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Car manufacturer BMW has 24 production sites in 13 countries, and a high share of important business applications; 1,000 applications to be more precise. Managing and deploying these applications for employees in 250 global locations had become an expensive, time-consuming process.

Even though most of the application packaging has been outsourced to Indian specialists, time zone differences, extensive compatibility testing and communication delays between India and the BMW German IT team has added two or three days to the application packaging process.

Often, BMW goes through packaging and compatibility testing two or three times for a single application. The whole process, from application request through delivery, could take up to four weeks.

BMW faces another problem. Because the application packaging process consumes so many resources, applications have to meet a minimum-user threshold to qualify for packaging and testing. Yet 40 per cent of BMW's applications do not meet these criteria. For those applications, BMW can either pay a partner to send technicians to install the software on employee’s computers, or have the employees get administrator rights to install the applications themselves.

Both of these options were still time-consuming and expensive. Having technicians do software installations cost $54 per visit, with an average of 3,000 technician visits per-year. Employees who were granted administrator rights could accidentally expose their computers to software vulnerabilities when downloading applications, or they might install software that conflicts with other applications.

Adopting application virtualisation

BMW needed to put a stop to the manual labour of installing and supporting software on each desktop. It sought a solution that would increase the number of applications that could be packaged so they could be centrally managed, and one that would also reduce app compatibility testing. In addition, the solution had to work on Windows 7, because an upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7 was underway.

BMW concluded in December 2008 that it could use application virtualization to solve its group packaging and application compatibility problems — and partners and IT staff wouldn't even have to be involved in installations (referred to as zero-touch deployment).

As a Microsoft software assurance customer, BMW had access to MDOP (Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack), a desktop software suite that helps enterprises manage IT environments. MDOP includes App-V, a virtualization tool that changes physical applications into virtual services that can be managed by IT, but are never installed and do not conflict with other applications.

At the end of 2008, BMW evaluated both Microsoft App-V and VMware ThinApp for three months. At the end of this proof-of-concept testing, BMW chose App-V because it is part of the MDOP suite and integrates smoothly with System Centre Configuration Manager, Microsoft's software suite for managing large groups of Windows-based computers.

Though application virtualization is not a perfect technology and Microsoft often sells it as hook to get customers to buy SA licenses, it is a more efficient way to manage PC deployments and protect from application conflicts, say Mark Margevicius, a research VP at Gartner.

"Sure, a customer with a Microsoft SA license is more likely to go with App-V because they get a deal, but that doesn't discount how good the product is," Margevicius says. "For companies like BMW dealing with integration issues, App-V gives them confidence that new apps won't conflict."

Going virtual at BMW

In March 2009 App-V pilot testing began, which entailed sequencing applications, testing deployment of the App-V client, and training staff on how to use it.

BMW used System Center Configuration Manager 2007 R2 to roll out the App-V client to 80,000 PCs. The rollout was finished in September 2009 and then sequencing of applications for production use began. The App-V implementation went live in November 2009 with 20 applications, including Microsoft Office Visio 2007 and Microsoft Office Project 2007 Standard. The initial deployment provided virtual applications to 500 employees.

Currently, 60 of BMW's applications have been virtualized, most of which are internal business apps. All new computers have the App-V client installed, including machines that are being upgraded to Windows 7. All applications — both virtual and physical — are available to BMW employees through an internal Web portal.

Virtualization will now be the main packaging and delivery method for all applications requested by BMW employees. The car maker also plans to virtualize Office 2010 and run it alongside locally installed versions of Office 2007 to evaluate Office 2010 features before it is deployed in production.

BMW is upgrading to Windows 7 from Windows XP and has rolled out to about 300 computers and plans to be deployed to 5,000 PCs by the end of 2010.

To simplify Windows 7 upgrades, BMW is using App-V for future application strategy and MED-V (Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization) — also part of MDOP — to run older applications.

Approximately 3,000 of the company's 64-bit Windows XP computers will be moved to the 64-bit version of Windows 7. BMW plans an upgrade to the App-V client in the third quarter of 2010 for its 64-bit support. App-V will then further support Windows 7 upgrades by enabling virtualized 32-bit applications to run on all of the 64-bit client computers.

In addition to using App-V in its Windows 7 adoption, BMW is also using MED-V, which allows applications that are not compatible with Windows 7 to run in a virtual Windows XP environment on top of a Windows 7 desktop. BMW will deploy MED-V on up to 3,000 computers by the end of 2011, using System Center Configuration Manager.

In the end, Microsoft's App-V has helped BMW reduce application deployment time by 50 per cent and compatibility testing by 90 per cent — from six days to less than a day. By December 2010, more than 400 BMW applications will be virtualized, saving $200,000 that the car maker spent each year on manual installations.