Application management can be a complicated task when it comes to virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), but it doesn’t have to be. App Volumes is VMware’s product for virtual machine application layering that helps simplify the process. These layers are known as AppStacks, which are virtual disks that contain everything necessary (executables, registry keys, etc.) to run the application. AppStacks are not run in isolation or containerized like ThinApp packages. Instead, the agent for App Volumes merges the AppStack contents with the virtual machines’ file system and Windows Registry. Users have no indication that this is happening; to the user it appears as though the applications are actually installed in the system.
Two components make up App Volumes:
- App Volumes Manager–a central management console that is used for provisioning and managing entitlements for AppStacks.
- App Volumes Agent–installed on the virtual machines and is responsible for handling processes needed to mount the AppStacks and make the applications available to the end user.
As mentioned, AppStacks are virtual disks that contain one or more applications and can be assigned to Active Directory users, groups, computers and/or organizational units (OUs) as a read-only disk. One or multiple AppStacks can be assigned to a user’s virtual machine depending on how the applications are managed. There’s another option that may be used called Writable Volumes, which are user-specific disks that can be used to store applications installed by the user, as well as user profile information.
What I have been describing so far is App Volumes 2.x but you may quickly realize that App Volumes 3.0 was released earlier this year. Customers using App Volumes 3.0 have encountered issues and there have been complaints about the new version, including issues with AppStacks and the interface. VMware released version 2.11 approximately three months after releasing 3.0. VMware has indicated that the two different versions should be treated as two separate products: 2.x should be used for on-premises deployments whereas 3.x is designed for use with cloud-based deployments.
App Volumes 3.0 introduces a new way to create AppStacks called AppCapture. AppCapture is run from the command line or by using Microsoft PowerShell. AppCapture also has a component called AppIsolation, which allows AppCapture to integrate with VMware ThinApp to provide both native and VMware ThinApp applications through a single format–the AppStack.
Additionally there’s a new capability called AppToggle that allows per-user entitlement and installation of applications using a single AppStack. This would reduce the number of AppStacks required, ultimately lowering storage usage and increasing manageability.
Lastly, there is a new feature called AppScaling that allows the addition of multiple file shares for hosting AppStacks, pairing them to different VMware vCenter Server instances. A service runs to scan the shares and populate the AppStacks into datastores within the VMware vCenter Server instances. This eliminates the need to replicate AppStacks across multiple sites.
Applications are an integral part of virtual machines, especially virtual desktops. App Volumes helps reduce the overhead for handling application lifecycle management by simplifying application packaging and delivery. With App Volumes, applications can be delivered using virtual disks without having to modify the virtual machine. Having a real-time application delivery system is a major asset to any enterprise virtual desktop infrastructure environment.