LANDesk Application Virtualization

GCN Lab Review: LANDesk's Application Virtualization product was the least intrusive of all the solutions we tested, as well as the most flexible

'If you don't have time to build it, then buy it' goes the saying. That's what LANDesk did to get into the application virtualization game. The company brought together Thinstall and its LANDesk Application Virtualization Suite product along with some integration work to make it compatible with LANDesk's management tools. Thinstall uses an approach similar to Altiris' SVS but different enough to merit further discussion.

While SVS uses a client application and installs a filter driver on the local machine, Thinstall builds an executable image, including a cut-down version of the Windows operating system (VOS) adding about 400K to the size of the virtualized application. When you launch a Thinstall virtual app, the program first loads the VOS, which in turn loads the application into an isolated environment. All access to the underlying operating system and file system is controlled by a configuration file created at the time you build the virtual application.

It's important to point out that all LANDesk virtual applications run exclusively in user mode.

That can be critical for enterprise environments with locked-down PCs without administration rights. User mode makes possible a number of significant benefits from a security perspective.

All virtualized applications using this approach run at the same security level of a typical user, so a malicious attacker would have no path to an elevated privilege, as he might when some part of a program runs in kernel mode.

Because of this, there are some applications that cannot be virtualized using this approach. Anything that needs to talk directly to the hardware ' an Ethernet sniffer tool such as Wireshark, for instance ' or that requires some type of driver won't work. Windows Vista 64-bit also can have problems with the current release of the software.

Building a virtualized application consists of taking before-and-after snapshots of a Windows machine in the process, while installing the application in between. It's important to use a clean installation of Windows to build your virtual applications.

If one of the system files required by the application already exists on the system, the setup program won't know to load that into the image, and your virtual application won't work.

After the capture process is complete, you'll find a directory on the local file system that your virtualized application will see when it runs.

Changing access options ' such as determining what, if any, access the application will have to the underlying file system ' requires modification of the package.ini file. There are a number of other options you can change in this file, too.

Another feature of the LANDesk solution is the ability to add scripting for custom actions that run before the application starts. You can add code to check for group membership or add an expiration date to the application. The only downside is that all script must use the Microsoft VBScript language.

LANDesk's solution integrates well with the LANDesk Management Suite (LDMS). You can use the LDMS software distribution feature to push virtual applications down to a user's desktop.

The software monitoring tool works the same way with virtual applications as it does with traditional applications.

Existing environments will play a big part when evaluating all of these solutions. Any organization with an established Citrix infrastructure would be smart to take a hard look at their products before purchasing another vendor's product. The same goes for existing Altiris and LANDesk customers. Although all of the solutions have strong features on their own, they probably don't outweigh the importance of preexisting systems.

The LANDesk/Thinstall combination offers a solid solution for organizations without any existing products from those vendors. Building completely self-sufficient applications requiring no additional components to run will appeal to many IT managers. Add to that the flexible configuration options and user-mode execution and you've got a great way to deploy applications on Vista that might not have run otherwise.

LANDesk's Application Virtualization product was the least intrusive of all the solutions we tested while at the same time the most flexible.

And at $39 per node, with quantity discounts available, it's a good bargain for what it does. It earns the Reviewer's Choice designation for this review.

LANDesk Software, (800) 982-2130, www.landesk.com

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