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Real-Time Application Delivery and Lifecycle Management with VMware App Volumes

Louis Cheng

Author: Louis Cheng

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harry-labana headshotBy Harry Labana, vice president of products, End-User Computing, VMware

Tectonic shifts are taking place globally that require businesses to quickly adapt to change and shift cost to activities that increase productivity. Traditional approaches to application delivery and lifecycle management, designed for the distributed computing era will not scale for modern enterprises.

This is placing new demands on IT that require them to provide instant service delivery in a world in which change is constant.  This requires reimagining application delivery and lifecycle management for the enterprise.

I’m delighted to share that following the acquisition of CloudVolumes in August 2014, we will be launching a VMware-branded version of CloudVolumes called VMware App Volumes in late Q4 2014, the fastest integration in VMware End-User Computing (EUC) history.

VMware App Volumes will be included for free to VMware Horizon™ Enterprise customers and new integration between the Horizon connection server and App Volumes manager will optimize performance. In addition, the solution will continue to be available as a standalone product.

Read on to learn more about what App Volumes is, how it changes traditional application management approaches, and insight into future plans. Sign up for our early access program.

What is VMware App Volumes?

VMware App Volumes provides real-time application delivery and lifecycle management. IT can use App Volumes to build a real-time application delivery system that ensures all applications are centrally managed. With App Volumes, applications are delivered to desktops through virtual disks, without modifying the desktops or applications themselves and can be scaled out with superior performance, at lower costs and without compromising end-user experience.

If you want to understand the power and simplicity of App Volumes, this short video from VMworld U.S. captures the essence followed by a description of the architecture:

VMworld US 2014 Keynote

How does App Volumes work?

As illustrated below, an OS with an App Volumes agent introduces a second layer of virtualization above the OS. Applications, data files, settings, middleware, and configuration licenses act as separate layered containers that we refer to as read-only application stacks (AppStacks) or Writable Volumes in a read/write mode.

Traditional vs Real Time VMs

These AppStacks are assigned from the web-based App Volumes Manager, which is also integrated with Active Directory for application entitlements. IT creates AppStacks that are stored in shared volumes across virtual disks. These AppStacks are easy to provision as they don’t require any special packaging formats and don’t require snapshotting technologies. Instead, App Volumes watches the entire installation process and captures it honoring native application installers.

Once an AppStack is provisioned, with the click of a button, the App Volumes Manager delivers these AppStacks to the desktop, or to the user or group they choose. For end users, applications delivered by App Volumes appear and perform as if they are natively installed. Applications seamlessly follow end users across sessions and devices. Data can also optionally follow that end-user as well. IT can update, or replace applications in real-time. IT can also remove any assigned application in seconds.

Writable Volumes, takes this to the next level by enabling a per-user volume where data (profile, settings, files, user installed apps) can be installed and configured in different ways and move with the user. This complements user environment management (UEM) solutions, which can manage data within writable volumes at a more granular level and provide contextual rules to enforce policy based on different conditions or events.

The following video provides an overview of Writable Volumes. 

What are the benefits?

In the distributed computing world, enterprises continue to struggle with the complexity of application management, resulting in slow and unreliable service delivery for end users. A modern approach must include three key requirements:

Real-Time Application Delivery

  • Deliver or upgrade applications at scale and in seconds
  • Dynamically deliver applications without interrupting users even if they are logged in
  • Complete application lifecycle management (provisioning, delivery, maintenance, retirement) 

Cost-optimized Infrastructure

  • Optimized application delivery drives down compute, network, and storage costs
  • Reduces VDI storage costs by 30%
  • Works with existing infrastructure with flexible delivery to users, groups, or devices

Seamless End-User Experience

  • Support fully customizable desktops, with the freedom for end-users to install applications
  • Persistent user experience with non-persistent economics

With these requirements in mind, a new system for real-time application delivery can be architected to solve for problems in the mobile/cloud era. 

Seamless experience

Provide Complete Application Lifecycle Management

IT can manage the entire lifecycle of applications with App Volumes. From provisioning, delivery, maintenance and retirement. This begins with the initial installation of the application to users or devices. When an application requires an update or an upgrade, App Volumes helps speed up this process and additionally supports easy application replacement.

Dynamically Deliver Applications to Virtualized Environments

App Volumes allows IT to deliver applications and data to any number of virtual machines in seconds. Applications are stored in shared read-only virtual disks that instantly attach to desktops by users, groups, or devices. These applications perform like natively-installed applications for end users providing a seamless desktop experience.

Reduce VDI Infrastructure Costs and Accelerate Efficiency

With App Volumes, IT can drive down compute, network, and storage costs by leveraging on-demand layering and a non-persistent architecture. App Volumes virtual disks can be placed on any supported vSphere® datastore, enabling IT to leverage the most appropriate storage–including fast storage with high read IOPS (such as VMware Virtual SAN™) instead of streaming applications across the network from a CIFS share. By combining App Volumes together with Horizon 6, IT administrators can dynamically deliver and manage applications in virtual desktops with a 30% reduction in storage capacity requirements versus Horizon 6 alone.

Provide Persistent End-User Experience across Non-Persistent Environments

End users can take advantage of fully customized desktops and the freedom to install their own applications and have these persist across sessions. With App Volumes, IT can deliver a persistent user experience while benefiting from the cost savings of a non-persistent architecture.

What is the Horizon Integration and Citrix support?

When the product becomes generally available later this quarter, App Volumes will have integration with the Horizon connection server to shorten login times.  App Volumes will communicate with VMware Horizon, the beginnings of a strategic integration with VMware products.  With this integration, login times are accelerated and applications are dynamically delivered even more quickly than before!

App Volumes will also continue to be available as a standalone product and support Citrix customers. The rationale is that we see virtualization of desktop OS or applications as a piece of the solution for the customer and not the entire solution. The entire solution is much broader that includes real-time app delivery, environment management and dynamic assembly. We understand customers have choice, so we will continue to build these technologies in an agnostic way, while still taking advantage of our portfolio synergies to offer optimal solutions for customers.

Looking forward

The great thing about being part of VMware is that there are many portfolio integration opportunities and many ways to leverage our portfolio strength to create completely new solutions for VMware customers.

I often get asked, what happens to VMware ThinApp® application virtualization? Internally, we’ve already brought the App Volumes and ThinApp teams together and will continue to offer all the isolation benefits that ThinApp application virtualization provides to make our combined solution even more powerful and unique in the market place. Similarly, there are opportunities with VMware Mirage management solutions to bring real-time application delivery to Mirage use cases. This is something we are only beginning to think about and I’d welcome input.

Last year, before I had any idea that I would eventually join CloudVolumes, I wrote a blog postulating some ideas I had about how to leap frog status quo distributed computing management. At VMware, I’m really excited that we are on a similar journey to what I had dreamed about with our Just-in-time desktop vision called project Meteor. Project Meteor is a combination of project Fargo and App Volumes.

Project Fargo enables the instantaneous cloning of a running virtual machine (essentially a virtual machine “fork”).  The cloned VM is identical in every way to the original and initially shares all memory and disk with it as well. Now combine that with real-time application and lifecycle management and you have something very unique to VMware.

Project Meteor

For more details on project Meteor and Just-In-Time desktops, the following video provides a nice overview.

An exciting beginning

It’s been a whirlwind introduction to VMware for the CloudVolumes team. We’ve been heads down focused on getting things done with the same spirit we had as an independent startup and have been welcomed by many. It’s certainly not the VMware I used to compete with, and it’s an exciting time to be part of EUC. Personally, I am super excited to shape a solution for the world, that solves a problem that I struggled with for years as a customer and still see so many struggling with today. I look forward to sharing the VMware App Volumes GA later this quarter with you and encourage you to sign up for our early access program.

For more information about today’s other announcements at VMworld, check out the blog posts by Sumit Dhawan, Erik Frieberg and Kit Colbert.

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