Virtualization Question

Softgrid 4.5 client:Stand-alone mode vs. ThinStall 3.3

02/11/2008 9247 views
[font="trebuchet ms"]The stand-alone feature in SoftGrid 4.5 client is a very innovative feature & an improvement in the client side functionality of the product, however the agentless ThinStall seems to be the winner with no additional configuration required on the client side.
[font="trebuchet ms"]
[font="trebuchet ms"]MS should look @ an agentless client in the next version! Any thoughts?
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I think it would be difficult to make the SoftGrid client agentless because of it's architecture. My biggest gripe is that the MSI utility for SoftGrid reduces your client's functionality when the application is delivered this way (no active upgrade, no usage monitoring, and no per-user access control to applications). Thinstall at least had the common sense to not reduce the functionality of the virtualization product when delivered via MSI. If I didn't know any better I would say that MS is trying to force you to use SCCM with SoftGrid but I guess their answer is to use lightweight streaming servers if you require more functionality than the MSI tool.
Answered 02/11/2008 by: kkaminsk
9th Degree Black Belt

I'm putting on my 'badshadd' or 'devil's advocate' hat.

Agentless to me means 'no control' or 'lack of control'. If I would virtualize a limited-license or office enterprise-licensed application & distribute it without a means controlling / monitoring what is done with it, I would foresee a law-suit on my hands in the near future. SoftGrid's streaming architectural model had a semi-controlled environment until MS made the software publically available. Now that MS has provided this standalone capability within 4.1 SP1 HFRU1, 4.2 HFRU1 & 4.5 combined with the MSI Utility conversion tool, SoftGrid has allowed us to use X-type licensed software to be used / abused with little to no control.

I think that 'agentless' is a bad thing, but you be the judge. <Stepping down from soapbox>
Answered 02/12/2008 by: BadShadd
Orange Senior Belt

You can also create MSIs with ThinStall and even specify AD groups that require access to the application during the build process. I think this looks like a win-win for ThinStall.

May be the word "Agentless" should be described as "Clientless" as you don't require any client in other to use the application. All you need is contained within the Virtual OS.
Answered 02/12/2008 by: oofemioo
Blue Belt

BadShadd, I see your point but I could build a Microsoft Office MSI with all the licensing built in. That installer can "grow feet" and find it's way onto all sorts of machines so I don't think that argument holds much weight because the problem already exists today. Thinstall's License Manage + AD integration or SoftGrid's license manager / AD integration would be a way to try and control this beyond what a MSI would be able to control out of the box. The issue here is that the SoftGrid MSI does not provide any license / access control. It's a per-system delivery that would need some duct tape code to provide a security layer to manage access.

I look at product flexibility for deployment when trying to deploy to remote systems as the primary area where you can find out how well the deployment solution scales in an enterprise. The key here for virtual applications is to be delivery system independent or be able to do everything. It's obviously easier to leverage another technology that has accomplished this feat but if you could do away with it then you may be able to save money. Since not every app will virtualize I believe you will still be paying money to have a electronic software distribution or systems management solution in place. I think this is where Thinstall shines because it can plug into almost any infrastructure and retain your functionality. If you have an investment in a technology today that works for you why would you necessarily want to move away from that when it is working fine? MS will let you create the MSI but there are restrictions on using them and I think they are artificial restrictions that shouldn't exist.

If we over simplify everything you can leverage Thinstall into an existing infrastructure, use SoftGrid MSI in an existing infrastructure (and have a reduced feature set) or deploy a full SoftGrid infrastructure and see if it can integrate with your systems management / electronic software distribution mechanism. Currently SoftGrid only integrates with SCCM and that isn't a true reality until SoftGrid 4.5 because it's mostly glue holding the products together and not real integration.
Answered 02/12/2008 by: kkaminsk
9th Degree Black Belt

First of all, I don't know Thinstall that well, but my guess is that there actually is a client needed for Thinstall applications to run. It's just right there in the executable.

From a functional perspective I like Thinstall very much, everything you need is right there in the exe. No functional loss whatsoever. However I do get the same "unmanaged" feeling as BadShadd with agentless installations. Do these exe's run under Limited User context? If so what are the ways to prevent copying executables to USB sticks and bringing them to other corporate pc's or even home pc's.

SoftGrid's move towards MSI doens't lower or higher the management capabilities because enterprises have been deploying MSI's for years. The management is already in place (at least in my company it is). We embrace the SoftGrid MSI solution, because now we can deploy crappy applications just like any other.

From an investment perspective it's true that companies have invested in existing infrastructures. No need to move away from an infrastructure you already have in place. Neither for Thinstall nor for SoftGrid (MSI). Sure, if you want to have the cherry on the cake you have to implement streaming servers (for SoftGrid that is) but for my company the SoftGrid MSI option is a blessing as it is.
Talking about investments: SoftGrid is way cheaper than Thinstall. Now you can keep your backend as it is and you'll have to invest per client.

The thing that worries me the most is the vendor lock-in. If you were to move towards SoftGrid now you'll have to stay with SoftGrid till death do u part. My company is moving to SoftGrid for all those crappy legacy applications that are out there for years. Now there´s a technical solution that supports these apps even longer. Hooray, I have my job garanteed for the next few years. Not that I don't like to get close and personal with Microsoft, but it's a risk.
Answered 02/12/2008 by: Ment
Senior Yellow Belt

I think vendor lock in is very tough with application virtualization because it is very similar to using Windows Installer packages then moving to another format. Maybe we will see SoftGrid to Thinstall package converters or vice versa but I think that is years off and from packaging you quickly realize that these conversion tools provide little in terms of value (quality). You are looking at a few hundred thousand in man effort at a minimum to repackage applications for a different virtualization platform because it is more than the packagers but the testing, production defects not caught by testing and training your staff on the new technology. The reason I want to cast light on this is to ensure that people looking at application virtualization take the time to assess the solution in detail before implementing.

Your view that SoftGrid servers are a cherry on top type feature holds some weight and maybe I've lost sight that the virtualization engine is the real core value technology. I've been used to running full blown implementations and I do know that some SoftGriders don't take Thinstall seriously because it doesn't come with enough deployment mechanisms (local cache / fb1). SoftGrid is more feature rich if you include what comes with the product in regard to virtual application deployment but the question comes to light if deployment technologies should be part of your application virtualization solution. Virtual applications can enable new delivery solutions but then look at what AppStream does with MSIs, does this mean that streaming is just for virtual applications? Probably not but since this market space is still defining itself it is hard to say what exactly an application virtualization solution should look like other than being able to virtualize applications.

As for extending the life of crappy applications it's true, I have clients that are overjoyed that they don't have to migrate 700 Access 2000 applications to Access 2007. I think this is the dark secret or hidden value of application virtualization (depending on how you look at it). Ideally companies should migrate their applications to better and supported technologies but that doesn't seem to be part of the life cycle equation. I see clients more than eager to build a new application to solve major problems but the project doesn't address the long term impact of the application because one day that application will need an upgrade. Once again application virtualization is curing a disease that shouldn't exist! Access is great for rapidly building applications but then when it comes time to change the corporate standard for Office owning Access just became a whole lot more expensive.

/rant :P
Answered 02/12/2008 by: kkaminsk
9th Degree Black Belt

I agree. I'm my opinion Application Virtualization has nothing to do with Application Delivery in general. That these two worlds come together in a product like SoftGrid is purely coincidental. Look at the two major MSI vendors, Wise and Installshield (or what are they called these days [:D]). They survived because they sticked to what they're good at: packaging. Application Delivery has been an additional aquisition (i.e. Altiris).

I think Microsoft is focussing on Application Virtualization after the aquisition of Softricity and moving the application delivery part of the product towards other products (i.e. SCCM). Maybe that's where the product name change came from. Make the application virtualization part of the product better (64 bit support, support > 4Gb, drivers, dependencies, etc) and the delivery part will follow. Oh and lower the price while you're at it.

I was pretty explicitly about application life cycle part, but I must also say that sometimes there's no real choice. Sure in your example of Access 2000/2007 you can question yourself "do we really want / need this" but in my organisation there are also examples that are the opposite. If we buy machinery that will last 20/30 years and it comes with a maintenance application, that application also has to last 20/30 years. You can imaging what an application looks like that's 20/30 years old [:(]. This is why we embrace (the application virtualization part of) SoftGrid.

BTW I don't know AppStream that well either. Are you saying they stream MSI´s like SoftGrid?
Answered 02/13/2008 by: Ment
Senior Yellow Belt

AppStream - I sat through a one-on-one vendor demostration back in Feb 07 & the product had the look & feel of SoftGrid, but without the application virtualization piece - a streamed, optimized & on-demand application / service controlled by AD user permissions. The infrastructure was similar (client & server components) as well, but my customer was looking to maintain a 'pristine', controlled desktop environment w/o additional software installations 'polluting' it - that's where the virtualized application piece came in.
Answered 02/13/2008 by: BadShadd
Orange Senior Belt

This is quite a thrilling debate. Many thanks to all contributors.

The AppStream is quite cumbersome! In addition, you can ThinStall IE7 (what a beauty!).
Answered 02/14/2008 by: oofemioo
Blue Belt

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