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Microsoft To Roll Out Azure RemoteApp Service Next Week

Microsoft plans to roll out its Azure RemoteApp service next week and it has announced the pricing for the service today.

Azure RemoteApp will be sold as a monthly-based subscription service on a per-user basis. The service has been at the preview stage since May, but it will reach the commercial "general availability" stage on Dec. 11, 2014, which means organizations will be able to purchase access with a 99.9 percent service level agreement.

Current preview users will get switched over to a 30-day trial service starting on December 11, according to Microsoft's announcement. This free trial will end on Jan. 11, 2015.

Azure RemoteApp Offerings
There are two plans, which are outlined at this Azure RemoteApp pricing page. The Basic plan will cost $10 per user per month and is designed for "task workers" using simple Web apps. The Standard plan, which is priced at $15 per user per month, is for "information workers" who use productivity apps such as Microsoft Office. How such apps get classified under the service plans isn't really explained by Microsoft, though. Organizations can subscribe to a particular plan and then easily switch over to the other one, if wanted, according to Microsoft.

Azure RemoteApp will be offered on "pay as you go" Azure service terms, although each user will have 40 hours access to the service each month, according to the pricing page. If the 40 hours get exceeded by a user, Microsoft bills at a rate of about 2 cents per hour for the overage. However, the costs are capped at $17 per user per month under the Basic plan and $23 per user per month under the Standard plan.

There are some nuances to the pricing. Each user is limited to up to 50 GB of storage. Each organization is billed based on using one "app collection," which is Microsoft's terminology for a template loaded on Azure that contains applications. The service permits organizations to create up to three app collections, but it's not exactly clear how having more than one app collection might affect the monthly billing. That appears to be an area of negotiation.

"Customers can contact Azure Support if they require more than: a. One App Collection for each user; b. three App Collections (template images) in the Azure Management Portal," a Microsoft spokesperson explained, via e-mail.

Microsoft bills the service on the basis of 20 users per app collection. It bills for that same 20-user number even if fewer users are accessing the app collection each month. Under the Basic plan, up to 400 users can access an app collection. The Standard plan permits just 250 users to access an app collection.

No additional Azure subscriptions are required to use the service, not even a license to use Remote Desktop Services, which is Microsoft's protocol to establish Azure RemoteApp connections. However, technical support for IT pros can bear some extra costs, which range from $29 to $1,000 and beyond, as described at this Azure support pricing page.

Azure RemoteApp Scenarios
The Azure RemoteApp service lets organizations access their apps remotely over the Internet via Microsoft client applications that work across multiple operating system platforms. Users connect via Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol. Microsoft has RemoteApp client applications available for Android, iOS, Mac OS X and Windows platforms. Windows Phone 8.1 is supported, too, according to Andrew Conway, senior director of enterprise mobility at Microsoft, although it initially didn't support the Azure RemoteApp service at the preview stage. Microsoft even has a Windows RT Azure RemoteApp client, which is notable for enabling Windows RT devices to access older "desktop" or Windows 7-style apps remotely.

Applications that are used with the Azure RemoteApp service run on virtual machines based on Windows Server 2012 R2 images housed in Microsoft Azure, which is Microsoft's cloud datacenter infrastructure. Organizations can also use the service in hybrid scenarios, too, by tapping Windows Server on premises. Linux operating systems that can run in a virtual machine on Windows Server 2012 R2 are also supported, allowing RemoteApp access to apps that run on Linux OSes.

Ultimately, the applications accessed via the Azure RemoteApp service are running atop Windows Server, not the Windows client. Consequently, it's possible that the user experience might not be the same as with traditional, natively installed apps. However, Wes Miller, an analyst with the Directions on Microsoft independent consultancy, had positive things to say about the Azure RemoteApp scenario.

"I've been pleased with Azure RemoteApp performance during the preview," Miller said via e-mail. "But much comes down to how good your Internet connection is, and how demanding the graphic needs of the application are. For many knowledge worker scenarios with a good Internet connection, I think most users will be happy with the experience."

Microsoft expects that organizations might use the Azure RemoteApp service to support mobile worker scenarios, distributed work environments and instances where there's a need to scale application workloads.

"The use cases for this [Azure RemoteApp] capability, in many ways, is very similar to how customers are using RemoteApp [on Windows Server] today," Conway said, in a phone call. "We see it used in mobile scenarios where there's a Windows-based application. The customer or company has decided not to rewrite that [application] for a new mobile paradigm, and so RemoteApp gives them a very easy way to make it available across devices. They publish it, and then their employees can remote-in from any device using these clients. So there's a clear mobile use-case scenario," he explained.

"We also see it used in scenarios where you have got a geographically distributed company," Conway said. "Maybe they have workers in a different geo. Obvious examples might be, say, a call center or a team of developers. And rather than make infrastructure available in that different geography, you just decide to container the applications and all of the data in an existing datacenter and allow them to remote in. And then the third scenario where we see this used is in areas where there is a lot of variability in demand. This is an area where the cloud in particular gives you unique advantages in terms of scaling up or scaling down your deployment. This is where you might have, say, folks coming in for the holidays. You want to make a certain set of apps available for them, and then they leave, and so you can readily scale up and scale down. You might see it in vendor scenarios where you have vendors or temporary workers. You might see it in education … where [students] aren't there at the end of a [school] session."

Conway noted that the Azure RemoteApp service supports organizations uploading their own line-of-business apps to a template. Microsoft added that much-requested capability back in July. It's also possible to tap Office 365 applications. Microsoft's pricing FAQ states that Office 365 ProPlus customers "are allowed to use one of your installs on Azure RemoteApp at no extra cost."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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