Having been here at VMware a year and drinking from a firehose to learn about all of our products, one of the things that really impresses me is what has been happening with App Volumes. Having been at Unidesk, the app layering company acquired by Citrix, I was keen to learn what was going on here.
I hadn’t looked at App Volumes 4 in-depth and most of my knowledge was still based in the 2.x platform. I was surprised at how much the “layering” had advanced and was really not traditional “app layering” or “App Stacks” anymore. Of course, since the beginning of App Volumes, VMware’s approach has been to focus on the apps and their delivery. This differs from Citrix App Layering, where to deliver apps, you must change your image management model and move everything to their app layering product. This includes OS management, vendor agents, antivirus, and of course, apps. For anyone that has done this in larger environments, you know the pain it can cause with the slowdown of the integration, cross-team issues, and politics.
VMware’s focus on app delivery has allowed us to continue to keep OS or image management separate from the apps (resulting in easier implementation) and allowed the applications to be added to desktops or servers as needed (giving greater flexibility in app deployment). In addition, our App Volumes teams are moving to a more holistic app management approach and beginning to individually address the applications in virtual disks. This does away with the “app stacking” requirements of the past while speeding up app delivery and execution.
With that in mind, today I’d like to take a look at three specific features that you need to look at when you evaluate app management tools in your virtual desktop environment. These three features, while simple and easy to understand, really show the emphasis that VMware is placing on improving your app management capabilities as well as integrating them with your existing tools.
MSIX App Attach Support (with a twist!)
The “app attach” feature of MSIX application packages allows these apps to be delivered via virtual disk in their expanded form. VMware worked with Microsoft to bring the MSIX format to App Volumes 4 so that App Volumes can deliver this new format to your end-users from the same interface that you use to assign other app packages within App Volumes.
The twist is that Microsoft’s app attach feature is very machine-focused. Like more traditional application distribution in the Microsoft World, these assignments are machine-delivered. VMware adds more capabilities by enabling you to assign these MSIX virtual disks by user. So even in real-time, non-persistent environments, the apps will be delivered to the user regardless of the machine they are being logged into.
Of course, in some situations you will want to deliver the application to a specific machine or to a combination of specific users, but only when logged into specific devices. You can do all of this with App Volumes. These types of assignment combinations are key in production environments where the lifecycle of dev, test, and QA is paramount to existing testing processes and environmental stability.
Application Package Current Version Marker
Maybe my favorite feature when it comes to App Volumes is the version marker. Pretty much any package management tool allows you to assign version numbers to the packages. But version markers allow an app package to be designated as the [current] version. When the [current] marker is moved from one version to a more updated version, all users who have been assigned to the [current] version will get the updated version during the next login/session. Rollback is just as simple—just move the [current] marker back!
As you can see in the screenshot above, the Reader app package has two versions. One is marked as [current]. This marker feature makes it simpler for admins to deploy or roll back packages in their environment. There’s no need to go to individual packages and update their assignments to user groups or machine images.
Of course, you still need to be able to assign “non-Current” versions for different reasons. Sometimes it’s testing new app updates, others include specific users or groups needing an older version for integration with another app. In the assignments you can see that this is simply done by assigning the [current] version to users that require it and assigning specific other versions of the package to other users and groups.
Command-Line app packaging
You’ll also notice in the App Volumes installer, alongside the “App Volumes Manager” and “App Volumes Agent,” system administrators will see “App Volumes Tools” as an option.
The App Volumes Tools option gives admins the ability to manage app packages independently of App Volumes Manager. No need to go into the admin console here. This comes with two command-line interface (CLI) options for admins: appcapture.exe and PowerShell. You can use these CLIs to do several things:
- Create a new package, producing both a VHD and VMDK at the same time
- Update an existing package
- Test a package
- Convert between VHD and VMDK
- Ready an MSIX app attach package for App Volumes
This model allows for even greater flexibility in our customer and partner environments. We know that many of your environments have existing processes and requirements around app packaging and testing (maybe some we couldn’t even guess at), so supplying a command-line option for packaging will allow a simple way to integrate App Volumes into your existing packaging processes and teams.
It’s time to check out App Volumes
App Volumes is clearly setting the trend when it comes to platform maturity and integration capabilities. The direction the platform is taking is second-to-none, and I encourage you to check out some of the other features, such as:
- Coexistence Capabilities – The ability to run your 2.x environments from the 4.x management consoles.
- Application Owners – The ability to assign users as owners for applications within the system.
- A Single-App Package format – The ability to package each app separately and deliver individually or in combinations, in real-time.
- Ability to prevent modifications to installed applications – Prevent modification or removal of delivered apps and prevent app artifacts from being written to writable locations.
If you’re looking at app management solutions, make sure to focus on integration and management in the long term. It’s really the key to project success once you get out of the lab. Best of all, App Volumes is just one of the many features that is included with VMware Horizon that benefits from integrations with the entire VMware SDDC stack.
For more information, check out these resources:
- Product Docs: Using the App Volumes command-line tools
- VMware Tech Zone: Quick Start Tutorial for App Volumes Simplified Application Management
- VMware Tech Zone: App Volumes Installation and Upgrade Considerations