With more than 53,000 students, the University of Central Florida (UCF) is the third-largest university in the United States. In its Computer Services and Telecommunications (CST) group, two personnel support more than 200 applications that are used in the UCF public computing labs. With an application packaging and deployment process that took up to eight weeks to complete, CST needed a faster, easier way to deliver and maintain applications. By switching to virtualization using Microsoft Application Virtualization, CST cut application testing from three weeks to one day and deployment time by 75 percent. It eliminated the need to close labs for reimaging, eased application upgrades, and stabilized desktop computers. CST reduced the number of applications that it had to support, and freed lab staffers to focus on helping students instead of on software installation.
Founded in 1963, the University of Central Florida (UCF) has an operating budget of more than U.S.$1 billion, and serves students who hail from 141 countries and every state in the United States. It offers programs in numerous fields, including optics, modeling and simulation, engineering and computer science, business administration, education, science, hospitality management, medicine, and digital media.
In the UCF Computer Services and Telecommunications (CST) group, 141 staff members are responsible for supporting the core of the university’s computing, networking, and telecommunications needs. Just two of these staffers are focused on delivering and maintaining more than 200 applications for CST employees as well as for thousands of students who regularly use the hundreds of desktop computers—which run the Windows XP operating system— located in four UCF public computing labs.
Lengthy Application Deployment
CST found it challenging to deploy and support all of the applications. “Application deployment was extremely complex and painful,” says Casey Hill, IT Infrastructure Manager for the University of Central Florida, who manages the two CST application delivery staffers. “Not only was it tedious for our small IT staff, but it also took time away from the people who manage our computing labs, affecting their ability to help students.”
CST used Microsoft Installer (MSI)–based packaging to prepare applications for delivery, but found it frustrating in terms of the time that it required and the security challenges that it presented. “Each time we packaged an application, we spent countless hours trying to figure out how to run in nonadministrator mode and enable security permissions so that end users wouldn’t be able to make changes, such as installing an updated Adobe Flash Player, that could affect the applications or destabilize a system,” says Shirley Solis-Nieves, Senior System Administrator for the University of Central Florida. As a result, it often took seven days of dedicated work to package an application.
Once an application was packaged, CST staffers began the reimaging process. This entailed adding the application to the base lab image and aggressively testing it against all other applications in the image to uncover application compatibility conflicts.
CST would install the new image on a few computers, and the lab personnel would interact with as many applications as they could to make sure everything functioned correctly. “Because testing isn’t the lab staffers’ primary responsibility—their main job is helping students use the computers and applications—it often took at least three weeks for them to complete the testing. And even then problems might arise once the image was fully deployed because it was virtually impossible to test every scenario,” says Rick Becerra, Senior System Administrator for the University of Central Florida.
The reimaging process also affected students’ ability to use the labs. “Every time we deployed a new application or update, we had to reimage all the computers in our labs. If everything went smoothly, this usually took about two hours, during which time we had to shut down the labs. If there were problems once the new image was deployed, we had to reinstall the previous image, and that meant closing the labs again,” Hill says. “We have standard operation procedures that state reimaging could not take place during peak usage times, such as when students are taking midterm or final exams.”
Because of the lengthy time and complexities associated with its application deployment process, CST allotted two months for each deployment. “When faculty approached us to request new applications, we had to tell them it would take up to eight weeks before we could deliver the applications to the labs—and before students could begin using them,” says Hill.
Inability to Run Multiple Versions on Same Computer
CST also had difficulty upgrading applications. Different versions of the same application couldn’t run on the same computer without conflicting, so CST had to wait until the majority of target users were ready for the newest version before deploying it. For instance, before it moved from Microsoft Office 2000 Professional Edition to Office Professional Enterprise Edition 2003, CST sent surveys to the faculty to find out how many members were ready and willing to upgrade.
The inability to run multiple application versions simultaneously also affected the productivity of the 20 CST staffers who develop custom applications using Oracle PeopleSoft Application Designer. “Developers often work on several projects at a time, and it’s not unusual for each project to require a different version of the software,” says Becerra. “A handful of the developers had two computers to accommodate different versions. The rest of them—who had just one computer each—constantly had to reinstall the version they needed for the project at hand. And that could mean repeating the installation process two or three times a week.”
CST also spent time maintaining applications that the staff suspected weren’t used by many people. “Applications would stay in the lab image, and we’d have to support and update them—even though we didn’t know if they were still being used because we had no way to track usage,” Hill says.
CST needed an easier, faster way to package and deliver applications, while ensuring that they would run reliably once deployed. It also wanted a better way for users to run different versions of the same application, and to ensure that the applications supported by CST were fully utilized.
The university’s Computer Services and Telecommunications staff members were grappling with these application deployment issues when they attended a Microsoft Management Summit in spring 2006. “We saw an application virtualization product from Softricity and knew it could solve our packaging problems and make deployments much easier,” says Hill. “We liked that applications could be completely independent of the operating system and that users could run them without needing system administrator rights.”
||We eliminated application deployment complexities and accelerated the entire process, from packaging and testing to delivery. We’re now much more flexible and responsive to user needs.
IT Infrastructure Manager, University of Central Florida
With interest in application virtualization piqued, CST was eager to evaluate the product. And when Microsoft acquired Softricity and rolled application virtualization into the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack for Software Assurance, CST decided to move forward with a proof of concept. “We could just add Microsoft Application Virtualization to the Campus Agreement that we already had with Microsoft, which made it very cost-effective for us,” Hill says.
CST has been using Application Virtualization (App-V) since summer 2007 when it tested the software on 120 computers in one of the university’s public labs. As part of the test, CST virtualized 50 applications, including Microsoft Office Professional Enterprise Edition 2003, Adobe Photoshop Elements 4, Dynamic Geometry Geometer’s Sketchpad 4, and Adobe Premiere Elements. The applications were used by several thousand students who were enrolled in the University of Central Florida summer program.
To date, CST has virtualized about 220 applications that are delivered to thousands of students and staff members, and expects to virtualize another 30 applications by the end of 2010. Now, when instructors request an application, CST virtualizes it and makes it available to the four labs, instead of installing it on hundreds of individual machines. Users can access the virtualized applications—including multiple versions of the same application—by simply clicking the application icon on the desktop. By tracking usage with Application Virtualization reports that run on a back-end server computer, CST has determined that 7,000 unique users have accessed the applications to date.
In October 2008, CST upgraded to the then-current version of Application Virtualization to take advantage of the Dynamic Suite Composition (DSC) feature, which enables virtual applications to communicate with each other, share resources such as plug-ins, and be combined in the same virtual environment. For instance, CST virtualized the Windows Internet Explorer 7 browser and used DSC to virtualize plug-ins such as Adobe Flash Player 10, Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro, and Apple QuickTime 7, as well as Microsoft Office Professional 2007, Novell GroupWise, and Apple iTunes. CST also used DSC to enable Microsoft Office SharePoint Server to work with the virtualized Internet Explorer and Office Professional 2007.
“Now users can have a unified, virtual working environment for a single application set,” Solis-Nieves says. “This just wasn’t possible with previous versions of App-V.”
UCF is taking part in the Technology Adoption Program for Microsoft Application Virtualization. It will upgrade to the newest version to take advantage of its 64-bit capability and run it on desktop computers with the Windows 7 operating system. “We’re planning to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7 in the summer of 2010 for performance and security enhancements,” says Hill. “We’ll be able to improve Application Virtualization performance significantly by running it on the 64-bit version of Windows 7.”
CST also uses other Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack technologies. For example, the CST support staff uses the Microsoft Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset to reset local passwords if accounts are locked out. CST plans to deploy Microsoft Advanced Group Policy Management in spring 2010. According to Becerra, “We have a complicated environment where multiple administrators make changes to Group Policy settings. Using Advanced Group Policy Management, we’ll be able to easily track who made revisions, compare Group Policy objects, and get a good baseline for future troubleshooting and growth.”
Using application virtualization, the University of Central Florida deploys new applications and updates much more quickly, and has enhanced reliability while reducing downtime. Lab staffers now can focus on helping students instead of testing and troubleshooting applications. Users can run multiple application versions on the same computer, and the Computer Services and Telecommunications group saves time and money by standardizing on fewer applications.
“We eliminated application deployment complexities and accelerated the entire process, from packaging and testing to delivery,” Hill says. “We’re now much more flexible and responsive to user needs.”
75 Percent Faster Application Deployment
CST staff can now package and deploy a new application in just two weeks. This is a 75 percent time savings over previous methods, which required up to eight weeks. Updating applications is even faster. It takes just three days, instead of two months.
“Packaging applications is much easier with Microsoft Application Virtualization than it was when we used MSI-based methods,” says Hill. “We no longer have to figure out complex security permissions in order to run applications in nonadministrator mode.”
UCF computing lab staffers spend much less time testing applications for compatibility. Becerra says, “They don’t have to test every application in an image to see if the new applications or updates will cause problems. Instead of taking several weeks to do regression testing, the staffers spend a day or so working with the applications. And they’re not really doing regression testing; they’re doing quality assurance to make sure the applications work correctly.”
Enhanced Reliability and Responsiveness, Reduced Downtime
Desktop computers used by students and CST staff are much more reliable. “Because people log on to the computers as normal users instead of administrators, they can’t install any software that could break other applications. They also can’t download software that may be infected with viruses, which could potentially render a computer inoperable,” says Becerra. “Our desktop computer environment is very stable. We don’t have to spend time troubleshooting application-related issues because they just don’t exist anymore.”
CST can deliver applications without having to shut down the labs to reimage computers. “There are no restrictions around deploying applications. We can deliver them whenever we need to—even during peak lab usage times,” says Hill. As a result, CST had reduced the time that it shuts down labs by 90 percent.
Becerra adds, “We used to reimage about once a month because of new deployments and problems that arose from application conflicts. Now we have to do it only about once a year to burn software that can’t be virtualized into the image, such as device drivers and applications such as Freedom Scientific JAWS that have license keys tied to a media access control address. This means that students can get into the labs whenever they need.”
Faculty can get applications that they need faster than before. “We’re much more responsive to UCF teachers,” says Solis-Nieves. For instance, a professor recently asked CST to deploy JMP 8 statistical software in the lab. It took just two weeks from request to delivery. In the past, it would have taken triple that time, and required CST to reimage the computers and shut down the labs. “We just published the application and, the next time students logged on, it was on the computers. It was truly dynamic,” Solis-Nieves says.
Ability to Run Multiple Versions Simultaneously
By using Microsoft Application Virtualization to run different versions of the same application on the same computer, CST can upgrade users faster and easier. “Not only were we able to deploy the virtualized Microsoft Office Professional 2007 75 percent faster than the traditionally installed Microsoft Office Professional Enterprise Edition 2003, but when we upgraded we didn’t have to survey the faculty to make sure enough people were ready for the move,” says Hill. “We virtualized Microsoft Office Professional 2007 so it can be used on the same machines that run the Microsoft Office 2003 Edition. This enabled faculty members to transition to the new version at their own pace.”
The CST development team also benefitted from this capability. “We had deployed a new version of PeopleSoft Application Designer, and some of the team members were having difficulties with it,” Solis-Nieves explains. “One of the managers, who wasn’t aware that we virtualized the application, was concerned that we would have to roll back to a previous version, which would take time away from staffers who would have to reinstall the product. We alleviated his concern when we told him that multiple versions can run on the same computer. Our users now have a much greater comfort level with upgrades because they know they can access older applications if needed.”
CST also doesn’t have to support multiple computers for the five developers who used them to run different versions of software. They can now run all versions on the same computer. By repurposing those computers for other IT staff—instead of purchasing new hardware—CST avoided having to spend about $1,200 per new computer.
Improved Application Tracking, Reduced Licenses
CST has applications that are licensed for concurrent usage. “With Application Virtualization reports, we monitor how many people are concurrently using the applications. If usage is low, we contact the faculty member who requested the application to determine whether it’s worthwhile to keep it. In some cases, like with Minitab statistical software, we discontinued the application,” says Hill.
Using the reporting capabilities, CST also saw that it was supporting applications that provided duplicate functionality. For instance, the staff realized that it had four different instant messaging applications. “We eliminated three of the applications and standardized on one of them,” Hill says. “Overall, we were able to cut the number of applications that we support, which reduced our costs and lessened the burden on our IT staff.” CST estimates that it saves about $5,000 per year in recurring licensing costs.
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:
For More Information
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