What is the best way to deliver applications in Higher Ed?
"Which is the best delivery method for all my applications? I’m currently using SCCM to deliver software to managed devices, but how do I deliver to non-managed devices without using VDI, such as Citrix or Windows Virtual Desktop in Azure."
This is a question I was recently asked and is a question I encounter frequently. At Software2 we have visited thousands of universities over the last 10 years and it’s surprising that a large percentage of universities are using legacy technologies, and employing similar enterprise methods to deliver their applications. Enterprise methods can be very effective in delivering small numbers of specialized software titles to a medium-sized staff body who have a persistent relationship with their machine; meaning they only ever use one machine, to which nobody else has access. Universities experience the unique challenge of having to deliver thousands of applications to tens of thousands of users who may never use the same machine twice.
There is no silver bullet. No single technology is great for delivering all your apps to all your students. You need to pick and choose the most appropriate delivery method for the end-users’ situation.
I’m going to let you in on a secret…. There is no silver bullet. No single technology is great for delivering all your apps to all your students. You need to pick and choose the most appropriate delivery method for the end-users’ situation. Are they on a Windows device or a Mac? Are they on campus or at home or a coffee shop? There are many different scenarios and situations that would favor one delivery method over another; the trick is knowing which one to use, and when. Using the most appropriate delivery method will make sure that you are giving the end-user the best possible user experience.
The three main delivery methods for any application are:
1. VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure)/RDS (remote desktop services)
The application is pixel streamed from a remote device, usually a server; the applications are executed on a virtual machine on the server and presented to the end-user, usually via a client, although some technologies can present this within the browser. Examples of these technologies are:
- Citrix VirtualDesktops
- VMWare Workspace One
- Parallels RAS
- Windows Virtual Desktop and Windows Remote Desktop
- Nutanix Enterprise Cloud
This is a great delivery method if you have a security-sensitive application or an app that runs a client-server model using technologies such as SQL. This is due to the communication between the client and the server being quicker using this method. Remember VDI/RDS technology is costly; you are likely doubling up on the number of licenses that you require and because the application is executed on the server in some cases will not give the end-user a good user experience. Especially if the applications delivered are the heavyweight apps commonly used in Education. The slight catch 22 of this is that, if delivering to BYO devices, VDI may be your only option as it does not need to rely on end-point hardware.
2. FAT Install
This is the method employed when machines are imaged with Microsoft SCCM. The application is packaged in an MSI and deployed to your endpoints as a physical install. Much in the same way as you would run through the installer from an application, this method of delivery allows you to consolidate multiple deliveries of various apps into an image so you can deploy many applications at once.
This method has traditionally been employed on managed devices, university-owned computers, as in all cases these machines have to be attached to your domain and fully controlled by the University. Traditionally this enterprise approach has been the most cost-effective way of getting applications to multiple devices, as SCCM often is included in your Microsoft MDOP agreement. The drawback is that it can be particularly time-consuming and can limit IT's ability to make modifications to available software mid-semester.
Other examples of this technology are:
- Norton Ghost (Windows)
- MicroFocus ZENworks Suite (Windows)
- Jamf Pro, formerly The Casper Suite (Mac)
Remember, this delivery method has limitations in terms of delivering applications to none domain attached devices, otherwise referred to as student and staff devices that are not owned or managed by the institution.
3. Application Virtualization
This is a delivery method that many institutions saw as being the best of both worlds, being able to have the look and feel of a physically installed application, whilst still taking advantage of the fact that the app sits in a virtual layer, isolated from the host OS. It’s that isolation that traditionally caused some of the issues around application virtualization, as many apps don’t work well in isolation. First-generation application virtualization had its limitations and many complex applications wouldn’t play nicely as they needed access to the core operating system to deploy things like window services and drivers. Examples of legacy tools that were unable to keep virtualized applications isolated from the underlying operating system, yet still integrate with system services and drivers are as follows:
- Microsoft App-V
- VMWare ThinApp
- Citrix Application Virtualization
However, a company called new Numecent took the core of these technologies and came up with a totally new way of combining the traditional 'isolated' approach and their own 'integrated' virtualization method. Their method of delivering an application to a Windows environment was both compatible and versatile; a way of delivering all of your applications with full license control to an endpoint without having to install it. Now regardless of the app and what dependencies it needs, it’s possible to deliver all of your Windows applications using this method.
So finally, universities have consistent methods for the delivery to both managed and non-managed devices; the traditional methods of FAT installation for their managed devices and an easy way to deploy apps to their unmanaged estate using one tool. But here is the clever bit: I stated earlier that VDI is great for delivering Windows applications to non-Windows devices. Well, you don’t necessarily have to install those apps in your VDI image. You can also use Cloudpaging Player by Numecent to deliver those same apps to virtual machines or VDI deployments. This means you only have to package your applications once, using one tool, and then choose the most appropriate delivery method.
So I’d imagine by this point you are wondering: 'How do you choose your delivery methods? Does the student make that choice or does the University? Where do we get these delivery tools from?'. That’s where AppsAnywhere comes in. Give students and staff a consistent way to access software with just one launch button, on any device, make it easy for them to get their work done, and improve their workflow.
AppsAnywhere's Smart Prioritization feature looks at the device's context such as OS, on-or-off-domain, managed or BYO device, and then chooses the best technology to deliver software with. This could be application virtualization by Numecent, VDI from one of the previously mentioned vendors, remote apps, RDS, installations, downloads or SCCM/App-V. The options are endless and your delivery technology estate becomes truly agile and versatile. Knowing exactly where to go to get software also reduces the risk of security threats from unauthorized software access or downloads. Provide students with access to approved software and reduce the threat from 'rogue IT'.
AppsAnywhere has helped hundreds of universities with their IT challenges and helped improve the experience of over 1.5 million students. Isn’t it time that your University started looking at things the way we do? Arrange your free, one-to-one demo with one of our product experts by clicking the button below.
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