App-V with Appsense

This week, Karri Alexion-Tiernan posted a blog on the Windows For Your Business blog about the value of using App-V.For those not familiar, App-V is Microsoft’s flagship Application virtualization solution that enables you (IT pros) to deploy applications based on user’s identity and role, providing a more efficient way to deliver and mange applications centrally. Product Manager AJ Smith talked about User State Virtualization (USV) in his blog; how Microsoft’s USV technologies like Folder Redirection and Roaming Profiles empower you to provide users a consistent windows experience across multiple desktops and laptops, by separating user’s data and settings from the physical device and replicating it centrally.

One of Microsoft Premium partners Appsense provides user virtualization solutions that extends Microsoft’s USV offering by providing additional capabilities that’s helps in migration of XP profiles to Windows 7 profiles by seamlessly combining the two into a single version, thus accelerating Win 7 deployment in your organization. It can also abstracts both user’s desktop personalization and application settings, providing a consistent application experience across physical AND virtual applications. For additional info on Appsense, visit their website.

You can complement the benefits of both App-V and USV by deploying them together so that users can be provisioned both their applications and data on demand from multiple devices, thus reducing the dependency on one piece of hardware. In this blog we will go a level deeper and talk about what you should consider when implementing App-V with Appsense user virtualization. To get an overview – you can also watch this webinar from Appsense on App-V integration. Enough said on the value – let’s get into the technology piece!

I caught up with two Microsoft’s MVPs – Alaa Ajweh and Tim Mangan who shared some guidance and best practices on deploying App-V with Appsense to support user profile virtualization on Windows 7, so let’s hear in their own words!

Alaa Ajweh – tips on configuring App-V with Appsense

“As many if you know that the one of the primary goals for adopting a Desktop Virtualization strategy is to enable anywhere access by limiting the dependencies on hardware, operating system, physical location, or any other factor that may affect a user’s productivity.

App-V helps you deliver your applications as service, enabling you to build the application package once and store it into a central location. Administrators can then define policies to specify what applications apply to which users. These App-V applications run into their own “virtual bubble” which includes a Virtual Registry, Virtual File System, and Virtual Services that are constructed once the user clicks the application icon.

User State Virtualization (USV) from AppSense not only assembles users’ data and applications but also their personal settings and application customizations. Several of my customers describe managing the user’s environment as “challenging” since it is pulled and synchronized from different platforms. AppSense Environment Manager can reduce this complexity. A very interesting feature “Person Rollback” restores the user profile data to a previous state by taking snapshots, making it near impossible to lose the user data in the event of corruption or misconfiguration which is something we had to live with for long time as backups were the only workaround.

Intigration of App-V and AppSense makes great sense with App-V providing the application streams and AppSense providing the personalization through a mechanism called “Personalization Streaming”. This approach efficiently delivers the settings as required by the user resulting in much less profile corruption, drasticlly reduced log-on time and less network traffic.

If you have application level personalization i.e. if the user changes the appearance of certain application, physical or virtual, AppSense takes care of this customization by saving it in a central location and streaming it when the user uses this application regardless is they move between multiple Windows versions such as Windows XP or Windows 7. Moreover, you can take this further with AppSense by customizing App-V virtual applications according to certain rules and deliver different sets of application customizations to different user types or devices.

Alright! So you’re a bit familiar with both of App-V and AppSense, they both work great independently, but still the power is in the integration so let’s take this one step farther and show you how they both work:

  1. Get your App-V Server up and Running
  2. Build out your AppSense environment
  3. Sequence your applications using the Best Practices and the App-V Recipe Forum Content

Once you’re all set; you need to set up your AppSense Environment Manager, again you can have it alone but we want it to work with App-V. There are two modes of AppSense Environment Manager:

  • Standard Mode – in this mode all the configuration is applied to directly to which the console is running from.
  • Enterprise Mode – in this mode the Environment Manager the settings can be pushed to different managed clients.

So how does it work? First the user logs in, the Environment Manager Agent creates an Agent Assist process to handle the user’s session and then it contacts the Personalization Server with the identity details of this user; when the Personalization Server receives the query, acting as a broker it passes the request to the back-end database server which in turn returns configuration data. When the user starts an application, a component called Personalization Virtualization Component (PVC) is injected in the running process and verifies that this applications is being managed by the Environment Manager; and so the PVC contacts the Personalization Server and retrieves any personalization settings in cache and “streams them back to the client”, while the application is running it will keep an eye on the user should they make any changes and writes those changes to the cache providing an abstraction from the system but yet provide the personalization needed. Once the user closes the application, the PVC notifies the Personalization Server and moves the local cache copy back to it.

Now that it’s up and running, you need to determine the following:

  • Are you going to migrate existing personal data? Or create new?
  • For which applications do you require personal data to be available for users?
  • Do you need advance d capabilities and more customization (i.e. site membership with AppSense)

AS you prepare to use the two technologies together when sequencing applications, you will need to first create an exception for the AppSense agent if it is installed on the same machine as the App-V Sequencer:

  1. Navigate to Microsoft Application Virtualization Sequencer.
  2. Open the required Application Package.
  3. Select Tools > Options (The Options dialog box displays).
  4. Select the Exclusion Items tab.
  5. Click New (The Exclusion Item dialog box displays).
  6. In the Exclude Path enter C:AppSenseVirtual.
  7. Select the Mapping Type VFS.
  8. Click OK.
  9. The main package screen is re-displayed, click OK.
  10. Save the Package.
  11. Repeat for each Application Package as required.

Now sequence your applications, and test your configurations!

Moreover, Microsoft App-V Management in AppSense gives you the ability to customize App-V sequenced application settings based on user, session and computer based rule conditions as well as extend the delivery mechanism of App-V applications to the client or user by enabling both custom OSD and icon file delivery.

The extensibility allows you to fine tune how the application is streamed to the user by supporting the following kinds of scripts:

  • JScript
  • Batch
  • Perl
  • HREF

To do that you must use the App-V Wizard from the Environment Manager Console (which you have to install manually), then edit the OSD files to make your virtual applications as fine-tuned you want.

Note: The console along with all of AppSense products is available in the AppSense Media should you need to manually install each component individually, find them under Software à Products folder.” (For more information you can also watch this webinar from Appsense on App-V integration)

More about Alaa: Alaa Ajweh is an App-V MVP and works as a full-time technical consultant. His main focus is on Infrastructure Optimization (IO) of large enterprises. He holds several credentials in Windows Server, Exchange, System Center, and Hyper-V. You can follow him on http://ajweh.com/blog

Having gone through Alaa’s recommendations, let’s now review a few tips from our MVP Tim Mangan.

Tim Mangan – best practices on using App-V with Appsense Environment manager

“When using both of products in your environment, I would recommend that you consider the following ideas:

  • Start slow. You have two very good tools on your belt, but that doesn’t mean you need to use both tools for every task. Initially decide which applications are best managed with App-V and which require the functionality provided by Appsense.
  • If you use SCCM with App-V, you will want to add vapplauncher.exe as an excluded application in the Appsence Management console. If you use the App-V stand-alone client you should add “sftmime.exe”.
  • Use App-V to learn more about the application. Sequence the application to better understand the folders and registry keys used. Run the App-V virtualized application and use third party tools like PkgView or Application Virtualization Explorer to understand what files and registry changes are typically made when the application is run.
  • Keep it simple at first.  Initially focus on applications that are defined in similar ways by each technology.  This means starting with those App-V packages that contain no more than one executable file.  This avoids the potential issue of Appsense providing segregated user environment states to different executable that you already know need to work together.  It may be possible to use grouping functions with Appsense, but start with the easy successes.
  • Once you have good experience with these applications, a good candidate for a first multi-executable App-V package to consider might be your virtualized App-V internet explorer plug-in package.  It doesn’t matter if you package it as a single App-V package or using Dynamic Suite Composition, it acts as a single app package in most ways.  Managing IE with both products will offer both benefits and challenges.  On the plus side, allowing the user to retain favorites/bookmarks and recent history across operating systems and IE versions is an outstanding benefit.  However, special selections for registry exclusions in the Appsense Environment Manager will be needed to keep App-V plugins working properly.  Understanding this interaction will be a key to understand before taking on more complicated multi-executable application interactions using application groups in Appsense.”

More About Tim: Tim Mangan is a well-known independent expert on virtualization technologies. A Microsoft MVP and a “Citrix Technology Professional”, he runs TMurgent Technologies which specializes in Application Virtualization. He is the author of several related technology books, including “The Client Book, About Microsoft App-V”. Find him at his blog at http://www.tmurgent.com/TmBlog .

Thanks for reading this blog; for additional content on Microsoft Desktop Virtualization, please visit the Microsoft Desktop Virtualization Zone.

©2010 Skand Mittal

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