Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Softgrid Deployment

So I’ve managed to start getting up to speed on Microsoft’s SoftGrid Application Virtualization product. And it is… well, let’s just come out and say it… Softgrid is game-changing – even in the SMB space… especially in the SMB space. If you haven’t heard of it, Microsoft bought Softricity last year, changed the name, and hid the product down inside the “Microsoft Desktop Optimization for Software Assurance” product.

So what is application virtualization? Well, let’s start with the vision… Softgrid brings “Software as a Service” and Windows application portability to the masses. Think of it like server virtualization, but on the application level. Confused? That’s okay, keep reading...

Softgrid lets you virtualize the environment that your application lives in. It creates a kind of “sandbox” for your app that includes everything the app needs to know about (a registry, DLL files, ini files, system files, services, user profile data, and so on). This is kind of like the Java Runtime Environment – just not so slow. Building the virtual environment for each app is known as “sequencing” the app. Once an app is properly sequenced, you can throw it on a file share, and use the Softgrid Management console to distribute the app across your entire organization. The app gets streamed to your client desktops, and then resides there permanently. The app runs utilizing the local resources of the desktops (or TS servers) to which it has been deployed, and it runs just fine on laptops, and devices that are out of the office for extended periods.

Forget using group policy to deploy MSI files to groups or OUs (well, with the exception of the Softgrid client – you’ll need to deploy that somehow first), in some environments you can even forget about using SMS. All you need is somewhere to put the server component, and a guest session of XP to test deployment, and a clean virtual PC guest with the “sequencer” installed on it. Then, simply fire up the sequencer, install your app, and the sequencer virtualizes the application. Now you’re ready to deploy.

None of this is to say that everything just works the first time. It takes some time to wrap your head around it while you're doing your testing. Then, even after you figure it out, you’ll invariably have to resequence some stuff, and spend some time fighting various applications (I struggled with Office 2007 until I cleared the Softgrid client, and let my apps reload - fixed). That said failures in sequencing have been the result of my own making. So if you hit a wall, go back and review your process.

If you find that you’re having “Application Failed” errors, go read the deployment whitepapers on the ISO, watch the demo video (paying close attention to minutes 17-25), check the Softgrid blog, and look at Anthony’s SMS site (he has a bit on Sofgrid as well). Also, your testing is pretty low-risk – you can install the server along with the MSDE environment just about anywhere, and be up and running in no time. No AD schema changes or anything to find reason to stress over. If you’ve got an MSDN subscription, or are a Microsoft Certified Partner, just login and download the Microsoft Desktop Optimization for Software Assurance ISO, and get your environment going. From a licensing standpoint, check with your Microsoft licensing team. Yes, there’s a software assurance component to this, so how you sell this – or how you leverage it for your client-base will involve some licensing education – but you should definitely check this out.

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