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Repackaging increases application ROI

You can optimize your applications and improve ROI with application repackaging, according to a repackaging expert. Find out how why in this SearchWindowsManageability interview.

Application deployment doesn't begin and end with a purchase and an installation. To truly reap the benefits of the applications running in your IT environment, you must repackage them before company-wide deployment, according to Rich Bentley, strategic market manager for Wise Solutions.

"When you buy an application from a software vendor, that application isn't geared toward your environment," said Bentley. By customizing it, you are indeed saving your company money because the application better fits corporate needs, he told SearchWindowsManageability at last week's Microsoft Management Summit. In this interview, he offers IT managers tips on application deployment and how to save money by migrating applications to Windows Installer format. Plymouth, Mich.-based Wise Solutions' Wise Package Studio is an application packaging solution.

SWM: What does packaging applications for deployment mean?

Repackaging applications is basically taking that application and customizing the installation to meet the needs of the organization. It could be creating a silent installation so there's no user interaction. Any time you give a user options to do anything, they're going to pick the wrong thing. Repacking applications is also making the application conform to corporate standards. This is a huge benefit in terms of cost savings from a desktop and help desk standpoint. So, making sure that every desktop has the same configuration, components, and directories installed. The other purpose of doing packaging is making sure the application integrates well in the company's environment. When an ISV creates a software application, they don?t care how it integrates with other applications. From a corporate standpoint, the goal is to make sure the application plays well with the company's standard desktop environment. By repackaging, you can take that application and compare it with all the other applications. You can make sure there are no conflicts between .dll files, for example.

SWM: Do all companies need to repackage their applications, then?

Companies that have a very small number of desktops are less likely to find enough value in it. Above 1,000 desktops, though, there's a real value in taking an application and customizing it to meet your environment.

SWM: What is the latest trend in application packaging?

A hot topic right now is taking applications and migrating them to Windows Installer format. This is a huge thing for organizations that are migrating to Windows 2000 or XP. When Microsoft talks about all the cost savings in desktop management and support costs you're going to get from that migration, a lot of that is based on the application package being in Windows Installer or Microsoft Installer (MSI) format. Most software vendors are not packaging software in MSI format. If system administrators want to get all the benefits that Microsoft is talking about, they have to repackage that into Windows Installer format. A lot of people don't realize that. Windows Installer is still a fairly new technology for most administrators. If you're planning on deploying applications using Active Directory, the only way you're going to be able to do that is if your applications are packaged into Windows Installer or MSI format. Application self-healing, install on demand are benefits that are only enabled through Windows Installer.

SWM: How exactly can systems administrators customize their new applications?

When you buy a software application, you get a set up .exe file. You don't know what that contains and what files it's going to put down. You have capture that installation and figure out what it's doing. To figure that out, you do a snapshot before you install the software. Then, you take a snapshot after you install it. Then, you do a comparison between the two, and the difference between the two is your installation. All the files, registry settings and everything that changed on that computer are part of that installation.

SWM: What are some problems administrators may run into?

The challenge is that there are things going on in the OS all the time. You're capturing all those things, too. You end up with a capture of a lot of things that aren't needed and can cause problems. Or, you may not capture everything in the installation. The installation may put down a temporary file that's just used during the installation that gets deleted. If you do a snapshot, you're not going to catch that. There are a lot of little things that can take a lot of time to track down. In general, if everything goes well with a capture, you can be done in eight hours with whatever tool you use. I talk to people who spend 40 hours trying to track down one .dll file that got missed that's causing the application not to work.

SWM: What are the keys to an effective application deployment?

The real key is having a process and incorporating best practices. Start with a clean environment for initial packaging so you don't capture a lot of extraneous data. Then, do a lot of pilot testing in a real world environment. Have some standardization in your company so that you're doing it the same way every time and you're learning over time.

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