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What is Application Virtualization?

Application virtualization is a process that deceives a standard app into believing that it interfaces directly with an operating system's capacities when, in fact, it does not. 

This ruse requires a virtualization layer inserted between the app and the OS. This layer, or framework, must run an app's subsets virtually and without impacting the subjacent OS. The virtualization layer replaces a portion of the runtime environment typically supplied by the OS, transparently diverting files and registry log changes to a single executable file.

By diverting the app's processes into one file instead of many dispersed across the OS, the app easily operates on a different device, and formerly incompatible apps can now run adjacently. 

Used in conjunction with application virtualization is desktop virtualization—the abstraction of the physical desktop environment and its related app software from the end-user device that accesses it.

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Executing Application Virtualization

Application (and desktop virtualization) are a Desktop as a Service (DaaS) managed by a hypervisor (aka virtual machine monitor or VMM). A VMM infrastructure—software, firmware, and/or hardware—creates and operates virtual machines (VMs). A host (server) connects to multiple guests (endpoints). 

Application and desktop virtualization enables centralized management of the complete desktop environment ecosystem. Organizations need only to patch but a few images of applications and virtualized desktops rather than a myriad of endpoints, thereby deploying updates consistently, completely, and rapidly.

Since software and security updates are stored on images in data center servers, endpoint device exposure to vulnerabilities such as nascent malware or app manipulations is significantly reduced. 

Benefits of Application Virtualization

These server images facilitate regulatory compliance with standards such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Since data is not processed or stored on endpoint devices, no data breach occurs, should the device become compromised. The endpoint device is but a display terminal.

Application and desktop virtualization both support incident management, resolving many adverse desktop events by merely refreshing a virtualized image, and restoring the desktop environment to its previous state.

Other virtualization benefits include:

  • Allows the running of legacy apps (e.g., those developed for end-of-life OS platforms like Windows 7 and XP).
  • Enables cross-platform operations (e.g., running Windows apps on iOS, Android, macOS, and Chrome OS).
  • Prevents conflicts with other virtualized apps (e.g., conflicting anti-malware software).
  • Permits users to run multiple app instances—if not virtualized, many apps can detect the running of an instance and won't allow new ones.

However, some apps pose challenges to virtualization. For example, an application requiring a device driver (which integrates into the OS and is thus OS-specific) can affect the use of peripherals like printers.

Also, 16-bit applications and apps requiring extensive OS-integration are problematic to virtualize (e.g.,  some anti-virus programs). Latency caused by virtualization can drag graphics-intensive apps during the rendering process. 

How Server Virtualization and Application Virtualization Differ

Although the two processes share key features—such as lowering costs, bolstering data security, and central control—they fulfill separate functions.

Server virtualization refers to the use of one or several servers clustered into multiple server groups. Should a data center have 20 physical servers, they can be virtualized into two groups of 10, for example, or two groups with one of 5 servers and the other with 15. There's no difference between a virtual server(s) and a group of 5, 10, or 15 physical servers operating as individual servers.

Conversely, one physical server can be partitioned into separate multiple virtual servers, helping to maximize organizational resources and facilitating recovery from unexpected server outages. With virtual servers, further cost reductions are realized by reducing organizational needs for multiple servers, which leads to lower maintenance and lower environmental and power expenditures.

Virtualizing apps means that they run without any dependencies through another operating system or browser. An example would be virtualizing Microsoft PowerPoint to run on Ubuntu over an Opera browser.

The implementation of both environments differs, as well. Desktop virtualization impacts network architecture, transmission protocol, and the data center while server virtualization only affects changes to the server.  

Why Application Virtualization?

To lower costs and improve productivity, organizations must evolve their digital workspace. This means migrating networking assets from on-premises to the cloud. DaaSis a result of this paradigm shift.

Today's digital workspace, aggregates the devices, apps, and services that users require. These workspaces must be managed securely and unified to allow for common access across the enterprise.

DaaS solutions can be deployed with VMware Horizon, a desktop virtualization product that streamlines the delivery, protection, and management of desktops and apps. With unsurpassed simplicity, speed, flexibility, and scale, Horizon significantly constrains costs compared to conventional VDI while assuring a persistent and engaging UX across any device anywhere, at any time.

Horizon supports workplace mobility and allows users to access multiple OS-specific apps from the cloud quickly and simultaneously across any device.

Specific Horizon products include:

  • VMware Horizon —a single platform that streamlines quick and efficient delivery and management of virtual desktops and published apps in the cloud, on-premises, or in a multi-cloud or hybrid configuration to any device at any location.
  • Horizon Cloud on Microsoft Azure—receive the advantages of applications-as-a-service (SaaS) combined with intrinsically flexible IaaS for an enhanced digital workspace at a lower cost.
  • Horizon Apps—provides end-users fast, easy access to SaaS apps, their published apps, and mobile apps from a unified workspace.
  • Horizon Cloud on IBM Cloud—eliminate the cost and nuisance of managing on-premises infrastructure while easily and quickly delivering cloud-hosted apps and desktops to any endpoint.
  • App Volumes—for application and UEM usage, App Volumes quickly delivers apps to desktop environments and allows IT to scalably provision apps to users in an instant.

Related Solutions and Products

Desktop and App Virtualization

Secure Virtual desktop (VDI) and app platform.

VMware Horizon

Secure Virtual desktop (VDI) and app platform.

Horizon Cloud on Microsoft Azure

Cloud-native virtual desktop platform.