CDW provides computer hardware, software, and supplies to customers in business, government, and education markets. The company’s Software Sales Business Unit has 600 sales, operations, and consultant professionals. With no IT staff dedicated to application delivery, 12 of the consultants spent time after-hours packaging and deploying applications. CDW wanted to reduce the burden on staff members by providing a fast, simple, and reliable way to handle application deployment. By using Microsoft Application Virtualization, CDW reduced application packaging time by more than 90 percent and delivered applications in one-third of the time previously required. The company can now easily support its mobile work force, while enabling greater flexibility for its consultants and sales force and improving the stability of its client devices.
Founded in 1984 as a home-based company, CDW provides technology solutions to customers in a variety of industries. The company’s mission is to help customers achieve their goals by providing the technology advice and products they need, when they need them—which is evident in the company’s Microsoft Practice. Employees in the practice’s U.S.$1.2 billion Software Sales Business Unit offer expertise in planning, designing, implementing, and managing Microsoft solutions. “It’s really important that we make new applications available to our consultants and sales force as soon as possible so that, by the time our customers are ready to use the products, we can provide sound advice based on hands-on experience,” says Doug Miller, Practice Architect at CDW.
The Software Sales Business Unit has no dedicated application deployment staff. About 12 of its employees spend up to one-quarter of their time supporting the practice’s IT infrastructure—often at night and on weekends. This made it difficult for CDW to deliver software in an efficient, timely manner.
CDW used Windows Installer-based packaging to prepare applications for delivery. “Customizing packages, and finding the appropriate command lines and registry keys, was time consuming,” says Jesse Garcia, Microsoft Consultant for CDW. “For instance, Adobe products come with an auto-update tool, which we didn’t want to install. So I had to figure out how to package the products in a way that turned the update off.” It could easily take two weeks for CDW staff to fully package an application.
Testing was also a lengthy process. “Dynamic-link library (DLL) conflicts were a huge problem for installed applications,” Garcia says. “To make sure that the DLLs didn’t override each other, and that other parts of applications didn’t conflict, we spent about 12 hours over several weeks testing each new application or update against our entire stable of applications for compatibility.”
Because CDW staff could not devote large blocks of time to packaging and testing, it could take three to four weeks to deliver applications to users. “Our business moves at the speed of light. If we can’t get applications out to team members fast enough, they can’t service customers in the way they need to, and our business suffers,” Miller says.
With consultants who are dispersed throughout the United States and who spend much of their time travelling to customer sites, CDW needed to ensure the reliability of portable computers. Workers in the Microsoft Practice support their computers themselves; they do not have a help desk that they can rely upon. If there was an issue with an application, consultants would have to take time to uninstall and then reinstall it.
CDW needed to reduce the time that consultants spent on application deployment processes, while creating a stable, managed client environment for its mobile work force.
As a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, CDW has early exposure to new Microsoft solutions. As soon as Microsoft acquired SoftGrid application virtualization in 2006 and incorporated Microsoft Application Virtualization into the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack for Software Assurance, CDW began piloting the product.
“We knew that, by isolating applications, we could eliminate conflicts and save a ton of time in testing,” Miller says.
||By cutting the time that consultants spend on application packaging and deployment, we’re freeing them to focus on providing quality service to their customers.
Practice Architect, CDW
CDW initially deployed the Microsoft Application Virtualization client to about 20 desktop computers and then, after a successful pilot project, rolled it out to 240 devices. Although the product performed well, CDW made a strategic decision to move to 64-bit devices and, because Application Virtualization did not support 64-bit applications at the time, CDW put the implementation on hold.
In August 2009, CDW joined the Microsoft Technology Adoption Program for Application Virtualization to take advantage of the support for 64-bit applications and the ability to run on the Windows 7 operating system, using Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 R2 to manage the virtual applications and devices.
“With 4 gigabytes of memory pretty much required these days, you need a 64-bit operating system. When Application Virtualization became 64-bit compatible, it really opened the door to all of our consultants using it,” Garcia says. “Now we can virtualize 64-bit applications, such as Microsoft SyncToy, and run them with Windows 7.”
Miller adds, “We’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well Application Virtualization performs with Windows 7. It definitely seems to run faster and more efficiently than previous versions.”
Garcia finds the Sequencer tool in Application Virtualization more intuitive than earlier versions. “Packaging is easier now, which makes the learning curve shorter for new users. This is great because, when I demo Application Virtualization to customers who could benefit from using the product at their own companies, I can now show them how simple it is to virtualize applications,” Garcia adds.
To date, CDW has deployed Microsoft Application Virtualization to 407 client computers and employees in its Microsoft Software Sales Business Unit. It has virtualized 38 applications, including standard utilities, terminal emulator software, several line-of-business applications, and every suite in the Microsoft Office system—beginning with Office 97 through Office Professional 2010 Beta. It plans to virtualize another 60 applications by the end of 2010.
CDW uses System Center Configuration Manager 2007 R2 to distribute virtualized applications, run reports on application usage, and reclaim licenses, if needed. It publishes the applications on distribution points so that workers in offices throughout the United States can quickly get applications streamed to their computers. “Instead of having to use a slow wide area network, they can get their applications locally, which is much more efficient,” Garcia notes.
Adds Miller, “The combination of Application Virtualization, System Center Configuration Manager, and Windows 7 makes for a complete, high-performing application deployment solution. Everything works great together.”
Using Microsoft Application Virtualization, CDW packages and deploys applications in a fraction of the time previously required, more easily supports its mobile work force, enables greater flexibility for its consultants, and improves the reliability of its client devices.
“By cutting the time that consultants spend on application packaging and deployment, we’re freeing them to focus on providing quality service to their customers,” Miller says.
||With Application Virtualization, the application is cached on our consultants’ portable computers and readily accessible no matter where they are. This makes portability exceedingly easy.
Microsoft Consultant, CDW
Reduced Application Deployment Time by Two-Thirds
Packaging applications is much simpler than it was with traditional methods. “Microsoft Application Virtualization does a great job of capturing everything that’s needed, including all of our custom requirements. Whereas it used to take a lot of manual effort, now it’s a very streamlined process. I can package an application in just one hour,” Garcia says.
Because applications no longer conflict, CDW has reduced testing by more than 90 percent. Instead of spending up to 12 hours over a several-week period on compatibility testing, staff members now spend just one hour testing virtual applications for functionality. CDW can also deploy applications in one week—which is just one-third of the time previously required.
“If we had dedicated IT staff, we could package and deploy applications in just one day. But even doing this in one week is a vast improvement,” says Miller. “We’re a slim IT department with very little spare time. Any savings we can realize makes a huge difference to our teams.”
Improved Support for Mobile Work Force
Using Application Virtualization and System Center Configuration Manager, CDW can easily distribute applications and updates to dispersed team members. Because CDW allows for disconnected use of its network and has no expiration on its offline policy, consultants can access their virtual applications from anywhere.
“With other solutions, if you disconnect from the network when travelling, you can’t use your applications,” says Garcia. “With Application Virtualization, the application is cached on our consultants’ portable computers and readily accessible no matter where they are. This makes portability exceedingly easy.”
||We’ve been able to create a managed client environment. We provide consultants with highly reliable devices by removing application obstacles and ensuring that the desktop image remains pristine.
Practice Architect, CDW
CDW can also deliver applications to consultants at the last minute, if needed, to better support a customer engagement. “We can be much more responsive to consultants’ needs,” says Garcia. “Recently, a coworker needed to demo an application that he didn’t have on his computer. In the past, I would have had to test the application for compatibility against the other software on his computer, and then send it to him for installation—all of which would take more time than he had. Instead, I was able to send him the sequenced virtual application in minutes. I didn’t have to do any testing because I knew it wouldn’t conflict with any other applications.”
Increased Flexibility and Reliability
By running different versions of the same application on their computers, workers can more easily demonstrate product upgrades for customers. “We have much more flexibility in how we present products to customers. For instance, because I can run Office 2007 and Office 2010 on my computer, I can demo the new functionality and highlight the products’ similarities and differences in a way that is really easy for customers to see,” Garcia says.
And because applications are isolated from one another, the desktop is not at risk from application-related problems. “Any time we deployed installed applications, there was a chance they would cause someone’s device to fail,” Miller says. “But with virtual applications, I have the comfort of knowing that consultants who are on the road don’t have to worry about these kinds of issues; they simply don’t occur anymore.”
If an application is not performing properly, consultants can easily fix the problem. “The consultant can just go to the Application Virtualization control panel and run a repair to get the application back to its original state. If the application needs to be reloaded, it’s easy to delete it from the cache and redeploy it using System Center Configuration Manager,” Garcia notes.
Miller concludes, “We’ve been able to create a managed client environment. We provide consultants with highly reliable devices by removing application obstacles and ensuring that the desktop image remains pristine.”
Microsoft Desktop Optimization
Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) for Software Assurance makes it easy for an organization to administer its applications, offering tools for virtualizing and inventorying software installations, for managing Group Policy settings, and for system repair and data recovery.
For more information about MDOP, go to:
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