Jun 03, 2015 - 7 Comments - Virtual Vibes -

Planning for App-V Virtual Environments with SCCM 2012

When I first took a look at how SCCM manages App-V connection groups I have to say I was really impressed with the flexibility of the rule based approach of Virtual Environments. Since then App-V connection groups have developed and moved forward, most notably with the recent SP3 release.

I have taken the opportunity while working with my banking client in London to revisit this feature in SCCM to understand how we could actually use this feature in our rollout and to understand if it can really fulfil our requirements. As I stressed in my recent session at Ignite, connection groups should be given adequate planning and consideration in any App-V rollout, after the packages themselves, this feature is second inline as far as management overhead and shouldn’t be an after thought.

So how do Virtual Environments stack up when we actually want to use them in large scale deployment?

Timing

Timing is always a sore subject when it comes to SCCM and a common gripe is that application delivery takes too long. We have been told that the latest service pack brings “improved performance that reduces the time required for apps to display after the first logon for non-persistent VDI environment” but from what I understand this is still no way near instant or close to App-V Server.

So what about connection groups? Well the good news they are not slower, virtual environments are assessed and delivered during standard refresh. This means the gap between application delivery and connection group delivery is minimal, in my testing this was approx. 3 seconds between delivery of two applications and the relevant connection group. You will see something similar to this in your AppEnforce.log:

Installing App-V 5.X virtual environment VirtualEnvironment ID : ScopeId_B69B2597-FF21-4C62-8E63-7390B5BD354F/VirtualEnvironment_73491fa0-ecbc-441d-b75a-1fe175b6862a, Revision: 1, with specified package list:AppvClientPackage.PackageId=”a1d329c8-09d2-4215-91a8-1b5085fa01e2″,VersionId=”95b62102-1931-498e-8376-d688c73a2acf”;AppvClientPackage.PackageId=”f3a60802-d922-4646-88f0-c69c398b45e6″,VersionId=”735ae163-9644-4abb-b35b-eb2539556b02″

This is a big deal as nobody wants applications being delivered without the required connection group, as they will most likely fail until the delivery. This does require that connection groups are defined before or at the same time as application deployment.

If the connection group is generated after application delivery I have found there is an extended wait of > 15mins by default before it is delivered.

Optional Members

The concept of optional members was introduced to the App-V Client and Server in the recent SP3 release however SCCM 2012  had this capability before.

VirtualEnvOR

Using the OR operator to connect members within a group means they will be considered optional for the connection group to be delivered. Keeping packages in a single group where possible therefore increases ease of management and overall flexibility. For example above we have included a mix of plugins within the same group which means they will all be non-mandatory for qualification to receive this connection group.

Targeting

There is no concept of targeting connection groups to collections in SCCM 2012 like how you would applications, Connection Groups are not first class citizens like they are with App-V full infrastructure. Virtual Environments are ruled based definitions and are assessed dynamically client side if and when applicable, they are available globally and you either get them or not.

Also Virtual Environments can only contain deployment types from the application model so anything in the legacy package model cannot be used.

Mixed Member Targeting

SCCM 2012 will only deliver connection groups if all member packages are targeted to either user or machine exclusively. Mixed member targeting is supported with native App-V client and App-V server however this is not a possibility with Virtual Environments in SCCM. This can be a show stopper for some enterprises when planning Connection Group strategy especially when an organisation is moving from machine targeting to user targeting.

Use Any Version

While supersedance can be used to upgrade existing deployment types, the new deployment type must be explicitly specified in the relevant virtual environment, therefore there is no such thing or equivalent feature to “use any version” which the App-V 5.0 SP3 client understands. We can however use the optional OR operator to bring flexibility and accomplish in around about way the same behaviour but this still requires the manual addition of new deployment types.

VirtualEnvOR2

Updates

Updates work as expected, when a connection group is changed in any way, it is reassessed at next policy refresh and updated accordingly.

Creating/Updating the connection group for Virtual Environment ScopeId_B69B2597-FF21-4C62-8E63-7390B5BD354F/VirtualEnvironment_73491fa0-ecbc-441d-b75a-1fe175b6862a. Context: User

Priorities

There are two levels of priority and conflict resolution with connection groups, Virtual Environments unfortunately only handle one of these at present.

The first type of priority is between members of a connection group, this is handled purely by the ordering of members in the console itself, so if one package has a file or registry conflict with another then the highest in the chain will take priority.

The second type of priority is between connection groups themselves, a scenario described in detail here. SCCM currently does not give the ability to set the priority of a virtual environment nor does it handle any conflicts dynamically. So if Package A is a member of two separate connection groups and a user launches Package A, it will fail to launch. That is because SCCM delivers all connection groups with the same 4.2 billion priority value.

powershell2

Due to the above shortfall you should be cautious not to every have a package that would be launched in more than one Virtual Environment.

Removal

Deleting a connection group from the SCCM console means it will be removed (eventually) from the client endpoints at next policy refresh.

Successfully disable and delete the connection group 72cb5e40-772b-404a-87ce-19a979633e37, Version Id eaf0c683-8b6d-47f4-a34e-faea27a19741, Context: User

Interestingly uninstalling a package which is a mandatory member of a connection group does not fail as it would in other deployment methods, SCCM client dynamically will create a new connection group which excludes the uninstall package and then go ahead and remove the package. This basically means an uninstall will always win and take place regardless of Connection Groups the package might be a member of. This could be seen as a positive or negative depending on your perspective. This also means you can end up having a connection group with just a single package as a member:

onememberCG

Before we unpublish the package a1d329c8-09d2-4215-91a8-1b5085fa01e2 version Id 95b62102-1931-498e-8376-d688c73a2acf for S-1-5-21-3366449900-1917713875-2491790561-500, check if we need to remove it from connection group

Predictability

This isn’t something that can be precisely measured and while the sections above detail the behaviour you can expect, predictability can be an issue when working with Virtual Environments in SCCM.

One of the reasons for this is the loose way they are defined which means you might never gain a real grasp on which machines and users might have certain Connection Groups delivered to them. Also timing further expounds this feeling of vague control, for example sometimes after deleting a connection group I have found it is still present on my client the next day.

Summary

So to summarise, Virtual Environments have pros and cons in terms of management with SCCM. It has fell behind somewhat as Connection Groups have improved over time with the actual App-V product and some of these limitations might mean it isn’t a viable way to manage these package relationships if you have a complex environment. In other more simple scenarios Virtual Environments present a easy native way to deploy Connection Groups where timing and flexibility may not be as critical.

7 Responses to Planning for App-V Virtual Environments with SCCM 2012

  1. vigneshwaran

    Good one Thamim.I do have one question here.
    Do we have an option to set connection group priority in SCCM?
    I can see a tab called Order which allows us to increase order or decrease. Does this resemble setting up of connection group priority, like we do in App-v Server console?

    15 Jul 2015 - Reply
  2. vigneshwaran

    Thanks Thamim. I read the post and the comments. From it , I can understand that if A application has B in a connection group and C in a separate connection group, then we cannot set priority and it will fail in sccm. Any updates or hotfix to sccm in progress by MS to overcome this scenario? or this hasn’t been reported yet?

    15 Jul 2015 - Reply
    • Thamim Karim

      Yes, if one application (A) is a member of a group with (B) and another group with (C), then if a user launches (A) it will fail. Microsoft are aware of this however there is no fix for this behaviour at present.

      15 Jul 2015 - Reply
      • vigneshwaran

        Thanks Thamim. So when it comes to connection groups, then App-V full infrastructure is more advantageous right?

        16 Jul 2015 - Reply
        • Thamim Karim

          You could say that, it depends on your environment.

          23 Jul 2015 - Reply
  3. Mohit Kapoor

    Hi Thamim,

    In our environment, we have MS Office as a local/native application. we want to virtualize the Add-in applications for MS Office products. We thought of creating a connection group for all Word Add-ins and a separate CG for EXCEL Add-ins and deploy some package that will manually create the RunVirtual keys. What we observed is, the CG ID is not constant. Also,the problem that we are facing is that, because of our vast infrastructure we can’t go and manually create the RunVirtual key with EXCEL.EXE, WINWORD.EXE and place the pdId_verID. Can you please suggest any workaround for this?

    Requirements: Virtualising MS Office’s Add-In applications and deploying through SCCM 2012 with MS Office as non-virtual/native application.

    Thanks in advance.

    6 Jan 2016 - Reply

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