Integrating Droplet Computing containers with VMware App Volumes, UEM and JMP

Michelle Laverick – Chief Technologist

Following my recent work with Horizon View and Instant Clones, I decided to push things forward and see how well Droplet Computing containers could leverage and integrate with the wider suite of EUC technologies from VMware. There’s quite an array of tools at the disposal of the administrator. So far, I’ve opted for the more “classic” approach of installing our software into the base/master image, and then leveraging Active Directory GPO logon scripts to prepare the environment for the end user. This works pretty effectively, but I was conscious that it was looking decidedly 1990s/2000s in the approach. I say that without any disrespect to the methodology – its tried and tested, and importantly utilizes existing management technologies that are built into the platform.

As ever though things have moved on in our industry, and the general direction of travel is towards deploying technologies that “layer” the components that make up the user’s desktop experience. VMware, like other large vendors operating in this space, has a suite of technologies that deliver on this approach. The goal of this layered approach is to move away from a potentially “bloated” persistent desktop where all the software, settings and other user data are bonded/fused together in a single monolithic layer. The gains should be easier management and the ability to deploy and decommission applications and services, there should also be performance and stability gains with fewer chances of conflicts and slowdowns that have been an issue in the past.

VMware’s architecture diagram gives you an idea of a common layering model and helps conceptualize what various technologies can (and cannot) do.

VMware JMP Management Strategy

You can see the Just-in-time Management Platform “JMP” Server as an orchestration tool which brings all these components together under a single umbrella to build, deliver and customise/personalise an end users virtual dekstop machine on demand.

I’ll be writing a more formal integration guide shortly, but I won’t be covering a blow-by-blow the configuration of App Volumes, UEM and JMP as that’s out of scope for us, bit if you’ve not used these technologies before, then there are three QuickStart guides available as part of VMware’s TechZone series which I followed myself to stand-up my lab environment.

  • App Volumes:

  • User Environment Manager (Recently renamed Dynamic Environment Manager)

  • Just-in-time Management Platform (JMP):

So, in my case, Horizon View handles the Instant Clone process of deploying new desktops or application pools. App Volumes allowed me to deploy an “AppStack” containing the Droplet Computing software, and UEM allowed me to push out the settings (actually just a collection of .json text) files to prepare the Droplet Computing environment for the user the first time they use our container. Finally, the JMP Server enabled me to orchestrate all these components together in a single workflow.

App Volumes works by the administrator creating a base “Provisioning” VM based on Windows 10/2016 with just the App Volumes agent installed and snapshotted for easy reset purposes. This is used as a “capture” VM that captures the installation of the software. This can then be “assigned” to an Active Directory Group using the App Volumes Manager.

App Volumes Manager AppStack created for delivering containerised Office 2003

This assignment does the job of seamlessly mounting a volume to the virtual desktop machine (it’s not displayed with a drive letter assignment) effectively ‘merging’ or ‘layering’ itself in to the underlying OS disk to provide the application. All an end user will see is the app. In this case the Droplet Container App.

Next, using VMware’s UEM Application Profiler, the settings that make up the Droplet container environment can be captured as well.

Capturing the container settings with the UEM Application Profiler

The output from the Application Profiler can be copied to the UEM Server, in to the UEM_Config shared folder. Being stored as a central configuration enables the Droplet Container App configuration to be automatically when a new user runs the container for the first time.

UEM Application Profiler settings for the Droplet Container App

Once we reload the UEM Management Console, this shows the Droplet Container App listed under the Personalization Tab and in the left-hand navigation under the General –> Applications entry as shown:

UEM management console with Droplet Container App settings

In this example, the virtual desktop machine is running Office 365 as an AppStack. Then, with the Droplet Computing container running with Office 2013 installed, this provides both modern and legacy applications within the same Windows desktop.

Virtual desktop running layered O365 and layered container running Office 2013

So, in the above example we start with an end user logging on to a clean and new Windows 10 virtual desktop machine. The virtual desktop machine is built on demand using VMware Linked Clones. O365/Office 2016 is then delivered to the Windows 10 virtual desktop as a layered applications (AppStack).

The Droplet Container App is also delivered as a layered app via an App Volumes AppStack, and once the Droplet Container App is launched, the end user has access to both modern and legacy applications in a completely stateless environment. Each set of apps and their settings is taken care of using VMware Dynamic Environment Manager.

In summary, by combining VMware’s App Volume layering solution, with UEM, and JMP to build dynamic virtual desktops on demand coupled with our container software creates an easy-to-manage environment for modern and legacy apps.