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Azure RemoteApp Aims To Be Remote Desktop Service Alternative

With the slew of announcements at TechEd last week, Microsoft's new RemoteApp was perhaps one of the most noteworthy ones. It certainly is something IT managers looking to offer secure remote applications or remote desktop services should consider.

Microsoft put a decisive stake in the ground with the preview of Azure RemoteApp, which uses the company's huge global cloud service to project data and applications to most major device types and Windows PCs -- but keeping the app and the data in the cloud. Or if you prefer, a hybrid version lets organizations run the apps and data on-premises and use the RemoteApp to distribute them and provide compute services.

I say Microsoft is taking a different approach in that Azure RemoteApp is not a desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) offering similar to Amazon Workspaces or VMware's Horizon. "We definitely see value in providing full desktop but at this point in time we went after the remote application model because that's what a lot of customers said they really wanted once they started working with this," said Klaas Langhout, principle director of program management for Microsoft's remote desktop team. Langhout demonstrated and let a handful of tech journalists test Azure RemoteApp at a workshop in Redmond earlier this month (just days in advance of the TechEd unveiling).

Microsoft released the preview of Azure RemoteApp last week. Organizations are currently permitted to use it with 20 users but it's scalable for much larger implementations, Langhout said. The preview I got to play with had the Microsoft Office apps but Microsoft said the complete service will support any application that can run on Windows Server 2012 R2. Langhout said other versions of Windows Server are under consideration, but the decision to only support the latest version was because "we need to look at this from an application compatibility standpoint," he said.

Azure RemoteApp is intended as an alternative to providing Remote Desktop Services (RDS) in an enterprise datacenter, which required hardware, storage and network infrastructure to quickly get to onboard employees who need a set of applications and access to data. It's also an alternative to Microsoft's App-V and VDI services. Microsoft may incorporate App-V in future offerings or Azure RemoteApp, though that's only under consideration for now.

"We want to provide these applications on any device anywhere while serving it from a multi-datacenter, highly scaled elastic cloud, which allows a very resilient compute fabric to provide these applications no matter where the end user is, and this is extremely fault tolerant," Langhout explained when describing the goal of Azure RemoteApp. "We also want the customer deploying this to be able to set this up without a large capital expense, no purchase order for a lot of servers to be deployed, no setup required for the management side of the infrastructure."

The management burden is removed from the perspective of not having to manage the infrastructure, discrete role services, licenses or RDS. As long as the remote or mobile user has a network connection, the application is projected via RDS to the endpoint device, which can include Windows 7, Windows 8, iOS, Mac OS X and Android. Windows RT support will be added to the preview in a month or so.

RemoteApp will also appear to organizations concerned about protecting data since the applications and data are never persistent on the device. In addition to protecting from data loss from the user perspective, Langhout said it also protects from denial of service and other attacks. It doesn't require any existing infrastructure including Active Directory, though a user needs either a Windows Live ID or an Azure Active Directory account. A user logs into the Azure portal and selects the RemoteApp Service. Then the administrator can select from the gallery image what applications you want to deploy for your users. A hybrid deployment of Azure RemoteApp does require Active Directory on-premises as well as a virtual network.

Microsoft's deliberate move to emphasize a remote application service versus DaaS looks as if the company is not concerned about Amazon WorksSpace or VMware Horizon. That's because Microsoft believes Azure RemoteApp is a better approach to desktop virtualization. "For a lot of scenarios, especially BYOD, they really don't want the Windows shell impeding with the usage of the application," Langhout said. "On iPad, I don't want to go to the Start menu, I just want to get to the application. As long as you can make it seamless to get to the applications, the Windows shell is not as necessary."

The company doesn't have an official delivery date for the service but Langhout indicated his group is shooting for the second half of this year. Microsoft hasn't determined specifics such as the pricing and subscription model.

If you have tested the preview over the past two weeks or you have comments on Azure RemoteApp, feel free to comment below or drop me an email at [email protected]. Is it a better alternative to DaaS?


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/22/2014 at 1:18 PM


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