Last week I had the opportunity to catch up with Cloudhouse, makers of a product called Applications Anywhere that is part of the new breed of tools in the Application Management category. Mat Clothier, Cloudhouse’s founder and CTO, has spent many years with dealing with application management, having been with Endeavors (now Numecent) before starting up Cloudhouse. Their original approach was something very similar to what others are doing in the space, combining packaging with a small amount of virtualization to deliver and manage applications more easily than the classic methods (base image, SCCM, App-V, etc…), but recently they’ve made a few changes.
If you're not familiar with Cloudhouse, they were a sponsor at BriForum London 2015. You can view the video of the sponsored session for a complete explanation of their platform. We also recorded an interview with Mat Clothier at their booth:
Their original approach was very similar to the methods we’ve been using for packaging for a long time, and in a lot of ways they still are. There is an agent component that talks to a management server and receives applications, and there is a packaging component that collects installation snapshots in order to build the package. Cloudhouse has focused on selling their product to ISVs since their inception, and in the last year or so branched out to selling directly to enterprises. Most recently, they started working closely with Microsoft to see how Cloudhouse Applications Anywhere can fit into the Windows 10 / Azure movement. What they’ve come up with is interesting.
Microsoft’s plan for Windows 10 adoption and application management is based primarily on Universal Apps, which is a fancy way of saying apps delivered via the Windows Store. Since there aren’t many of those today, especially in the enterprise, Microsoft has created several “Bridges” to turn existing, non-Universal Apps into Universal Apps, which I wrote about a few months ago in detail. Though they’re an excellent first step, but for the most part you’re going to need access to the source code to use these Universal Windows Platform Bridges (the real name, but we’ll stick with Bridges because that’s a mouthful). As such, each of the four Bridges (iOS, Android, Classic Windows, and Web Apps) is intended for use by ISVs, not end users, so they’re not helpful to companies trying to find a way to better manage their own classic Windows apps, especially apps that were designed for Windows XP or IE6.
To address the gap, Cloudhouse has created an Azure-based offering that will soon be available from the Azure Marketplace that places the management component of their offering in the cloud as a multi-tenant service. You can simply subscribe to Cloudhouse Applications Anywhere and manage your applications from Azure. Of course, you’ll still have a packager to create the packages, but once uploaded into Azure, they can be delivered to any user, anywhere. The packager can reside on premises or in the cloud.
This is different from using any other Application Management product, even a classic one like App-V, in the cloud. For example, while you can stand up your own instance of App-V somewhere, you still own and maintain the system. With this new offering from Cloudhouse, Application Management is simply available as a service with nothing that you have to install to make it work.
Cloudhouse’s technology works using a combination of virtualization, redirection, and automated installation, which you can even use to run applications made for Windows XP that won’t run on Windows 7 or Windows 10, applying tweaks on the fly for each platform based on what the application needs. It can also virtualize IE6, a feature that they say Microsoft not only condones, but actually endorses when customers have such a need. That’s right–Microsoft has actually sent customers that need IE6 on Windows 7 or Windows 10 to Cloudhouse. My how the times have changed!
For IE6, they lock the user out of the browser elements that could be risky, only allowing the users to run specific applications. If a user manages to click on a link to an external website, that request is redirected to the default browser on the machine.
Beyond the management stack living in Azure, it’s pretty much the same process. There is one unique element that Cloudhouse can do now that nobody else can: integrate into Azure RemoteApp. By managing application packages from Azure, you now have the ability to add those applications via Azure itself. You still need to create a Hybrid RemoteApp template (as opposed to Cloud-Only) so you can install the Cloudhouse agent software, but from the template itself you’ll have the ability to add Cloudhouse applications.
This is an interesting twist in the Application Management scene. There are products with unique features that set them apart from the pack, and there are others that are simply doing some sort of creative packaging. This gives Cloudhouse an angle that nobody else has right now (though there’s nothing preventing anyone else from doing so), so we’ll have to see how this plays out. Who knows, as Microsoft ever so gently eases themselves into DaaS, this could become a very useful feature to them. In the meantime, Cloudhouse will continue selling the on-premises version of Applications Anywhere, and you can learn more on their website, cloudhouse.com.