Microsoft Application Strategy Discussion 2019

I have spent most of my career discussing applications and how to manipulate them. It is safe to say that 2019 has seen some techtonic shifting in the application space.

Microsoft, has surfaced (no pun intended) to mix it up in the application space again. MSIX is a new application installation format with a goal to become the new defacto standard for application packaging baselines.

Its not like MSI is being replaced exactly, its more like a brand-new foundation that will expand the capabilities further now that the demand for cloud and automation initiatives have increased. Like how .NET evolved to expand on the available modules that could be plugged into coding projects, then evolved again towards .NET CORE that allowed for more portable cloud-based capabilities. MSIX feels like a robust way to expand on the “modern Application” concept introduced in early versions of Windows 10, with a goal of becoming very cloud like alongside Azure and Windows Virtual Desktop initiatives.

What does this mean for platforms like Microsoft App-V?

To be honest application virtualization demand across platforms has taken a hit over the last few years based on some typical customer complaints around management complexity and general compatibility.  That being said, I don’t believe MSIX directly replaces application virtualization platforms like App-V. If anything, MSIX provides a vehicle to manage what you have more efficiently and deploy it to a wider range of platforms. So conceptually from the new MSIX packaging console you would be able to manage and deploy both MSI’s and AppV packages. Microsoft seems to have already provided an MSIX conversion tool for your legacy MSI packages, and I believe the intention is to have the same process for App-V packages, where they will be wrapped in an MSIX format.

In the end, I believe there will always be some need for application virtualization solutions considering some subset of enterprise applications will always cause problems for other applications.

The Application Install Dilemma

SCCM and MSI/MSIX will continue to be the standard for the foreseeable future. However, Application installs have evolved as one of the biggest challenges facing application strategy in 2019. Traditionally, the enterprise powers on the physical or virtual endpoint and the applications are simply installed natively within the operating systems either manually or automated through SCCM. This is often done in the background while the user is working. This works great for ON PREM environments considering you can mostly guarantee bandwidth and resources required to perform the install tasks, without interfering with user experience. Considering that cloud workloads share all resources and accrue charges for as long as they are powered on, the above model might not be manageable long term. Some enterprise customers might be fine with paying for an “Always ON” model, but other customers are already starting to balk at the costs that add up quickly.

It is important to note that MSIX is committed to becoming a new standard but this assumes that application vendors will support it from now forward for it to become successful. Safe to say that the need for application management will never go away and that Microsoft is throwing its weight around again looking to lead the charge on strategy.

The Clock is running….

So the time to update these cloud endpoints quickly becomes a challenge based on how long it takes to update them for both normal image and application updates.  User experience takes a hit as the log on and performance of the cloud endpoint bogs down. The natural enterprise move is to bump up the hardware tier of the cloud endpoint, which is often more money and less resources to share / less density etc. Also, it might not exactly fix the problem. Things can quickly spiral out of control depending upon how many applications you want to use in the cloud.

Application Containers can help

Application Layering has been around a few years and is gaining momentum as a viable solution alongside traditional application strategies. At its core, application layering simply redirects the native application installs to a virtual disk (VHD / VHDX). Then the application containers are simply attached like puzzle pieces to the corresponding host operating system.

FlexApp Layering for example, by design, leverages a filter driver that interacts with the corresponding host operating system, such that it looks and feels like it is natively installed when it is simply an attached VHD. Administrators can provision the new WVD instances and FlexApp Layers could simply be attached like puzzle pieces during the boot process, user login or post login Click to Layer model. This FlexApp deployment workflow works across, physical, virtual and now cloud based endpoints seamlessly.

By eliminating the native installs of the applications needed by users, overall management complexity of the WVD environment is drastically reduced, while maintaining the optimal user experience.

The current plan is to also support and integrate with MSIX early on in a few different ways. The ability to support the ability for the new MSIX console to manipulate FlexApp Layers is key option. Additionally, the Liquidware developers have found a way to potentially support and manage MSIX packages from both the ProfileUnity and FlexApp management consoles. This kind of flexibility will be critical for enterprise administrators’ long term.

Managing applications within WVD

As stated earlier, enterprises can absolutely manage both on prem and cloud application workloads through traditional platforms like SCCM. It will ultimately come down to costs and logistics and how both of those effect overall user experience within the new WVD environments.

Liquidware is innovating towards a more flexible model moving forward.  NEW FlexApp Layering features like caching, cloud storage support, and packaging console API’s are geared towards this new workflow alongside platforms like Microsoft Azure and WVD. Additionally, Liquidware developers are building features like packaging automation and application store fronts that will ultimately provide greater flexibility for both users and administrators.

Liquidware is very focused on providing both FlexApp and ProfileUnity support for the new Microsoft WVD platform.  Additionally, Liquidware is excited to support the FSlogix workflows with both ProfileUnity and FlexApp. We recently released a new video showcasing this new functionality as a reference point. A fully functioning download of FlexApp is available if you are not yet a customer.  

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