration―then you could effectively continue to use the existing application delivery strategy you use for physical PCs. But using linked clones could cause your existing application delivery strategy to become a bottleneck.

Then, you need to consider what technology will work best for you and your applications. Will application virtualization such as ThinApp be a suitable mechanism? Or, perhaps using RDS Hosted Applications in Horizon 6 is a more viable option for application delivery. You may even find the best option is a combination of technologies. You should take time to evaluate the pros and cons of each option to ensure the needs of your end-users are met ‒ and with efficiency. One question you should ask is, “Do my end-users have the ability to install their own applications?” If the answer is “yes,” you need to ensure you either change corporate policy or select a technology that supports user-installed applications. Keep in mind that an application delivery strategy can vary for different types of users.

Finally, you should consider how to handle one-off situations. There will always be the one user, or a small group of users, who require a specialized application that falls outside the realm of your standard application delivery mechanisms. Determining how to address those instances are rare but inevitable, but as a desktop administrator, it will help you respond quickly to the needs of your end-users.

A good VDI implementation is only successful if the end-users can perform their assigned tasks. Nine times out of ten, that requires access to applications. Ensuring you have a strategy in place to ensure delivery of the right applications to the right end-users is vital to the success of any VDI implementation.

Michael Bradley

Michael Bradley, a VMware Senior Solutions Architect specializing in the EUC space, has worked in IT for almost 20 years. He is also a VCP5-DCV, VCAP4-DCD, VCP4-DT, VCP5-DT, and VCAP-DTD, as well as an Airwatch Enterprise Mobility Associate.


Hans Bader

Hans Bader Consulting Architect, VMware EUC. Hans has over 20 years of IT experience and joined VMware in 2009. With a focus on helping organizations being operationally ready, he works with customers to avoid common mistakes.  He is a strong advocate for proactive load testing of environment before allowing users access.  Hans has won numerous consulting awards within VMware.

7 thoughts on “Application Delivery Strategy: A Key Piece in the VDI Design Puzzle

  1. amir

    very interesting and good to know about application delivery strategies. In large enterprise, normally, there is a application testing team who is responsible to test and recommend the application delivery for certain project. It require extensive knowledge of platform and application routine. This team is, off-course, unable to meet requirement of every single user but able to customize VDI on any point of time.

    1. Hans Bader

      Depending on the organization, application teams are simply packagers and distribution is handled by a different team, testing by a third team. To be successful with a VDI deployment, all parties have to have a seat a the table. Just providing a desktop is not enough.

  2. Søren Reinertsen

    Personally I don’t see anything new or mind changing in this article and let me explain why.
    First of all. All the difficulties descripted in the application delivery topic are known topics from the physical desktop environment and here it works well with a high level of user self-service.
    Second. If VMware keeps thinking on ThinApp as the best possible way to virtualize applications – then I don’t see at VMware as the vendor that solved the application delivery topic.
    – ThinApps can not handle drivers and context menu integration is not possible.
    – Mirage can be used if it’s only a few small applications be GB-sized apps are a no-go. Try imaging a engineering desktop with huge CAD and calculation applications…
    – RDS applications. Why have the application delivered in a virtual desktop when you can have it directly on the device you are using?
    – Install applications in the golden image… Not the way to go… Not even an application _delivery_ solution.
    – Using services known from the physical desktop environment as SCCM will have the storage footprint explode – And only pinpoint VDI’s storage issues.
    By using AppVolume or similar solutions (Unidesk) the footprint can be a minimum due to the way applications can be shared and the instant delivery makes it possible on Linked-clones.
    AppVolume have all the possibilities that we need for a smart AD managed user self-service where the users can request applications, then the desktop is add to an AD Group representing the application which add the requested application to the virtual desktop either instant or after a reboot. As we know it from SCCM but in a much smarter and customized for a virtual environment and not as a bad work around
    As I sees it. The vendor that makes this happening will make the hyper-jump for VDI expansion possible. And AppVolume are so close 🙂

    1. Hans Bader

      Thank you for your comments.
      Our blog was based on observations visiting many customers over the years. In many organizations the virtual desktop deployments are initiated by the virtualization team, not the desktop or app deliver team. As a result app delivery is often missed as a critical piece of the VDI deployment puzzles.

      All the technologies listed will solve different problems. For example although ThinApp does not handle device drivers, you can use it to create a completely portable application catalog. You can run Office, Firefox, and Adobe Reader from a USB drive with no network connectivity required.

      Placing applications in the base image is very common. Probably the most common is Microsoft Office. In many organizations, all users require MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint. These organizations will standardize on a common Office Platform. This makes license compliance easier.
      Another common base image install are developer tools. Due to the complexity of installation, size of install base, or licensing, organizations will install the developer tools in the base of a golden image specific for the user group.

      Using SCCM in VDI is very common. Customers are often hesitant to change application delivery mechanisms. We have been to large enterprise customers where both physical and virtual desktop applications are being maintained by SCCM. This may work for Full Persistent Clone desktops, but can become problematic when using Linked Clones.

      As with so many things in corporate IT, there are many ways get a task done. The best way for a particular company may not work for another company. Often this has do to with politics internal to the organization.

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