IT services firm Appserv provides hosted IT environments and applications to approximately 2,500 people in 70 New Zealand–based businesses. With a dynamic customer base that requires it to continually update applications and deploy new ones, Appserv found it challenging to deliver applications quickly and efficiently. By using Microsoft Application Virtualization for Terminal Services, Appserv eliminated time-consuming compatibility testing, deployed applications up to 75 percent faster, and enhanced its business continuity efforts. The company also reduced the number of server computers, rack space, and electricity needed to run applications—enabling it to keep costs low and price its services competitively.
Based in Auckland, New Zealand, Appserv is an IT infrastructure and application outsourcing company. Organizations in industries ranging from legal and manufacturing to healthcare and retail rely on Appserv to provide consistent, affordable, and highly responsive IT services.
“Our customers have one thing in common: the desire to focus on their core operations without being sidetracked by IT implementations and management,” says Graham Clarke, Managing Director for Appserv. “Our added value is in managing their IT needs and helping them facilitate change—whether by scaling their environments or upgrading applications—faster and more reliably than they could do it themselves.”
Appserv hosts between 4 and 10 applications for each customer. This translates to about 400 applications that the company supports in a Remote Desktop Services environment. Because its business model requires it to update and regularly move customers to the latest application versions, Appserv needed to provide services in a timely, cost-effective manner.
Lengthy Deployment Process
“Every time we brought on a new customer, or added or changed applications for existing customers, we had to test new applications against our existing base to ensure that they wouldn’t conflict. It was a daily activity for us, and one that consumed a lot of time,” says Clarke.
Testing an application could take from four hours to several days, depending on the complexity of the software. Appserv couldn’t conduct tests within its production environment because of potential problems from conflicting applications; it had to take server computers out of production to use in a pilot environment. Appserv team members installed the new application in a separate lab environment, tested it for functionality and compatibility, provided it to the customer for additional quality assurance testing, and then installed it on all of the production servers that delivered the application.
The need to physically install applications also affected business continuity. Appserv regularly moved applications to different server computers for load balancing and maintenance. Because each move required the company to reinstall an entire image on new servers, it was quite time-consuming and required the deployment of parallel infrastructure to maintain service availability.
Managing Multiple Application Versions
Because some applications—such as different versions of the same software, or applications that had dynamic-link library conflicts—couldn’t reside on the same server, Appserv often had to provision a separate server for a single application. “We could easily end up dedicating two servers to a customer that had just 15 users,” says Clarke. “The number of servers we supported was proliferating. We had to add servers to run conflicting applications, and to handle growing customer needs. Each server required more rack space, power, and electricity costs, as well as additional management time. That could make it challenging to provide services at the price points we wanted to offer.”
Appserv needed an easier, faster way to deploy applications. The company also wanted to reduce the server resources needed to support applications for its customers.
Appserv continually researches the latest technology advances so that it can take advantage of them for customers. The company had heard about application virtualization and felt that using it could help resolve its application deployment and server sprawl issues. In October 2006, Appserv began a pilot of Microsoft Application Virtualization for Terminal Services.
||Using Application Virtualization, we can provide much more responsive service… We can bring new customers on board, and update and change applications for existing customers very quickly.
Managing Director, Appserv
“We’re a Microsoft Premier Support customer and we have a lot of Microsoft-based technology. We liked the fact that we could use the same relationships and support channel that we already had in place for the Application Virtualization implementation,” Clarke says.
For its initial test of Microsoft Application Virtualization for Terminal Services, Appserv selected applications that were not designed for server-based computing environments and, therefore, had been difficult to deploy, such as MYOB Accounting 16 and Cognito Software MoneyWorks 5.2.7. After successfully virtualizing these applications, the company rolled out Application Virtualization to its customer base. To date, Appserv has virtualized approximately 100 applications including Microsoft Dynamics GP 10, Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009, Westpac DeskBank 18.104.22.168, and IMS Payroll Partner 3.5.2.00. Appserv runs its virtual applications on 69 servers with Citrix XenApp 5.0 and Windows Server 2003 R2 Remote Desktop Services, and supports about 2,500 users across its customer base.
The company also uses the Hyper-V virtualization technology in Windows Server 2008. It chose Hyper-V over alternative solutions to limit the number of vendors it needs to manage and to take advantage of its Premier Support agreement with Microsoft. Appserv runs software such as customer line-of-business applications on virtual machines created using Hyper-V, which enables it to minimize the number of physical servers needed.
“Our goal is to virtualize as many applications as we can. In an ideal world, every application we provide to customers would be virtualized,” Clarke says. “As of now, every customer accesses at least one virtual application.”
In August 2009, Appserv joined the Microsoft Technology Adoption Program for Application Virtualization to take advantage of the product’s latest technology enhancements and 64-bit support. “We felt that upgrading Application Virtualization would enable us to increase the number of applications we could virtualize as well as the user load per server,” says Clarke.
Appserv used Microsoft Application Virtualization to speed application deployments, reduce the server resources needed to support its applications, and enhance business continuity efforts.
“Using Application Virtualization, we can provide much more responsive service with minimal service or user impact. We can bring new customers on board, and update and change applications for existing customers very quickly,” says Clarke.
||Our goal is to virtualize as many applications as we can. In an ideal world, every application we provide to customers would be virtualized. As of now, every customer accesses at least one virtual application.
Managing Director, Appserv
Speeded Application Deployment by up to 75 Percent
Because virtualization isolates applications and eliminates the chance of conflicts, Appserv can run new and updated applications in its production environment alongside existing applications. “We don’t have to take servers offline to dedicate them for testing. We just publish the application to the intended user groups in our production infrastructure. No compatibility testing and no physical preparation or installation is needed,” Clarke says.
By eliminating the extensive testing and deployment processes, Appserv has collapsed the timeframe required to deliver applications. It deploys virtual applications up to 75 percent faster than it installed software before. Instead of taking approximately seven hours to install and deliver an application to a two-server farm, it now takes just one and a half hours.
Running virtual applications, Appserv can also build more standard baseline images. By reducing the amount of space consumed by multiple images and the need to manage each separate image, and by minimizing the number of customer-specific server pools that are required, the company simplified IT management processes.
Reduced Data Center Resources
Because it can run applications—including multiple versions of the same software—on the same servers, Appserv has reduced the number of servers that it needs. “We’re committed to providing customers with the latest application versions. But because not every customer wants to move to the new versions at the same time, we have to maintain multiple application versions. Now we can deploy them on the same server infrastructure,” says Clarke.
Using fewer servers means that Appserv needs less rack space and switch ports, and can spend less money on electricity to power its data center.
“We like to trim our cost basis as much as possible so that we can pass those savings on to customers,” says Clarke. “Without virtualization, we’d have to increase our server resources exponentially to handle customer changes and growth. Now that we can manage more applications and support more users with fewer resources, we can achieve greater economies of scale while delivering highly affordable and reliable services.”
Simplified Business Continuity Process
Migrating server loads to different parts of the Appserv infrastructure is easier because the company does not have to make changes to the physical infrastructure that will be delivering the applications.
“Transferring virtual applications is a straightforward process. We can quickly move users to different servers without having to do lengthy application installations. Once customers are logged on, their applications are streamed down to the client computer, and they can begin working right away. This reduces the burden on our staff and enables us to ensure service continuity for our customers,” Clarke says.
Microsoft virtualization is an end-to-end strategy that can profoundly affect nearly every aspect of the IT infrastructure management lifecycle. It can drive greater efficiencies, flexibility, and cost effectiveness throughout your organization. From accelerating application deployments; to ensuring systems, applications, and data are always available; to taking the hassle out of rebuilding and shutting down servers and desktops for testing and development; to reducing risk, slashing costs, and improving the agility of your entire environment—virtualization has the power to transform your infrastructure, from the data center to the desktop.
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