What Server App-V means for applications in the cloud

Microsoft is close to extending its application virtualization technology to the server. The question is, will it encourage more companies to invest in Azure?

Recently, we looked at Microsoft’s Windows Azure Virtual Machine role and how it works in the cloud. Naturally, it also makes sense to talk about the company’s other Windows Azure-based virtualization feature, Server Application Virtualization.

Currently available as a community technical preview, Server Application Virtualization is expected to release in 2011, at which point Microsoft will have two application virtualization options: App-V and Server App-V. The latter extends Microsoft’s App-V technology from the client to the server and (as Microsoft puts it) is designed to deliver application mobility, simplified deployment and lower operational costs for server apps.

The idea is that organizations will use the feature to move their on-premise data centers to the Windows Azure cloud and thus take advantage of Azure’s scalability and availability.

Benefits of Server App-V – in theory
Server applications today require installation and configuration, but Server App-V allows you to virtualize, install and configure the app once and deploy the package as needed without any further hassle. Organizations can then leverage Windows Azure to save time and money by allowing their infrastructure to be managed by Microsoft. This frees up IT pros to concentrate on what they do best (line of business) rather than fiddling around with hardware.

Server Application Virtualization basically separates the OS from the server application so the app can then be deployed to the Azure cloud. The process works like this (as described by Microsoft):

1. Capture an image of the application using the Server App-V Sequencer

2. Upload the image to Windows Azure using the Virtualization Packaging Tool

3. Deploy the app to the Windows Azure worker role

Furthermore, once you’ve uploaded your applications to the cloud there may be a business need for Windows Azure to connect back into your on-premise data center to access local resources. In these instances, Microsoft provides the Windows Azure Connect feature to create an IPsec link from within Azure that connects back to your network, allowing for communication back and forth.

When it comes right down to it, the Windows Azure Virtual Machine (VM) role and Server App-V are very similar. The main difference is that the Azure VM role has you take an entire Hyper-V virtual machine and deploy it to the Windows Azure cloud (including deployment with the OS and applications). Server App-V simply allows you to capture the application image and move it to Azure without the OS. It basically reduces your overhead and allows you to deploy only the application itself. I personally prefer the Server App-V role for this very reason.

The thing to remember is that the VM role is simply a migration path; it lets you move to the cloud while developing your applications to work for Windows Azure. Server App-V allows you to skip the development process or porting of applications and instead move them directly to the cloud. That’s one reason why those looking to invest in cloud computing should be excited about Server App-V. It allows your business to move isolated server applications to the cloud without requiring your developers to learn new code or processes.

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Steven S. Warren is a writer in Florida. His articles and blogs have appeared on websites such as CIOUpdate.com, ZDNET, Techrepublic.com, SearchTechTarget, Datamation, and DatabaseJournal. He is the author of The VMware Workstation 5 Handbook and has held the Microsoft MVP award for 8 consecutive years. You can also find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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