Dan's Take

A Desktop-as-a-Service Success Story

Is it a fit for your enterprise, though?

Representatives of dinCloud reached out to me recently to inform me of how one of their healthcare customers was using the company's cloud-based application virtualization solution.

Here's a snippet from the announcement message:

When issues with its former app virtualization solution (XenApp) persisted, DermaTran, a national group of compounding pharmacies, evaluated alternatives, ultimately migrating to a cloud-based application publishing service called dinApp.

Jesse Davis, DermaTran’s network administrator elaborated on the issues: “We had database-driven applications that, due to registry constraints, would not allow multiple instances of the application to open using different database servers. Within the Citrix XenApp environment, there was an issue with the client drive mapping that wouldn’t allow connectivity from the XenApp layer through to the client mapped drives.” Additional issues included printing from the Compounder application, and client folder pass-through issues from the local workstation to the XenDesktop to the XenApp.

All attempts to resolve these issues by Citrix and DermaTran’s previous cloud provider failed, at which point DermaTran sought alternatives.

Today, DermaTran uses dinApp application publishing by dinCloud.  dinApp allows organizations to run efficiently without being held back by applications that cannot run on modern infrastructure, or applications that require multiple instances. “dinApp gives us the ability to operate efficiently and cooperatively across four geographically diverse locations, allowing all users in each location to access all applicable applications and communicate effectively about them. The seamless desktop integration provides our employees with an easy-to-understand application access method that mimics that of a standalone workstation,” said Davis.

DermaTran is also utilizing dinCloud’s hosted workspace solution (dinHVD), enabling remote workers to connect to a secure desktop while working outside of the office, while ensuring that user access is properly restricted (and also therefore meets PCI and HIPAA requirements).

This success story got me thinking a bit about the role application virtualization should play in an enterprise, and whether a cloud-hosted version of that technology would be the best solution.

Dan's Take: Insulate Applications From a Changing Environment
Application virtualization is a useful tool that makes it possible for an application to be placed in an artificial, logical computing environment. This technology can make it possible for applications written for one version of an operating system, database engine, application framework and so on to execute happily on a different version. More advanced forms of this technology offer the following abilities:

  • The ability to restart an application in case of a failure without requiring user or administrator intervention.
  • Have an application delivered or streamed to a remote client when a user requests it, then delete the application once the user's work is completed.
  • Start another instance of an application if the application isn't meeting service level objectives. This could mean that the application is restarted on a different physical, virtual or cloud-based system.
  • Provide workload balancing among multiple instances of an application, to achieve high levels of scalability or overall throughput.
  • Allow different versions of an application to appear to execute simultaneously on a user's system even though they require different versions of the operating system, database engine or application framework.
  • Allow applications to execute using different database engines, application frameworks and, in some cases, operating systems.
  • Some really sophisticated approaches to application virtualization can do this magical feat without requiring that the application be re-architected or rewritten using some special application framework.

Most application virtualization solutions, such as those offered by AppZero, Citrix, Microsoft and VMware are designed to be installed on an enterprise's own systems. dinCloud has, instead, installed the technology on its own hosts and is offering a spin on Desktop as a Service (DaaS) to its customers. Other DaaS suppliers are offering something similar.

Questions for a DaaS Provider
While this could be a lifesaver for enterprises having neither the time nor the expertise to use this type of technology directly, it isn't the best answer for everyone. Some important questions must be addressed before an enterprise adopts an "application virtualization as a service" offering:

  • Will the enterprise's security and privacy guidelines be followed by the service provider?
  • Who's responsible in the case of a security breach in which client data is exposed?
  • Who's responsible for backup, archival data storage and disaster recovery?
  • Will the service supplier offer a service level and quality of service that will live up to enterprise guidelines? And will the supplier guarantee it?
  • Will application changes be required?
  • Will process and procedure changes be required that will require staff training?
  • Will a cloud-hosted service offering really be less costly than having the enterprise adopt this technology itself?

DaaS can extend the life of custom or packaged applications. It can also improve levels of performance, transaction throughput and application availability. It is not, however, a panacea that can be used to solve all application-related problems. There are times that the best approach is to update the application so that it can execute in the computing environment currently supported by the application supplier.

About the Author

Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. He has been a business unit manager at a hardware company and head of corporate marketing and strategy at a software company.

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