September 09, 2011, 3:05 PM — Server virtualization gets most of the glory, but it's application virtualization that may ultimately have a more significant impact on enterprise IT architectures, supporting new modes of business and smoothing the path to the new services-oriented online structure known as the cloud.
Application virtualization has been around a while, and many IT shops use it in one form or another. In the form of terminal services, application virtualization is employed in most large organizations to support remote offices. At the individual application level, virtualization is used to obviate compatibility issues when installing new apps across a wide network of users.
Lately, the ongoing migration to Windows 7 has spurred the use of application virtualization tools to ensure that older but still critical applications run on the new OS.
Application virtualization is also being used to prep a push into virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). And despite initial skepticism, virtualization is moving to the most critical applications--those that organizations depend on to run their businesses--such as ERP and database.
Agility and Flexibility
Virtualization, in general, refers to isolating or unbinding computing resources so that they can run without depending on a particular platform or environment. Virtualization applies to both hardware and software, and can be used in connection with servers, storage and applications.
Application virtualization itself can have multiple meanings. That's why some experts say application virtualization is better addressed according to the problem you're trying to solve. "It's a business conversation more than just a technology conversation," says Kevin Strohmeyer, senior product manager for the enterprise, desktops and applications group at Citrix, which markets both terminal services and application virtualization technology.
Application virtualization offers business advantages in terms of agility and flexibility. For instance, app virtualization can be a cost-effective strategy when setting up a temporary office or a limited-run project. Because of virtualization's ability to contain and control messy interactions with the operating system, a virtualized application will leave behind very little digital detritus. That allows a server purchased for one project to be re-deployed much more quickly and efficiently when that project is completed.
The biggest impetus these days for employing application virtualization is the forced march to Windows 7. Even organizations that sat out the upgrade to Windows Vista are moving to Windows 7, and as might be expected, they occasionally run into application conflicts.