Azure RemoteApp Preview at Microsoft TechEd

Boom! During his keynote at Microsoft TechEd North America, Corporate Vice President Brad Anderson announced the availability of Azure RemoteApp preview. Like many other virtualization experts, I was waiting for this moment as we’ve all heard rumors about the project code named “Mohoro” since a couple of months. Despite the fact that Brad only covered it briefly, it instantly created a substantial buzz in the virtualization community. Fortunately, there was an entire TechEd session about the details of Azure RemoteApp within less than two hours. And only 24 hours after attending the keynote, Ruben Spruijt and I were on stage in a packed TechEd breakout room, delivering a session titled “An Insider’s Guide to Desktop Virtualization” which allowed us to refer to Azure RemoteApp. In the following I want to give you a brief overview of how Microsoft’s “new” way of delivering Windows applications from the cloud works.

In a nutshell, Azure RemoteApp is what Microsoft describes as “Windows Server session-based applications hosted in Azure”. This means that Windows applications are delivered in a seamless mode from Azure to the client which makes them appear as if they were running locally on the client side – find more details about RemoteApp in my post Seamless Remote Apps Reloaded. Now there are two different options of how to use Azure RemoteApp: The Cloud Deployment variant is built on top of pre-configured Remote Desktop Session Host server VMs with Office 2013 Pro installed. It is fully managed by Microsoft and its goal is rapid application provisioning and automatic system maintenance by not allowing any configuration changes of the server image. RDP 8.1 (RemoteFX) is the remoting protocol and client platforms range from Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1 to iOS and Android, with Windows RT, Windows Phone and Mac OSX coming soon. Up to 20 users can logon in the preview phase after their existing Microsoft accounts or corporate credentials are connected to Azure AD through federation. All personal application settings are preserved in a User Profile Disk stored on a personal 50GB OneDrive folder that is assigned to each Azure RemoteApp user account.

The Hybrid Deployment variant of the Azure RemoteApp preview is for more advanced use cases. In essence, it allows you to install your own applications. To do this, you need to build your own Windows Server 2013 R2 RDSH server VM including all applications, upload the VM to Azure, assign it to your Azure RemoteApp subscription, and take care for the maintenance of the VM. All this requires more infrastructure including an Azure VPN, but it still looks doable. If you want to learn about the details of Azure RemoteApp, check out Windows Apps in the Cloud: Introducing Microsoft Azure RemoteApp and Microsoft Azure RemoteApp Demo on the MSDN Remote Desktop Services Blog.

Throughout all four TechEd conference days, there were several breakout session explaining Azure RemoteApp from different angles. It looks like Microsoft is taking this technology seriously now. There was even a Microsoft speaker specialized in dev topics who asked me to walk him through the details of RemoteApp while preparing his own session in the Speaker Ready room. So this is a big step – maybe not so much for virtualization experts, but clearly for most of the IT experts dealing with Windows application deployment and development.

At this point it is important to note that Azure RemoteApp is *not* a VDI solution. There are no full desktops included, it’s all about the Windows applications. And they run on a Remote Desktop Session Host platform, formerly known as Terminal Servers. So there is no need to change the licensing model as RDS CALs are working perfectly well for Azure RemoteApp. On the other side, Microsoft kind of silently introduced Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 VMs on Azure, but they are only meant for developers and are only available within MSDN subscriptions. Even though it is technically possible for “ordinary” users to use such a Windows Client VM, this is not a real VDI solution. So despite the Azure RemoteApp announcement, most of the statements I made in my post ‘Is There a Microsoft “Mobile First, Cloud First” Strategy for VDI?‘ are still relevant.

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