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Windows 7 fueling application virtualization momentum: Microsoft

Never mind trying to virtualize the desktop. Microsoft says application virtualization is where the momentum is

Virtualization has a firm hold in the data centre, where server virtualization saw its momentum carried through the economic downturn as companies invested in the technology as a way to control data centre costs and address capacity issues. Desktop virtualization, outside certain narrow use scenarios, has long been more hype and promise than revolution but another type of virtualization may be gaining momentum: application virtualization.

There are a number of factors behind the growing momentum of application virtualization says Robert Gellar, senior product manager, Windows Client for Microsoft Canada (NASDAQ: MSFT).

One trend is the shift, both in the home and in the enterprise, from desktop computers to laptops and other mobile devices, from netbooks and tablets to smartphones. It’s creating a culture of mobile workers and it’s creating a work anywhere, anytime environment, meaning those laptops see a mix of personal and business use. That raises security issues, as IT can’t exercise the same control over a mixed-use device but needs to keep corporate data and networks secure.

Another trend, says Gellar, is Windows 7, Microsoft’s next-generation operating system. Most businesses are still back on Windows XP, having chosen not to upgrade to Windows Vista. With Microsoft’s support for Windows XP SP2 ending next month and the days numbered for Windows XP SP3 as well, many businesses are considering upgrading to Windows 7. And Gellar said many of those organizations are using an OS upgrade as an opportunity to re-examine their entire IT infrastructure, including application delivery.

“As customers think about Windows 7, they think of how they’re deploying applications today and how they’re supporting end-users,” says Gellar. “They’re asking how do I keep my mobile users productive, should I embrace cloud services, should users bring their own PCs to work? It’s about anywhere-access for users.”

Application virtualization plays into both of these trends, says Gellar. By serving up an application virtually, from the cloud, the endpoint device becomes less important from an IT management perspective and the business can control who is accessing the application, how they’re using it, and where any proprietary data is stored. And Windows 7 also includes management tools that help facilitate and manage application virtualization.

“There’s lots of interest in virtualization and this is a priority for CIOs, who know from server virtualization that it can solve problems at a high-level,” says Gellar. “Application virtualization allows organizations to provide application updates to end users, by allowing them to receive the latest updates. Application virtualization takes advantage of the applications that an organization has and helps them save on licensing costs.”

Gellar points to the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack as an asset that helps facilitate application virtualization. The suite of tools for application deployment and compatibility, includes Microsoft Application Virtualization (App-V), which turns applications into centrally managed services that are streamed to end users, and Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V), which assists with the deployment and management of PC images.

For the channel, application virtualization is an opportunity to go deeper with their existing clients, and a Windows 7 upgrade conversation could be an opportunity for partners to have a conversation with their client about application virtualization and other ways to optimize their infrastructure.

Josh Shortt, a solutions architect with Mississauga, Ont.-based Buchanan Associates, a Microsoft partner, says customers are often challenged to understand the business case and return on investment around virtualization, and what type of virtualization makes sense. It’s an opportunity for partners such as Buchanan to act as a trusted advisor for their clients.

It’s often an idea to begin with a limited implementation as a proof of concept. Buchanan’s methodology, says Shortt, includes using Microsoft’s Application Compatibility Toolkit to evaluate and mitigate application compatibility issues and workshops to help users manage the change.– With files from Maxine Cheung

Follow Jeff Jedras on Twitter: @JeffJedrasCDN.

Click to page two for Info-Tech’s 5 pitfalls of virtualization and how to avoid them

5 pitfalls of virtualization and how to avoid them

By Info-Tech Research Group

The road to server virtualization and consolidation is not without its potholes. Very few virtualization challenges are purely technical, but result from shortfalls in planning. Here are five common pitfalls of server virtualization and tips on how to avoid them.

1. Capacity and costs fail to meet expectations (i.e. too little for too much).

Before even thinking of virtualization implantation, the IT decision maker should:

* Develop a complete inventory of all current application servers.

* Plan for hardware redundancy.

* Know what the storage strategy is going in.

* Carefully select a hardware platform that is scalable into the future.

2. Application fails to run (or fails to run adequately) in a virtual environment.

Capacity planning will go a long way in avoiding problems with application failures. Low utilization applications can be virtualized first. Allowances can be made in capacity planning for provisioning the more resource intensive applications. Other important steps include:

* Test, test, test. The only way to truly tell if an application will work in a virtual environment is to test it.

* Consult vendor hardware compatibility lists.

3. Licensing costs increase and vendors don’t support virtual environments.

In addition to setting realistic expectations about the potential savings from virtual consolidation, the implementer should also:

* Keep close tabs on how individual vendors are licensing and supporting virtual machine installations.

* Offer to be a test case for virtual implementation. Vendors may hesitate to support virtual server implementations because they simply don’t know how their software will function.

4. Managers, executives, end users and other “server huggers” resist virtualization.

Consider the following steps:

* Discuss critical applications in terms of current memory, processing and I/O measures.

* Discuss application migration to virtual machines in terms of quantified services.

* Involve application owners and/or critical users in testing.

5. Virtualization exposes unforeseen security risks.

Host security is a must. Access and control of the host system needs to be rigidly enforced.

* Provide equal management due diligence to all applications.

* Make sure virtualization implementation includes tools that provide visibility into the black box.

* Make all virtual machines subject to security policy.

* Additional server virtualization considerations include capacity planning, testing, and DRP and security management.

The Info-Tech Research Group is an IT research and analysis firm based in London, Ont. Learn more at www.infotech.com.