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Layering is Back!

Greg Lambert
March 21, 2020
5 minutes

There was a time when app virtualization and layering was all the rage. Well, what’s old is new again as the technology is making a comeback in a big way. Companies everywhere are rediscovering the benefits of having a virtualization or layering stack to help their IT departments manage large app portfolios. Unfortunately for them, however, many are discovering that the technology isn’t saving them the money that they hoped that it would.

What are the downsides of layering and virtualization that prevent it from being the cost saver that these companies were expecting? Are they avoidable and if so, how? Is it time, once again, for the virtual machine to shine? We’ll answer all of those questions in this post as we take a look at the good, the bad, the past, and the present of virtualization.

Pros of Layering/Virtualization

Without virtualization or layering, most applications need to be directly installed on the machines that they will operate on. For an IT department that oversees a large number of applications across a large user base, the task of updating these apps can quickly become insurmountable. Being able to install all of those applications to a virtual machine image and send that to the users who need it instead saves massive amounts of time and reduces labour costs significantly.

One of the biggest benefits of virtualization, however, is also one of the main reasons it was invented in the first place. Often, you’ll have different applications that have conflicting requirements. Perhaps application A needs one version of Java to run and application B needs another. By splitting these applications into two virtual machines, each with the correct version of Java for the application that will be running, it can be easier than trying to manage multiple Java installs on a single machine.

Finally, since applications on virtual machines are isolated from the main system and from other virtual machines, the security risks are much lower than if everything was running directly on one machine.

Cons of Layering/Virtualization

It isn’t all good in the land of virtualization though. Some applications are not suitable for use with some virtualization technologies. In fact, some applications might not be suitable for use with any virtualization technology. If too much of the software that a company relies on falls into this category then virtualization becomes impractical.

Compatibility issues mean that an application assessment stage may be required before your IT department can begin the conversion and deployment process. This will be true when evaluating new virtual machine technologies, installing a new application or updating an existing one, or updating the operating system on one of the virtual machines. The need to ensure that every piece of the puzzle stays compatible with each other becomes especially difficult with the speed of updates that Windows 10 has.

Virtualization or layering are at their most effective when you have several stacks of application deployments that can be readily deployed to only those users who will need them. Unfortunately, the flexibility of this setup does require extra work. Not only is there the issue of handling multiple virtual machine setups, but also of the application assessment stages that must be completed for each of them.

All of this work requires employees with special skills and expertise in dealing with your company’s virtualization software of choice. These special skills do not come cheap, and as we’ve discussed, many aspects of an effective virtualization/layering strategy can be time-consuming. It’s easy to see how the cost savings can fail to materialize.

app layering

A History of the Technology

Application layering was huge back in 2009-2010. The big players at the time were Symantec SMVS and VMWare ThinApp. A new competitor, Softricity Softgrid, came along that promised to change the game. When it was acquired by Microsoft and released as App-V, it undoubtedly left its mark. While the Symantec and VMWare products cost a fair amount of money, Microsoft’s App-V was released for free. Of course, one still needed to have the proper license for the operating systems and databases that would be installed within the virtualization, but that is true of the competitors as well. With a free price tag and Microsoft’s name behind it, App-V quickly became a key player in the market.

Microsoft, Citrix, and VMWare, Back Again.

Some of the old players are back with new and improved versions. Unfortunately, many of the problems that plaque virtualization and application layering options are sort of baked into the design, meaning that new features won’t solve some of the most pressing problems that the legacy versions had. On top of that, additional skills will be required to set up and deploy these solutions. As before, some of the applications you need may not be viable candidates for virtualization.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that these new versions are not worth it. Compared to their predecessors, they offer more security and a broader range of deployment options that will improve upon and ease the old workflows. App-V will remain the free option, making it significantly cheaper to use out of the gate, but to remain competitive the others will focus on ease of use that will save time, and money, in the long run.

Enter Readiness

Given the multiple virtualization and layering platforms available today, and the skills and resources required to assess, remediate and then convert complex application portfolios—automation is a helpful tool for small businesses to deploy and maintain modern desktops or applications and an absolutely necessary one for larger companies. This is where tools like Readiness come in handy. The tool can help in three key ways:

  • Readiness will automate the virtualization/layering assessment stage and prescribe the most suitable virtualization platform.
  • Readiness features automated fixing and remediation for quick conversion efforts, with consistently higher quality results.
  • Automated conversion will reduce the skills, time and expertise required to convert applications to the latest virtualization formats.

To experience automated virtualization/layering assessment along with application remediation and conversion, try your first 25 applications at no cost with a free trial. If you have any questions about how Readiness can help your business, feel free to contact us.

Greg Lambert

CEO, Product Evangelist
Greg Lambert is the CEO and product evangelist for Application Readiness Inc. Greg is a co-founder of ChangeBASE and has considerable experience with application packaging technology and its deployment.

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