Tech Brief

Complex App Provisioning

How composite app provisioning technologies can help .NET rollouts.

The .NET Framework offers compelling advantages for development teams seeking to accelerate the development of a broad range of customer-facing and internal applications. By using .NET's extensive array of services and components as building blocks, organizations can promote reusability, enforce application development standards and ensure that applications will run consistently across different systems and environments.

However, the .NET Framework can introduce challenges in application provisioning and deployment. .NET applications contain many components, as well as complex dependencies, all of which must be deployed properly for an application to run. As such, .NET applications face many of the provisioning challenges common to composite applications, including the need to maintain complete audit trails and a system of record of each production state to facilitate rollback and compliance.

Parallel Deployment
One of the complexities inherent with .NET applications is the high number of components that require parallel deployment. These components include files and folders, assemblies, COM and COM+ objects, registry settings, IIS settings, CAB files and more. In planning an effective deployment, it is critical for these components and their dependencies-including the supporting infrastructure components-to be correctly identified and managed.

The primary means of distributing a .NET application is the Windows Installer package, which bundles the necessary application files, actions and settings. The contents of the installer package differ depending on the application deployment type. Once it has been prepared, the full package is copied to the target server using FTP, Microsoft's XCOPY command-line tool or Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS).

Internet Information Services (IIS)
[click image for larger view]
Internet Information Services (IIS)

An alternative approach is to deploy individually built components. This singular deployment reduces some of the overhead usually incurred in creating an installer package-especially if the application is simplistic, such as a static Web application. With this approach, a basic file-copy mechanism such as XCOPY, rsync or FTP can be used to deploy individual components, such as configuration files and DLLs, from the source to the destination.

Visual Studio also provides a mechanism for pushing individual files to a target server. Through the UI, a project can be copied to another location and the individual files can be selected for deployment.

Beyond the Basics
While effective for individual deployments, basic tools present roadblocks for organizations that depend on the .NET Framework to provide flexibility and responsiveness across numerous customer-facing and internal applications. Manually preparing a deployment is a time-consuming process given the large number of components in a typical .NET application, which frequently number anywhere from 20 to 30 different pieces. As such, it's critical to correctly identify and preserve the underlying dependencies, and this is especially true when frequent incremental changes need to be made in response to changing business needs. As each change request usually requires a new installer package, many organizations collect a number of action items before they're deployed, further eroding efficiency and responsiveness.

.NET applications face many of the provisioning challenges common to composite applications.
In a distributed environment, manual deployment makes parallel distribution to multiple servers particularly challenging and can expose a company to regulatory penalties and other risks if fully synchronous deployment can't be achieved. If one or more deployments fail, development managers have to manually roll back each individual deployment in succession, which quickly compounds the problem.

To realize the full potential of .NET, organizations should look to composite application provisioning tools. Composite application provisioning technology can help developers manage .NET application deployment through the following tools:

  • Distribution technology offering more control, functionality, and flexibility than SMS, MSI, XCOPY and other deployment tools. This includes distribution beyond basic point-to-point file deployment, providing a variety of deployment options such as file-list based or source-target differencing and synchronized, transactional deployment across multiple servers.
  • .NET connectors providing the openness to provision-specific components within a .NET environment such as COM+ objects, GAC assemblies and IIS settings.
  • Integration mechanisms with source control systems and application, portal and Web servers, as well as the ability to perform pre- and post-deployment activities at a variety of trigger points.
  • Responding to change over following a plan

    Composite application provisioning can help development teams manage the complexity of .NET provisioning while enhancing the overall process. By using a technology that is complementary to the .NET framework, organizations can realize its full potential for rapidly and cost-effectively bringing new applications online.
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