SoftGrid Futures and the MSI Utility

There was a healthy discussion on the techcentre around the MSI utility which Chad helped by answering a few valid questions and points around the next release of SoftGrid.

With aspects such as the Lightweight Streaming Server and hints at the deep integration to SCCM R2, I would say the future is bright.

Please feel free to add comments and feedbacks below. Take it away Chad................


I believe there is some serious misunderstanding about this utility and the future of SoftGrid so I thought I would jump in and help clarify things a bit.  At Microsoft, we deal with the mid-market all the way up to the global Enterprises and everything in between.  We also research what our customers are requesting very carefully before we build anything.  We aim to build technology that addresses the broadest possible customer needs. I believe we have achieved that with the SoftGrid platform as a whole including this piece of functionality. You simply have to understand the use case. To be clear, I think the diagram you may have looked at was the version focused on just the MSI utility and not the whole platform.  

The primary value proposition for the MSI Utility is that you can interoperate with SMS, SCCM and third party ESD systems today, without having to wait for the implementation of the entire dynamic delivery infrastructure.  The MSI wraps just the OSD, ICO and SPRJ files, but leaves the SFT separate (due to MSI’s 2 GB limitation). The MSI utility is a very fast utility that produces an MSI somewhere around 10k bytes per package. It is not creating an MSI for installation in any way. All that is in the MSI is a custom action to load and publish the virtual application, and some metadata so ESD systems can understand how to manage the virtual application just like any other locally installed app when it comes to deployment. The MSI and its metadata act as a bridge between the SoftGrid client and the ESD system as the ESD system understands how to take an MSI and turn it into a managed program. Once you have the dynamic delivery environment in place, then you can choose to move to that model for deployment.

Microsoft has NOT said that you are trading one for the other. We are simply giving the customer choices to implement what makes sense for their environment knowing that every environment will have some of the same and some unique requirements. It also has the fringe benefit of working for standalone cases as well.  If the MSI Utility is not right for your environment then you can explore other options.  However, we have received a tremendous amount of positive reaction to the utility.

You are absolutely correct that Microsoft should not focus on application compatibility. In fact, we expressly position so that we are NOT addressing app compat. But let’s be clear on terms here. App compatibility means compatibility between the OS and the individual application. What SoftGrid solves, and solves very well, are application coexistence issues, where the installation, update or termination of an application may have a detrimental effect on the working environment of another application.

We deal with customers who have application counts into the hundreds and thousands. The mere possibility of coexistence issues causes them to extensively test applications for each new app deployment, update or termination. SoftGrid also helps in the case where IT can’t possibly test the application combinations because a user may have installed an application the Admin does not know about and breaks once the application is deployed. Therefore, SoftGrid greatly reduces the complexity of application coexistence. Gartner, Forrester, IDC, and others have identified app coexistence issues as a huge expense and have further justified SoftGrid Application Virtualization as a way to greatly reduce these costs. Perhaps you may not have this issue in your environment. If not, my hat is off to you as you have seemed to avoid what every other Enterprise experiences in one form or another.

I agree that dynamic delivery is a great evolution to software delivery, but it only works when coupled with application virtualization. Without application virtualization, you would have to ensure that the application you are streaming has no possible conflicts with locally installed software or with other streamed applications. With streaming alone, you would increase the complexity. With Application Virtualization alone, you decrease this complexity on a systemic level as has been repeatedly proven by our customers, partners and the analysts.

I would also like to note that there are options coming down the road that greatly expand the functionality in general. As you may or may not know SoftGrid 4.5 is going to open beta in Q4 2007. This release expands the reach of dynamic delivery to include a lightweight streaming server (LWS-no Active Directory or SQL Requirement), the traditional full management server you have today and an update of the MSI Utility. The LWS allows you to put a streaming service on your distribution points, replicate the virtual applications via SCCM (or other ESD systems) and associated manifest files for virtual app description will be published to collections. When the advertisement runs, the virtual application manifest will be read by the client and the virtual application will be published to the desktop. When the user double-clicks the application, the application will stream from the LWS. Updates can be added for the application as well and replicated to the LWS so when the user closes and launches the virtual application, the updates will be streamed as they are today.

In the SCCM R2 release, we will include a deep integration of SoftGrid functionality.  I cannot go into too much detail at this time but I would lile to let you know that what you are asking for is possible with SCCM R2 and MUCH MORE! Please keep your eyes on us as we will disclose the feature set of this integration in the near future,

The world and most certainly the enterprise is not black and white. Microsoft has deeply researched the options including speaking with a large number of customers crossing all levels and verticals of the Enterprise. We have also reviewed our plans with the most trusted of these customers who act as development partners. They all were very excited on this utility and the future plans for SoftGrid. That being said, we certainly DO NOT believe that our work here is finished. We welcome all levels of feedback and feature suggestions as we know we must continually work to improve the product.


Chad Jones

Microsoft MDOP-SoftGrid Product Manager

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