Traditional locally installed applications are fraught with problems. It is common for applications to conflict with one another. The removal of one application could remove a file required by other applications, leading to major problems that can cause outages that last hours or days, meaning a devastating loss of productivity and revenue for an organization. Most important of all in present day; deploying traditional windows installers can be slow and unreliable.
Windows installers were designed over 20 years ago, a time when everybody worked in the office on a stable corporate network. This is no longer the case. Even then application deployments were slow and unreliable. There were several shortcomings when using locally installed applications, such as the previously mentioned application conflicts, corruptions leading to applications failing to uninstall or upgrade, applications using the MSI active setup feature creating login slowness and roaming challenges etc. It has just been kind of accepted, particularly for physical endpoints that application deployments can take a while to complete, and a certain percentage of deployments will fail. Administrators have needed to manually troubleshoot failed deployments on a case-by-case basis that could be time consuming and frustrating for admins and users alike.
Containers to the Rescue
Docker containers have been used by developers and infrastructure teams for many years. They enable developers to containerize their applications and quickly share them for testing by their peers. By having their applications in containers, they can be sure every time they are run the application state is the same. It eliminates the old adage, “well, it worked on my machine,” when developers shipped a product that ultimately failed to work. Infrastructure teams found great benefits from Docker containers as they could run multiple instances of databases side by side without a fear of conflicting configurations. They could also run and scale application and web servers quickly and consistently, providing greater speed and agility within IT Operations than ever before enabling automation of complex builds and the adoptions of a DevOps strategy. While the infrastructure side of IT has been harnessing the power of containers for some time, EUC teams have been left behind.
Microsoft acknowledged the challenges of locally installed applications when they launched App-V, promoting its many benefits. Unfortunately, App-V never had truly widespread adoption in the enterprise. Not all applications could work when sequenced, not everyone was willing to setup extra infrastructure to get the quick delivery of apps through the publishing servers, administrators were confused trying to work with App-V’s rigid isolation, and now sadly, App-V has been set for retirement with End of Life estimated for April 2026.
Microsoft has moved onto MSIX which is their modern container format for desktop applications. At the time of this writing, while some large developers like Mozilla have adopted the MSIX format, it is not yet widely used by vendors. However, this clearly demonstrates Microsoft’s vision for the future includes containers.
And why wouldn’t it? Containers have proven to be vital on the infrastructure side of IT. Containers and modern container management have enabled infrastructure – such as server teams and database administrators – to provide robust services with elastic scale. For example, Facebook has been running their services on containers for years, elastically scaling to support all users with enormous success.
Containers have their part to play in Windows application management on the desktop. They can help solve the most common issues the enterprises face today. They eliminate application conflicts, they always remove cleanly and consistently helping avoid Windows rot, they make application updates seamless without any need to reboot, terminate running processes or stop services, and they can be targeted to users removing challenges with roaming user specific components and ending the reliance on the Windows Installer active setup feature – which can slow down logins. Containers also bring tremendous security benefits, which you can read more about here.
Container Orchestration for Enterprise Desktops
At this point, I hope I have sold you on the benefits of containers and how they can benefit End User Computing (EUC) but the containers are only half the story. Pulling down containers and using them with a series of commands is all fine and well for developers and their peers but that is not feasible for end-users. It is also not scalable for thousands of users across thousands of devices. With a widely dispersed remote workforce and a greater range of machines both physical and virtual, on-prem, running across multiple public clouds and even remote and offline. The scale of support for enterprise desktops has drastically changed in recent years. The good news is that containers can be managed at scale for all users be they in the office or roaming by using container orchestration.
In recent years, tolerance levels for poor application management has also changed. As new generations enter the workforce, young people who in their lives have always been able to install and access apps and services on their personal devices almost instantly cannot understand why app management in large enterprises is so inefficient. While some of us old war horses who have been around for a long time may have gotten use to waiting for apps to get to us and accept it for what it is, these new generations rightly question the quality of service. Let’s be real, deep down we all know deployments that take hours to complete are a joke, heck even the dog on the street realizes waiting up to 24 hours for a new app deployment to complete is unacceptable.
The model for deploying and supporting desktop applications has got to change.
Container orchestration enables IT to change the model for application management and modernize end user computing. Orchestrating containers can be as simple as dragging and dropping your containers into an admin portal and assigning them to your user groups. Of course, in a modern corporate environment you need to plan for using Microsoft Entra ID (formerly Azure Active Directory) groups which will help reduce your dependency on on-premises Domain Controllers and potentially unreliable VPNs.
Containers should be platform agnostic. They don’t care if you are running desktops in Citrix DaaS, on-prem in VMware Horizon, on Azure, AWS, Google Cloud Platform or on physical endpoints. You want to have the scale of service that allows you to set it and forget it. Simply assign applications to your users and dynamically deliver them to the users on any device they log into. To achieve this, user targeting is key. Assigning to computer objects is no longer suitable for a world where employees may log into many different machines, in many different locations.
Using the scale of the cloud and modern container orchestration, you can push net-new application deployments, rapidly update applications, instantly remove applications from end user devices, and quickly initiate rollbacks to prior versions for all entitled users.
Containers and modern container management makes software updates low risk
If something goes wrong and you need to roll back an update, you can be confident that the app will roll back to a known good state. When you encounter a failed application update using a traditional enterprise software deployment product, you need to investigate how to fix the bad patch which can take hours or try to roll back to the previous version which could require pushing an uninstall of the patch and then pushing an install of the previous version. This could fail if the application package does not cleanly remove off the systems and even if it does work, it could lead to hours or days of lost productivity. When rolling back an update using container orchestration, applications are always cleanly removed and quickly returned to a good state.
You no longer have to schedule deployments at night and hope they are completed by the next morning.
No more application install related reboots means users won’t get prompted to restart their machine when they login the morning after a new deployment. Employees don’t need to start their workday stressed out by Zoom or Teams updating preventing them from getting on their first call of the day. All application deployments and updates can occur quickly and seamlessly.
Containers with this type of SaaS app delivery should enable an organization to quickly lift and shift their applications as part of their disaster recovery process too. Heaven forbid you are hit by ransomware, you will want to have a dynamic way to deliver your applications without a dependency on your on-premises data centers and corporate network, which may need to be shut down while mitigating the attack.
You also want confidence that if attackers had been squatting on your network for some time that only entitled users have visibility of the applications in your environment, which containers can provide.
Container orchestration does not require a deep intrinsic understanding of a large all-encompassing deployment tool. It can be as simple as upload the apps you know your group of users need and assign those apps together as part of a pod. The high success rate of containerizing apps and the simple workflow and design for managing them makes it for administrators to utilize, which can help when dealing with staff turnover and needing to move people into different roles to keep operations running. Containers can make the art of application packaging and management more accessible to all.
Not only does modern container management simplify and transform how IT handles enterprise application management, it provides the best possible employee experience. Your customers will no longer wonder why getting applications on their work desktops is so painful when getting them on their own personal devices is so simple. They will instead marvel that they no longer even think about their apps. The apps are just always there when they need them, no matter where they are working from or on what type of desktop.
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