Virtualisation Suites: Further Comparisons
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!
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