Nearly seven months after Microsoft announced Azure RemoteApp (and about 2 years after we started thinking they would do something like this), the offering will be going live tomorrow, December 11, 2014. For me, the concept of Azure RemoteApp is a home run. Instead of worry about the desktop, it lets organizations focus on what really matters today: the applications. Applications are what determine the OS we use, and increasingly there are applications that don’t leverage Windows. Of course that doesn’t mean that Windows is going away, it just means there’s more for us to do.
An enterprise desktop today rarely consists entirely of Windows apps. They are more like a recipe specific to each user–a little of this, a little of that. In this regard, putting Windows aside and giving access to only the applications makes an increasing amount of sense. You can do that with RDSH-like products on-premesis already (and we’ve been advocating that for years), but now there is a growing number of cloud providers that can do this, too. Azure RemoteApp is not a new approach by any means, but it is a new way of thinking for Microsoft that companies might be able to sign off on more easily than solutions from other service providers.
Enough of that. I like it. You get it. Here’s the details:
Tiers & Pricing
There are two different tiers of users, which Microsoft calls “target users.” These target users are either “Basic” or “Standard.” Basic users are lightweight users that are basically doing nothing but data entry, whereas Standard users are your typical Office workers. Naturally, Basic users can do less, (meaning Microsoft can achieve a higher density of virtual machines per host) so that plan is less expensive than Standard. You can see it broken down on the Azure RemoteApp product page.
The pricing model is unique compared to other service providers we’ve spoken to. Basic users cost $10 per user/month for up to 40 hours per month (not week). There is an hourly charge of $0.175 for each hour used over that, with a maximum price cap at $17 per user/month. Standard user pricing starts at $15 per user/month with the same 40 hours per month included, and are charged an additional $0.20 for each additional hour up to a cap of $23 per user/month.
This may seem unnecessarily complex, but it’s actually pretty helpful for use cases where an app isn’t needed that often but takes a lot of effort from administrators to maintain. Users of those apps could cost as little as $10/mo. On the other hand, the most you’d pay per user/month for unlimited usage on the highest tier is $23. That means that for a minimum 20 user environment (more on that later), your costs can range from $200/mo to $460/mo.
I should also add that these prices are inclusive of licensing with regards to Windows. You don’t have to buy RDS CALs or anything.
Cloud & Hybrid
While the tiers and pricing are new, we’ve known about the Cloud and Hybrid deployment models since Azure RemoteApp was announced. If you’re not familiar, a Cloud deployment is one that is completely managed by Microsoft. It uses Microsoft applications, so they can handle all the patching. It uses a Microsoft account or Azure AD, and comes with 50GB of persistent data.
A Hybrid deployment is more complex and allows you to upload your own Server 2012 RDSH virtual machines to Azure with any applications you want (that is, any apps that will run well in a Basic or Standard tier). You’ll be able to tie it into your own AD, join it to your domain, deploy GPOs, etc. Since you created the image and installed the apps, you’re responsible for keeping everything patched and up to date as well as making sure you comply with each applications licensing. Users also receive the same 50GB of persistent data.
In both scenarios, though, once you get set up, Azure takes care of scaling up or down your environment.
Also new with this announcement (or at least to me) is the concept of App Collections, which are basically templates that consist of applications intended for certain groups of users. Each Azure RemoteApp customer is entitled to three App Collections, so you could have one for, say, office workers, another for warehouse workers, and another for salespeople. Each user is entitled to a single App Collection.
It appears to be possible to get more App Collections or to allow users to access more than one, but it requires calling Microsoft and working something out with them.
The other limitation of App Collections is the number of users they can support. To create an App Collection, you are required to have at least 20 users, which effectively sets the minimum number of users required to subscribe to Azure RemoteApp. You can have fewer users, but you will be billed for at least 20 every month. In addition to a minimum, there is also a maximum number of users per App Collection: 400 for Basic, 250 for Standard. As with the other limitations, it appears that it’s possible to work around this by contacting Azure support.
These limitations seem strange. It could be that Microsoft is trying to slowly ramp up the Azure RemoteApp offering, and will relax the stipulations when they have more real-world usage information. Then again, there might be an additional cost associated with changing how App Collections work that is passed on to customers. I know Microsoft is trending upwards again in terms of “getting it,” but we’re not that far removed from having to license a device differently depending on whether or not it was company-owned as well as whether or not it was being used on company property or not. Time will tell.
Paving the way for a true DaaS offering?
It’s only natural to wonder if Microsoft has bigger plans for a DaaS offering upon releasing Windows 10 sometime next year. By putting together a viable solution that delivers Windows apps from the cloud, not to mention creating a per-user license for Windows 7, it would be strange if there wasn’t something in the works. No doubt they’ll be factoring in the data they collect from Azure RemoteApp users if/when they do set out to deliver desktops.