BMW fires up application virtualisation strategy

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.

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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."

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