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Windows 7 - Is There A Silver Bullet To The Applications Problem?

How to combat the challenge of application rationalisation to deliver enterprise Windows 7 migration

During the last couple of months I've participated in a huge number of customer meetings about one thing — how is the organisation going to deliver their Windows 7 migration? The conversation generally turns to what everyone perceives as the biggest hurdle to widespread adoption - the applications. There is no doubting that it's a complex area, complicated even further by the amount of options out there (MSI native, AppV, Citrix, Thinstall, InstallFree) and made almost unmanageable when you bring 64-bit into the mix.

Windows 7 Logo

The biggest application estate we're working with at Juriba is 12,000 unique applications. Imagine that, 12,000 applications across a user and computer estate running into hundreds of thousands. I mean, where do you even start?

Well, let's start by actually defining the problem. You've got your apps strategy sorted out by now (if you haven't you are wasting your time), and decided which platforms and formats you are going to use. This includes the operating system architecture you are deploying (32 or 64 bit).

Now you need to understand the application estate. This is where it starts getting complicated. Organisations around the globe are all pondering the next question: what is my application inventory? Some (the clever ones in my opinion) make a very quick judgement call by stating that they will only consider 'managed' applications. A managed application is a software package that is 'known', it is delivered through approved distribution mechanisms, and can be traced back to a collection or group.

Some, however, want to start managing their 'unmanaged' applications. They believe that it's IT's problem to solve the application inventory. I feel there is a very simple problem with this approach. How did the applications get on there in the first place? Well, either the user (with admin rights), or the support analyst (with admin rights) loaded them on.

Herein lies the problem. Any administrator of the local machine can load on whatever they like, whenever they like. Can you manage their local apps? Not in my opinion. You could survey a machine today and have no guarantee that it looks the same tomorrow. So why even try? How can you even begin to contemplate putting a structured deployment program around such moving goalposts? In addition, most people I know that have local admin rights have so legitimately due to their job function, and are perfectly happy to re-load their apps themselves. If you try to make all their apps managed, not only are you forcing the cost of packaging into the organisation, but you are also stopping people doing their job role efficiently.

Of course, I'm not saying you shouldn't use this opportunity for application rationalisation, and where it makes good common sense, to bring applications into the managed portfolio. All I'm advocating is a pragmatic approach. You'll never get completed otherwise.

So how do we get our arms around the application inventory? Well, by creating a list of 'known' applications we are at a good start point. Now we need to know what's compatible with the chosen platform. In previous times, this would involve an army of application coordinators, packagers and testers. Thankfully, this is 2010.

Now I don't usually do this, but I wanted at this point to give a shameless plug to two companies with great products in the application compatibility space because I really believe in what they are doing. They are Changebase and AppDNA. Both have products that will tell you which of your applications are going to work on your chosen platform in a very fast, low-overhead fashion. They'll save every organisation an absolute fortune in getting apps ready and reducing the project timeline. Check them out - it might be the best decision you take on your Windows 7 migration.

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