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Dos & don'ts: How to avoid app deployment disasters

Take an off-the-shelf application. Fold it into an enterprise system. Mix well with legacy applications. That's your recipe for an application meltdown. Our expert helps you cook up something better!

Deploying application software fresh out of the box may work on a home PC. In an enterprise infrastructure, however, adding an "as is" application can gum up the works.

Rich Bentley has seen a 10,000-user enterprise system go down for hours when new and legacy applications clashed. "Companies often don't put a lot of thought into their application deployments," said Bentley, strategic market manager for Plymouth, Mich.-based Wise Solutions, an application management software and services provider. The result is an ad hoc deployment process that leaves too much to chance and often results in application conflicts and downtime.

Like Boy Scouts, IT system administrators need to "be prepared." To help them get started in the process of "application preparedness," Bentley offered these software packaging dos and don'ts for you to complete before distributing your applications throughout the enterprise.

Do change your application management approach from reactive to proactive. Most companies wait until an application breaks and then rush to fix it. Save time and money by "putting the resources upfront to prepare applications before they're deployed," Bentley said.

Do create and follow a structured plan for application deployments. "The biggest mistake people make is using a very ad hoc approach to doing packaging and deployment," Bentley said. "People who don't use a structured approach are asking for trouble, because they're not able to reproduce problems or have a repeatable process."

Don't skimp on testing. Too many people just "test the application by opening it up and clicking around a bit to see if it works," said Bentley. "They spend too little time on this part of the deployment process." That's too bad, he said, because testing can eliminate application conflicts that can cause headaches for users or even take down a network.

Remember, Bentley added, that ISVs usually test their software in a clean, standalone environment.

Don't rely on software distribution tools alone. Software distribution tools often don't have as thorough and rigorous a process for preparing and packaging software for deployment.

Do develop standards in your organization regarding how applications are configured. Make the application conform to your organizational standards by creating installation files that contain the rules for how the software should interact with the infrastructure's systems and the organization's business rules.

Don't make application migration an afterthought in an operating system migration project. "Take time before you jump into deployment to analyze your new application and your application environment," said Bentley. Learn what employees do with legacy applications, for example. Find out about applications that reside on desktops as well as servers.

Do migrate to Windows Installer. Many software programs are delivered in traditional, non-MSI formats. Windows Installer can help companies streamline and optimize installations of such software.

Don't rush to repackage a legacy application. "A key step in the packaging process is getting the application package into a format that can be customized," Bentley said. "This can be done by repackaging, but in many cases legacy apps can be converted." Conversion is often a better approach than repackaging. "Repackaging requires additional effort and introduces opportunity for error," he said.

For more information:

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Application meltdown story: Windows and Linux mix it up

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