The MSI Utility for Microsoft Application Virtualization is a new solution accelerator planned for Q4 CY2007 that expands SoftGrid’s interoperability with SMS 2003 and SCCM 2007. In particular it enables the distribution of virtual applications via SMS/SCCM in a way that is product version agnostic — i.e. it supports migration to SCCM 2007 or SoftGrid 4.5 independent of each other. In addition it enables the distribution of virtual applications with or without a software distribution solution. The FAQ below explains what the new extension is, the customer benefits and the technical implementation.
What is the MSI Utility for Microsoft Application Virtualization?
The MSI Utility for Microsoft Application Virtualization enables the distribution of virtual applications without streaming. Instead, it is using Windows Installer (previously known as Microsoft Installer) — a standard format and a service for deployment, configuration and component management on Microsoft Windows systems — to load and configure virtual applications.
The solution extends the deployment capabilities of SoftGrid Application Virtualization by providing a distribution method interoperable with a broad range of software distribution systems, such as Microsoft SMS or System Center Configuration Manager for enterprise wide deployments, or a network share or CD for simpler deployment scenarios. Virtual applications distributed via the MSI Utility are configured using the Windows Installer service and fully loaded into the SoftGrid cache for use in a stand-alone mode, without connectivity to System Center SoftGrid Virtual Application Server.
The new extension is a successor to and a substitute for the SMS Connector. It extends the utility of the SMS Connector in several dimensions and provides interoperability between SCCM and SoftGrid 4.1/4.2.
What is the rationale for the capabilities?
Simply stated, it is “future proof interoperability”.
The primary motivation for the new functionality is to make SoftGrid interoperability with systems management future proof — i.e. preserve the investment customers and partners make in application virtualization and other software distribution systems.
The current SMS Connector is version specific and depends on both SMS 2003 and SoftGrid 3.2/4.1, without an easy migration path to planned future releases, such as System Center Configuration Manager 2007 or SoftGrid 4.5. Therefore, any investment in deploying the current connector will inevitably have a limited lifespan. Since both SCCM 2007 and SoftGrid 4.5 are planned to be released within the next year, it is imperative to provide a connectivity solution that preserves the investment made and supports transparent migration to these new releases.
Why the Windows Installer Application Virtualization Extension?
The MSI Utility makes virtual applications appear as traditional Windows applications for the purpose of distribution and deployment, thus offering out-of-the-box interoperability with a broad spectrum of deployment systems and methods. The following matrix summarizes SoftGrid interoperability strategy with other distribution systems or methods.
The MSI Utility for Microsoft Application Virtualization and SoftGrid Architecture
“File based distribution”: network share, media based distribution (CD, memory key, etc) or other ESD.
How is the new extension licensed and packaged?
The MSI Utility is an integral part of SoftGrid 4.5. For customers with earlier versions, the new solution will be available as a free downloadable utility. It will require an update to 4.1/SP1 or 4.2 SoftGrid client but no changes to sequenced applications or to the sequencing process.
When will the extension be available?
Availability is planned for Q4, CY2007.
What’s the future of the SMS Connector?
The SMS Connector is being deprecated due to its limited utility and expected lifespan.
The recommendation for customers with the SMS Connector already in production is to continue to use it but plan to migrate to the MSI Utility upon its release. For customers evaluating interoperability with SMS 2003 or SCCM 2007 the recommendation is to minimize any investments in the SMS Connector and plan for deployments based on the MSI Utility for Microsoft Application Virtualization instead.
How does the new extension work at the technical level?
The MSI Utility consists of two components:
1. An MSI Packager Utility
which takes the sequencer output and encapsulates all files (.sft , .osd , .ico) necessary for a virtual application to be installed on a single device in a MSI formatted package (MSI wrapper).
2. The MSI installer
which leverages the SFTMIME command set to (a) configure the shortcuts and file type associations; (b) load the application into the SoftGrid cache; and (c) register the application package with Windows Add/Remove Programs.
The MSI installer can execute either in unattended mode (in case of SMS/SCCM deployment to a target machine) or under user control (in the case of media based installation). In both cases the application is deployed and authorized machine wide.
Applications updates are delivered in a similar fashion. The application is updated in the sequencer, packaged as an MSI through the utility, the MSI is distributed to the target machine and when executed, the updated application replaces the existing one.
The MSI Utility deploys applications to stand-alone SoftGrid clients only. Clients (occasionally) connected to a SoftGrid Virtual Application Server typically use streaming for application deployment.
What is the support policy for this solution accelerator?
Support for the MSI Utility for Microsoft Application Virtualization will begin once the solution accelerator is released and conclude 12 months after the release of Microsoft SoftGrid Application Virtualization version 4.5. Version 4.5 will have the same functionality built directly into the platform making the standalone MSI Utility unnecessary. Migration to 4.5 will be required post the support close date as only version 4.5 will be supported at that time.