Hi all,

Firstly I'll admit that I can be blind at the best of times, so if I've missed a recent thread in this forum covering this subject, then I apologise [:)] I also apologise for my spelling and perhpas missing the point at times, but I hope it all stimulates some useful discussion.

Secondly I'll describe our situation and why I've started this thread. I work at a British university for the team which administers and maintains the clusters of PC's available for general teaching and study. Currently we use Altiris deployment solution to get our fairly standardised images on the machines, but it is this "fairly standardised" statement which I'm hoping to use a virtualisation solution to iron out.

Schools within the university require the installation of software in specific rooms that we control. Being university schools and therefore always short of cash to buy anything but tea and biscuits for their most highly regarded professors, they cannot afford to buy licenses for every PC that we manage, or even every PC in a specific area which may already have a common image. This is causing our "common image" to become more like a variety of endangered species due to a small number or specialised applications. We also currently have very limited ability to stream anything as our team does not own any hardware for streaming and we're not sure of the impact streaming applictions to 1250+ PC's would have on our network performance.

So to make our lives easier, it would seem a good first step would be to virtualise those applications that vastly increase the number of images we have to look after and then just apply the virtual applications afterwards. Altiris SVS, Thinstall, SoftGrid and Citrix Presentation Server have all been tested by me (briefly) and I have read some of the threads on this forum.

From what I read, many of you feel that there are vast difference between the way each of these products do things, but I'm more in the camp which believes, actually these are all pretty similar and just variations on a fairly central theme. (admittedly, Citrix is probably the most different as it only appears to provide remotely hosted applications where are all the processes are run on the remote host rather than the client - back to the good old days of terminals and main frames (or so they tell me, I'm only young! [:D]) )

So basically I believe there four core aspects to virtualisation; packaging, deployment, licensing and isolation.

Packaging seems to be fairly similar across the board, switch on a monitoring client, do the installation and configuration, tell the monitoring client your done and Bob's your uncle (more or less). I understand SoftGrid has an extra stage where basically you're telling it how much you want to be intially streamed to the client. But I believe it's possible to say stream the whole SoftGrid virtual package and cache locally the virtual application on first use (which would be better for us if we can force this over night) so that no further streaming is required to that PC unless the package is updated. Can this be confirmed?

Deployment is a bit of a bug bear as really we want to be able to do it overnight, deploying the whole application and having it ready for the next day, rather than streaming the application everytime for reasons mentioned above. However, I'm willing to push the case for streaming if I can prove it isn't going to force the jealously guarded network to a complete crawl every hour on the hour as lectures switch over and sessions are started on mass. Why not just use and MSI I hear you shout....well, having the ability to reset, switch off or even remove an application at will is just not possible with MSI's, where a virtual application can (at least with Altiris SVS). This is something we regard very highly as if an app gets corrupted for whatever reason, just resetting the application in it's virtual world is a lot easier than redeploying an MSI in the real world, and redeployment of an MSI is less likely to remove any troublesome registry entries. We need to be able to do these things quickly to prevent loss of teaching time.

License meetering is fairly staraight forward in my eyes, either it knows or it doesn't. What we'd really like is both monitoring of concurrent licences for some specific applications and restiction of applications to specific groups. It seems only SoftGrid can do this, but does it require SCCM 07 to fully cover this area? Can you restrict a streamed application to only stream to a specific subset of PC's which have the streaming client? The last thing we'd want is for a user to open an app with a restricted number of licences in a room they shouldn't be able to use it in just before a lecture and then users in the lecture can get a licence. (Sorry, confusing sentence there I know)

Isolation seems to create quite a bit of conjecture. Various people suggest that Altiris SVS isn't fully virtualised and therefore isn't fully isolated. Ok so SoftGrid creates a mounted drive with a virtual file system on that drive. Just because Altiris SVS simply redirects file requests to a different folder doesn't seem any less of a virtualisation. Both can be redeployed just as easily, both seem to be isolated from the point of view that only requests from the virtualised process interact with the virtual files stored on the PC (unless you manually access them of course). So what is my missapprehension? Or these two methods actually fairly similar, just one's a bit more glamorous than the other with little difference on actual substance?

You may have noticed I've focused mainly Altiris SVS and SoftGrid, and this mainly because Thinstall seem to be very narrow in it's abilities and can only deployed complete with shortcuts through MSI installation. There's no licence management apart from user group restriction through the AD. Citrix seems to be all about streaming, and as I've said, we're a bit weary of streaming until we know how much it'll clog up our network. But again I may be under a large missapprehension.

So any kind and constructive help and advise would be much apprciated. I admit I have over simplified some things, but I hope this stimulates some debate on the finer details [:)] Perhpas I'm playing devils advocate a little in my search for answers!

Cheers,

Matt
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Packaging: Yes, this is how Softgrid works. Be aware that sequencing applications for Softgrid isn't quite as easy as it sounds. It's easier than MSI packaging, but troublesome apps require deep knowledge to sort out. Also know that certain apps can't be sequenced, such as those requiring device drivers or updates at launch.

Deployment: You can deploy a Softgrid virtual application to a machine as an MSI package overnight via SCCM/SMS if you wish to have it there and cached before the user arrives in the morning.

Licensing: Softgrid's internal licensing module is limited to be honest. I would just manage the licenses by linking the virtual applications to security groups. Then you can control the amount of installed apps by the number of people in the group.
If you're trying to save money by managing concurrent licenses, be aware that very few companies let you manage licenses in that way. If you set it up like that for Microsoft apps, for example, you'll be breaking the EULA.

SVS comparison: this is actually documented in another thread here (and I'm sure elsewhere) so I won't dive into this. Especially considering I've only demoed SVS.
http://itninja.com/question/tools-with-minimal-windows-dependencies?070&mpage=2&#27243

Thinstall is coming along quite nicely. It's not as mature as Softgrid, but I wouldn't dismiss it out of hand.

Citrix is really nothing like any of the other products. It's a different technology completely. In fact Softgrid started as a way of managing Citrix farms... the products compliment each other and don't really compete in my mind.

*edited to make prettier*
Answered 06/02/2008 by: turbokitty
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Thanks verymuch for you comments turbokitty [:)]

I have read the post you have linked to, but the last post is nearly a year old now and so I thought I'd start this one to see if people had reviewed their thoughts or had any revelations since that time.

From the packaging point of view of SoftGrid, it appeared to me that you could package an application and then skip the sequencing part all together. Am I much mistaken here? I say this because the wizard appeared to let me skip the sequencing part.

I think I might explain again my licensing concerns/requirements as I think our situation is perhaps a little different from a more corporate envionment, just to get some feed back on specific points [:)] We deliver applications with licenses in these ways...

1. Applications delivered accross all of our PC's without restriction (i.e. site licensed).

2. Applications delivered accross all of our PC's and restriceted by concurrent connections (currently from a set of license servers providing redundantancy.)

3. Applications delivered accross all of our PC's but restricted by AD Group

4. Applications delivered accross some of our PC's, the number of which is equal to the number of licenses that have been bought

5. Applications delivered accross some of our PC's the number of which is equal to the number of licenses that have been bought and also restricted by AD Group

6. Applications delivered accross some of our PC's, restricted by AD Group and restricted by concurrent connections via the same licence servers


Obviously, only those apps with concurrent, network style licences (2 & 6) we would license in this way, and we would probably continue to use the licence servers for redundancy and peace of mind for the contract holders as I'm sure the licenses' T&C's probably wouldn't let us dispense licenses in any other way. What I'd really like to know is whether the licensing mechanisims in these suites can deal with the other situations described.

I know this bit is perhaps a little less application virtualisation, and a little bit more configuration and asset management, but how it fits in with the virtualisation solution could have a large bearing on which way we head.

Cheers,

Matt
Answered 06/03/2008 by: MattyW
Senior Yellow Belt

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You're over-thinking the word "sequencing". "Sequencing" is what Softgrid calls "packaging into a virtual environment".

Perhaps you're talking about creating FB1.. which is basically dividing the package into two chunks. The first chunk is delivered as one big piece at first launch, the second chunk is trickled to the user as they need it.

You can skip this step and put the entire package into FB1 or the first chunk.. so the user has the whole application at first launch (slower first launch time, but good for disconnected users like laptops).

As for licensing, Softgrid can handle all the scenarios you mention.
Answered 06/03/2008 by: turbokitty
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Thanks very much turbokitty [:)]

That's cleared a lot up, it's good to know that all the licensing situations we're like to run into can be covered by SoftGrid [:)] The only remaining question with regards to pakaging/deploying. Should you put the entire package in FB1, is it possible to force a PC to download an application without a user loging in and at a pre-determined time?

The only other thing I'd like some comment on is isolation and the way this varies between solutions. As i said in the original post (and partly doing so as devils advocate), it appears to me that isolation between the solutions is done differently, but with pretty much the same result. I understand that some suites give you more control over exactly how isolated you want applications to be. Is there a vast difference between the isolation that various suites provide and how is this likely to effect your decison on which system to go for? I think we'd prefer a level of isolation that does not make it more difficult to get an application to work as I'm fairly sure our setup does not require isolation to perform any clever tricks other than to allow the virtual abstraction to work.

Cheers,

Matt
Answered 06/04/2008 by: MattyW
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I don't know enough about SVS to answer that question. I imagine that info is out there somewhere if you Google.

As for your deployment question, you can deploy a Softgrid sequence to a logged off machine but you need some sort of delivery mechanism other than Softgrid. Softgrid has an "MSI Utility" that converts a softgrid sequence to an MSI so you can deliver it with SCCM or whatever.

The problem is, (quoting M$): "In order for the MSI utility to work, the client must be in disconnected/no-auth mode, and that is a per-machine setting. That means that the MSI Utility cannot be used to preload the cache, followed by active upgrade streaming. Any client that uses the MSI utility will never be able to contact a server. If you want a client to contact a server, it will lose the ability to be serviced by the MSI utility."

Softgrid version 4.5 is supposed to integrate better with SCCM R2, but I haven't seen that in action and I don't know if it allows you to deploy an MSI sequence to a machine in "connected mode".
Answered 06/04/2008 by: turbokitty
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Thanks again turbokitty [:)]

It's interesting that deploying to a logged off machine doesn't appear to be so straight forward, with SVS you have a commad line utility built into the client that allows you to force it to pick up newly deployed applications (you can deploy the application using deployment solution) when a PC is logged off. The same utility can also switch on/off/reset a virtual applications.

It looks like I'm going to have to seriously consider streaming virtual applications as it appears SoftGrid, at least, is far more flexiblie when virtual apps are delivered in this way. If an app is fully contained in FB1, will it only be streamed once, unless the virtual application is flaged as being updated? I guess if this is the case, a fazed roll out of virtual apps will help reduce the initial strain on the system. All to be tested I guess, if I can convince the budget holders that virtualisation is a viable option! [;)]

Cheers,

Matt
Answered 06/05/2008 by: MattyW
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Thanks guys - that's a really useful thread and answers a lot of the questions I was going to post about the various technologies.

Seems to me that looking around at jobs (here in the UK at least) traditional MSI packaging is still the most popular - which is expected since it's the most mature. Then SoftGrid seems to be the next contender... Any searches for SVS or Thinstall don't yield much - if anything.

Traditional MSI packaging is bound to evolve and SoftGrid seems to be the best product to focus on ready for when companies start migrating to virtualisation. Which obviously is already happening....

Cheers,
Rob.
Answered 06/11/2008 by: MSIPackager
Third Degree Black Belt

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Thanks Rob,

That's a good bit of info [:)]

Cheers,

Matt
Answered 06/11/2008 by: MattyW
Senior Yellow Belt

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