Sidebar: Avoiding Application Conflicts

Most of the 50 applications Randy James wanted to put on his MetaFrame server farm worked flawlessly, but a few had problems. "We had some applications that for some reason wouldn't run on Citrix, usually due to file sharing or registry setting conflicts," says James, CIO at Americo Life Inc.

But James found a novel approach to solve the problem. Rather than spend time doing regression testing to resolve application layer conflicts and create a new, custom installation package, he used SoftGrid, a program from Boston-based Softricity Inc. that isolates applications from each other while allowing them to coexist on the same system. "It creates a virtual runtime environment for each application," he says. With SoftGrid, applications run on the same server, but each has its own virtual environment that includes its own registry settings, Dynamic Link Libraries and .INI files.

"We are kind of like VMware at the application level," says David Greschler, vice president of marketing and a Softricity co-founder. But VMware sessions are completely isolated from one another, while Softricity creates what he calls a "permeable bubble."

"It doesn't mess up the OS, but you can see everything in that OS and use the resources. You can still save to a local drive and use network printers," James says. "There's not much to it. Why this type of protection isn't built into Windows is a mystery to me."

James says SoftGrid allowed Americo Life to run both the latest version and an older version of the same application at the same time. "[SoftGrid] emulates the registry and Windows file system in such a way that multiple copies can run on a single server and not conflict with themselves," he says. To set up the applications, Americo packaged each using a SoftGrid tool called the Sequencer. That program takes note of all changes made to the system in the application's installation process and virtualizes those. The application code is then downloaded from the SoftGrid server into a local cache on a PC or, in this case, in a shared cache on the MetaFrame server.

SoftGrid also speeds loading and running of an application such as Microsoft Word by downloading the code as needed. "You click on the shortcut and it streams the virtual environment down and the portion of the application you need to get up and running. As you use more of Word, more of it comes down," says Greschler. Softricity's approach is very efficient, since many applications will run using only 10% to 15% of the code that makes up the entire package, says IDC analyst Dan Kusnetsky.

Marc Mangus is less enthusiastic. Mangus, national director of technology at integrator Vector ESP, says he has used SoftGrid in a few cases where it was taking a client too long to stage a new application or where conflicts arose after consolidation resulted in 80 or 90 applications running on the same servers. But he says the problem, when it arises, can be solved by simply separating the misbehaving applications. "Servers have become so cheap and small that it's not that big a deal to add a server and throw applications on them," he says.

But Kusnetsky says the product can also help mobile workers keep working when disconnected from the MetaFrame or Terminal Server session. Users can download a local application image before leaving on a trip and work off-line. "When they reconnect, the application is removed from the system," he says, and can continue working as a thin client.

For James, however, the main benefit is the time saved not having to repackage applications to do regression testing. "With SoftGrid you don't have to do that anymore," he says. While he uses SoftGrid for only a few problem applications now, that may change as he prepares to migrate his servers and about 50 applications to Windows Server 2003.

"The first thing I'm going to try is SoftGrid," he says.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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