Tech Talk 8 by Jason Blackett
A Deep dive into ZENworks Application Virtualization 7.1
Dealing with software conflicts, incompatibility between software and OS versions and testing applications in new environments can create a significant drain on IT resources as well as cut into user productivity. One of the major causes of application failure is from application conflicts created by DLL files getting over written and registry settings being changed as a result of new software installations. By isolating the application from its underlying operating system through application virtualization, these problems can be drastically reduced and, in many cases, completely eliminated. In fact, industry analysts indicate that by taking advantage of virtual applications you can realize a 60 percent reduction in costs associated with testing, packaging and supporting an application.
As a mature, full-featured application virtualization solution, Novell ZENworks Application Virtualization 7.1 enables you to quickly and easily encapsulate into a single executable package all the components that an application needs to run. It does this by separating these components from the underlying Windows operating system. Since the resulting executable is self-contained and does not change the host operating environment, the virtual application runs consistently on every system. Not only does this significantly reduce application testing times, but it also eliminates common software problems such as DLL conflicts. In fact, it even lets you run some types of applications on platforms where they typically would not be able to run, such as Internet Explorer 6 on Windows Vista or Windows 7.
As executable files, virtual applications do away with the need to install and configure applications separately on individual systems. They also simplify the process of rolling back, removing or updating the application. The virtual applications you create using ZENworks Application Virtualization can also be run securely on a wide variety of media, including USB devices, the network or a local drive.
Virtual Apps Made Easy
ZENworks Application Virtualization does not require the deployment of any client-side or agent-side software. Instead, it uses an easy-to-use packaging utility that lets you quickly repackage and customize your application into a standard Windows executable that you can deploy using any software delivery mechanism you have.
The packaging utility enables you to build applications in a variety of ways. The first method is by using the auto-configuration wizard for popular applications. The wizards guide you through a step-by-step process to build and customize applications such as Internet Explorer, Firefox and GroupWise, or common components including the .NET Framework, Java and Adobe Flash Player. Using this method you can virtualize a popular application in as little as five minutes.
For applications not covered by the auto-configuration wizard, ZENworks Application Virtualization provides a snapshot method that captures a system's state before and after an application is installed. It then automatically configures the virtual application settings based on the system changes it detects.
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As a third method, if you use Novell ZENworks to package and distribute applications, you can also use ZENworks Application Virtualization to quickly convert your legacy ZENworks AXT-based applications into virtual applications.
In addition to its fast and easy methods for creating virtual applications, ZENworks Application Virtualization also has advanced configuration features that provide you a higher level of customization. For example, you can restrict how long a virtual application can be used. This application expiration feature is useful if you need to provide applications on a short-term basis, such as to contractors, temporary employees or students. Configuring application expiration is as simple as clicking the Expiration tab in the build interface and setting the number of days or the date when the application will no longer be allowed to execute. (See Figure 1.). The expiration feature also gives you the ability to warn the user that the application is about to expire or has already expired.
Another advanced configuration feature is the ability to impose security restrictions on your virtual applications. Since virtual applications simplify deployment by allowing you to easily copy the executable file from one machine to another, they also make it easy for unauthorized personnel to access the software.
You can prevent unauthorized use by leveraging the integration between ZENworks Application Virtualization and Novell ZENworks Configuration Management.
With this feature, you can prevent your virtual applications from running on machines that don't have the ZENworks Configuration Management agent. You can also further restrict operation to workstations registered to a given ZENworks Configuration Management zone. Implementing this feature ensures the application will only run on devices you manage. (See Figure 2.) Additionally, since ZENworks Configuration Management provides asset inventory and asset management, you can successfully track the dissemination of the virtual application among the devices in your environment.
One of the most powerful advanced features that ZENworks Application Virtualization provides administrators is the ability to customize how the virtual environment will interact with the host environment through the isolation of a given directory or registry key. This allows you to control what application related files and registry entries can be modified on the host machine versus the virtual environment. The solution provides three modes of control for this isolation feature: Merge, Full and Write Copy. (See Figure 3.)
The Merge mode allows the virtual application to read and write files to the selected directory. This is the typical behavior of common folders such as My Documents. By default, this ensures that documents saved to My Documents end up in the user’s actual My Documents folder.