Tales from the Cloud - Leveraging Cloudhouse Applications Anywhere for increased deployment flexibility

Published: Wednesday, March 11 2015

One of our customers is a healthcare application software provider who has software installed on hundreds of thousands of desktops deployed within hundreds of hospitals across the USA.  With this scale of installed base, they have been rethinking the process behind rolling out new software releases to customers.  It turns out that the average cost of upgrading software within a typical hospital extends into the tens of thousands of dollars per hospital, per release.  Put into context, the rollout cost of just a few point releases within a hospital over a couple of years is of the same order of magnitude as acquiring, for example, a diagnostic scanner.  In an era of shrinking budgets, it’s obvious in which direction a hospital will choose to spend its money.  From a customer satisfaction standpoint, the majority of hospitals are often using old software releases and regularly complain about missing functionality which, ironically, is usually present in the current release.  Our customer's software support costs have escalated because they must support an increasing set of legacy releases stretching back years.  

How did this situation come about and how has it been resolved using Cloud Application Virtualization?

Healthcare software in general demands a high degree of integration between multiple software products from multiple vendors and physical devices, all interoperating on a Windows desktop.  All these components have dependencies on platform release levels (browsers, libraries, .NET, Java runtimes as well as operating system releases, and so on).  Putting to one side the time and cost of pushing out and installing new software on each desktop, it’s the cost of managing and resolving incompatibilities between all of the interoperating software and device components that presents the major headache every time any component changes its release level.  So when our customer pushes out a new release, interoperability testing and rollout costs extend into months of elapsed time and incur the significant direct costs referenced above.

The classic solution in this scenario is application virtualization, a technology invented to eliminate conflict by isolating application software components from underlying platform dependencies and from other software components.  However, for our customer, the last part of this statement rendered traditional application virtualization unworkable in practice, precisely because it does such a thorough job of software isolation.  So whilst integration with commonly deployed software such as MS Office comes pre-implemented in all app virtualization products, support for domain-specific solutions (by necessity) is not and interoperability is very hard to achieve as a result.  Given the nature of healthcare software, integration is a key requirement.  As our customer found, if they went ahead using traditional app virtualisation they would need to load everyone’s software bits into the virtualisation “bubble”, including products supplied by 3rd parties, in order to preserve interoperability.  They spent a year investigating this approach and concluded that it was a non-starter. 

Cloudhouse brought a new approach to the table.  Our Applications Anywhere (AA) system implements a new approach to app virtualization called “Open Containerization” which, simply put, preserves all the benefits of traditional approaches without any of the limitations around integration and interoperability. Our solution provides five key capabiltiies:

  1. Reliable deployment – the Cloudhouse Open Container includes all of the required components, including application software, a compatible IE browser release, required ActiveX controls and other libraries, to ensure that the application will “just run” in a self-contained manner;
  2. Open integration – the customer’s application calls out to 3rd party software products which may require different browser releases as installed on the default desktop image.  Our Open Container technology allows all existing integrations to work as though the application were locally installed.  Critically, the benefits of app virtualisation – ensuring that different browser releases can happily coexist on the same system for example – are fully preserved.  Furthermore, the customer application is now fully portable across Windows releases, from XP to 8.1, and across x32 and x64;
  3. Zero touch deployment – Cloudhouse implements a branded app store accessible on the web from where customers can click to download their applications which then just run.  There is zero installation involved and our customer can control entitlement, application persistence, desktop shortcuts and so on, remotely.  Hospitals users can gain access to the latest application software releases with all barriers to timely deployment eliminated;
  4. On-going remote management – With a Cloudhouse Open Container deployed onto each hospital desktop, our customer can centrally control the software upgrade process which, from the hospital user's standpoint, happens silently.  Furthermore, our customer can control the implementation of test and production application instances and the migration between these instances centrally with minimal effort;
  5. Enhanced security – Our customer’s application is implemented as a web app and runs within a browser.  Cloudhouse Open Container technology allows the browser’s functionality to be locked down so that the URL bar and user configuration settings are disabled such that the browser can only communicate with the application’s server and database tiers.  The browser therefore acts like an extension of our customer’s application and is secured and isolated from any external threat.

IN SUMMARY, our solution has transformed how our customer’s web application can be deployed within a complex, highly-integrated, multi-vendor environment with significant commercial benefits delivered to both our customer and their hospital users alike.  Application upgrade and on-going management costs and timescales are slashed and our customer can release software with a more frequent cadence to deliver regular functional enhancements to users.  The Cloudhouse solution is currently deployed within a handful of early adopter hospitals and will be publicly launched at the HIMSS healthcare conference in Chicago during the first week in April 2015.

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