Azure RemoteApp – Windows apps on any device

By | 29th June 2015

Turns out there is demand and market for making windows apps (legacy apps and not so legacy) to run on any platform. Ever wanted to run full windows desktop experience Microsoft Office on Linux? Or maybe iOS, Android, Windows Phone? Well, the iOS dream will come true, but Linux is still not supported (as of 29-Jun-2015, and suggestion “under review” from May 2014) with some other minor things to consider.

Citrix Systems is a S&P500 company that has done pretty well for itself by developing products and services around this area – XenApp, XenDesktop and similar solutions that make it possible to transmit the application visual data to remote devices, while running the applications/desktops in an isolated server environment. Citrix has a variety of other products and solutions – cloud, network, storage, virtualization.

Microsoft has always tagged along with their Window Server Terminal Services, Remote Desktop Services and even RemoteApp Windows Server 2008 R2+ role.

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Now, following the Cloud hype and trend, there’s a new service offering – Azure RemoteApp that combines the above Windows Server Role concept with a Cloud service offering. Some sources quote this as “application as a service”, I would categorize it as “infrastructure as a service” (IaaS); most customers will still end up managing the underlying OS and software.

Microsoft comes with pre-build templates for creating your RemoteApp environment – cloud (a couple of clicks, but no custom images, business apps or settings) or hybrid (configure VPN connectivity for your back-end apps, upload custom images and configure settings).

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High level cloud and hybrid solution design.

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And on the device it’s all neatly packed and displayed via a client application, that’s available for download on a number of platforms.

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Meanwhile – I couldn’t pass the opportunity to demonstrate this “other” screenshot. Powered by Citrix Systems!

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Here’s a peek at the Azure RemoteApp Android client.

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For non “enterprise level” customers it’s a great solution if seeking the functionality offered. People who rely on old legacy software and want to have it quickly available cross-platform or to a remote branch office will be pleased.

For enterprise level customers nothing beats the flexibility of XenApp/XenDesktop solution. Microsoft is years of development from “catching up” on the functionality of XenApp/XenDesktop and it doesn’t really seem like they’re going to do it to cross paths with one of their biggest partners.

It would be great to imagine that in 10-15 years all platform dependant applications will be gone (except maybe heavy graphics apps, but even so – turns out there is a US company “LiquidSky” that’s offering game/app streaming services) and all apps will be web based or universally available on all platforms.

I liked:

  • Ease of setup
  • A lot of licensing headache is gone, no need to purchase anything extra, choose a plan, get RDS/CAL/Office/OS licenses included
  • Easy scaling

The bad:

  • Maintenance (changes) is a bigger headache than ever. Minor changes require a complete image re-upload and causes downtime
  • Limited manageability features (no session shadowing for support, no specific app for specific user)
  • Lacks some quality improvements for user experience – automatic login to onedrive/office, desktop or device shortcuts to separate apps, file type associations on managed devices.

Misc:

  • New app updates require the whole image re-upload, update process results in downtime for the users. It’s also a common suggestion for improvement on Microsoft boards.
  • Billing is for 20 users minimum, there’s also a cap on how much you can get billed for (even if users are really heavy on using Cloud resources – CPU, Memory and Bandwidth). Check pricing.
  • You can map local drives and USB Devices, but drive mapping and USB device redirection control has no user interface, Azure PowerShell will help you out.
  • You will need a public domain name to configure the hybrid collection. Aswell as extensive permission to the local Active Directory (Enterprise Administrator) and permissions/skills to setup a VPN tunnel. I recommend checking the requirements before starting out.