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App Volumes 2.x support to end in one year: Why we abandoned AppStacks and app layering

We are now ending an era of app layering that changed how apps are delivered and at the same time came with performance and app rationalization challenges. 

A decade later, I still can remember vividly the Skype call I received from the founders of CloudVolumes (which was acquired by VMware and relaunched as VMware App Volumes), as they showed me the magic of AppStacks. Having spent years as an IT admin juggling app updates, I marveled at the ability to integrate an app dynamically and instantly into a running Windows session.  

App layering was revolutionary in that it separated the apps from the operating system (OS) into layers and allowed admins to manage their lifecycles independently. App Volumes approached this uniquely, using AppStacks to deliver these apps in real time at login or startup. 

While the concept of app layering was innovative, the technologies did, however, come with their own challenges that each vendor tried to resolve differently. To work around the number of AppStacks per VM login and guest performance limitations, VMware recommended customers “rationalize” their apps into groups called AppStacks. Some vendors tried to “layer” apps into images as part of an image management tool, which also came with its own set of cumbersome automation challenges and negated storage cost savings. And other vendors tried to “mask” the problem by hiding and unhiding apps that were delivered or installed in the image. 

Customers really needed a solution that worked beyond these limitations, so VMware departed from app layering and created a new solution for true delivery of apps on demand. 

App Volumes 4: Single-app packages 

Enter the release of App Volumes 4. First off, App Volumes packages replaced AppStacks. App Volumes provided a much faster and more performant application virtualization solution without the complexity of isolation. This technology touts upwards of 99% app compatibility by bringing the apps to the operating system in a way they can fully communicate with the OS and other applications. By redesigning the App Volumes agent and package format, the product was propelled past the 5-to-10 AppStack recommendations. Now with vSphere’s PVSCSI feature in version 2203, App Volumes can fully utilize the controller.

Simplified app management 

Additionally, VMware introduced a new lifecycle management model with stages and markers. App updates can be managed in real-time with all the packages organized neatly under a new per-application model. Roll out and roll back app versions across thousands of users within seconds. 

App capture service in the cloud 

Then we added a new packaging service to App Volumes and Horizon Cloud. This allows desktop admins to provision temporary capture VMs to install their own apps into packages. It is really that simple. No sequencing, silent installers, scripting. You don’t even need installers; you can copy an app right to the C:\ drive. 

Windows 10/11 multi-session and MSIX app attach support  

In partnership with Microsoft, we announced support for Windows 10 multi-session and MSIX app attach. Now different users on the same Windows machine can have different apps or even different versions of the same app simultaneously without isolating them. And with our own new App Volumes package format, apps run just like they would on a user’s own laptop, because apps are not isolated from each other or the OS. Another win for app compatibility on App Volumes!  

Global application packaging and delivery 

Following that, we added source-target connections between App Volumes instances for horizontal scaling across the globe and eliminated the need to manage apps from multiple instances. Now admins can manage the application packaging and entitlements globally across hundreds of thousands of users at the touch of a button, in one console.  

Apps on Demand for VDI  

Finally, Apps on Demand — perhaps the biggest game changer for app management in a long time. Now the full fidelity of an application including icons, shortcuts, filetype associations, registered app paths, and context menus could be presented to a user before the application is delivered. Why clutter the OS with all this app baggage when we can deliver an app in seconds? A cleaner, faster Windows experience means happier users and more efficient compute.  

Apps on Demand for Horizon Apps and Citrix Virtual Apps 

It didn’t stop with VDI. Now most recently in App Volumes 2212, we’ve brought the Apps on Demand and multi-session functions to RDSH. For the first time Horizon admins can see App Volumes packaged applications right in their Horizon console.  

When we saw the challenges with farms (also aptly named silos and delivery groups), we noticed “rationalization” challenges similar to those with AppStacks. Now that apps are delivered on demand to a user’s session, admins can collapse their farms and reduce them to a single generic gold image. No more image changes to update apps. In fact, server admins may not even want to restart their servers and instead allow App Volumes to manage the app changes as users connect. Since apps are brought to the session, users have a better experience. All this comes with potential hard cost savings as siloed server images are collapsed and pools of hardware consolidated.  

All these improvements gave us the confidence to abandon AppStacks for good. Feedback from customers is very positive, with some indicating they didn’t realize how many challenges they were migrating away from until they moved to App Volumes 4.   

For those who are still using AppStacks: First off, thank you! We really appreciate your journey with us through App Volumes 2.x. I would like to personally encourage you to prioritize your migration from App Volumes 2.x to App Volumes 4. This will give you all the value above plus the benefits VMware and our partners are offering with Apps Everywhere.  

We have extended support for App Volumes 2.19 to allow customers a full year to migrate to App Volumes 4. We have also relocated the App Volumes Migration Utility from the flings site to our supported downloads for App Volumes 2.19, and you can use it to migrate both App Volumes 2.x AppStacks and Writable Volumes. Customers using App Volumes 2.18, which is no longer supported, will also be given support for migration until 2.19 reaches end of support. In this case, an upgrade to 2.19 is not required and customers can migrate directly to App Volumes 4. 

For those who may have used App Volumes and tried the AppStacks app layering approach, I would urge you to try our new Apps on Demand, with all the value mentioned above, to see the difference for yourself!