From an outside perspective, the past few years have been tricky for AppSense as they have struggled to find their identity. When they acquired RAPSphere, they had grand visions of building a Mobile Device Management and Mobile Application Management platform that could work in conjunction with their classic desktop products. They introduced a mobile data offering, too, and created a set of product names that made them all seem to belong together: DesktopNow, DataNow, and MobileNow. For a while, we thought AppSense was poised to go from the classic UEM company we all knew and loved to a publicly traded End User Computing juggernaut.
Many things happened in the intervening years (say, 2012 and 2013), and during that time, AppSense’s desktop customers grew upset with a lack of stability attributed to the quality of the code. No matter what the cause, the perception was that AppSense was focusing too many resources on mobile and not enough on their classic, existing user base. Partners and customers were upset, and competitors were seizing the moment. This all seemingly came to a head at this time last year. Brian wrote an article about how it appeared AppSense was focusing entirely on mobility after an executive shakeup. As we learned in the following weeks, what was really happening was that AppSense was taking a step back and examining what they really had after a period of rapid growth, less-than-awesome execution, and in the face of angry customers.
As a follow up to that article, VP of Product Management Jon Rolls (a friend of ours for many years dating back to his days at Quest Software) joined us on a podcast to talk about what they’ve been up to in the desktop space and to reassure people that AppSense will remain a desktop-focused company. Part of the conversation was around how, exactly, they were addressing the issues that customers had. They had weekly calls about customer issues, and at the time the calls were quite long. These issues were addressed in a number of service packs to Environment Manager 8.4. They made such strides that when I saw Jon at Citrix Synergy this past May and asked him how long his customer calls were, he said with a relieved look on his face that for the first time in over a year they canceled the call because there was nothing to talk about.
Having repaired the damage with 8.4 and the service packs, AppSense set out once again to start building the product up. This past July, they released the latest version of the DesktopNow suite, which includes Environment Manager 8.5, Application Manager 8.8, and Performance Manager 8.2. Here’s a look at a few of the changes.
Environment Manager 8.5 adds better support for non-persistent VDI, features for DaaS providers, and an easier deployment path that can be completed in “under 10 minutes.”
Better non-persistent VDI support
In the past, non-persistent VDI users had to bake not only the Environment Manager agent into the gold image, but also the configurations, meaning that for any config updates the entire gold image had to updated. Since that’s no fun, they’ve modified the behavior to pull in the config when the VM is started so that it pulls down security and configuration settings on the fly.
Features for DaaS providers
AppSense has been getting serious questions from both DaaS providers and customers looking to move to DaaS, including one customer that is considering 33,000 desktops! [#YearOfDaaS] AppSense already had a service provider program, but to help with technical challenges of DaaS environments, they’ve added the ability to run multiple instances of their software on a server rather than a single, company-specific instance. This lets DaaS providers offer it as an add-on without compromising density, and lets customers use it without throwing off the providers’ models.
“under 10 minutes?”
The latest marketing from AppSense says that you can go from "Zero to DesktopNow in under 10 minutes." Regardless of how long it actually takes, AppSense has been working to make trials easier to deploy, which is something that has been criticized in the past. Your mileage may vary on the actual time, but it should at least be easier to stand up than past versions.
I’ve always like the App Manager product, mainly because of privilege elevation. Yes, I’m aware that other products have it, too, but I like any solution that gives end users flexibility when they need it while keeping it otherwise locked down. It's so much better than adding users to the Power Users or Administrators groups because of one or two issues. What’s interesting about this latest version of App Manager, though, is that the privilege elevation has been expanded to give the user a bit of a self-service experience. In an unforeseen situation where a user needs admin rights, such as installing a printer driver, a user can submit a helpdesk ticket automatically seeking approval. Prior to this version, the application had to be whitelisted and pushed out in a config file.
There’s also an offline approval method, whereby a user without an internet connection can call the helpdesk and get an activation code that allows them to run the install.
I know what you’re thinking. “How often is a user offline, but with phone access?” I asked that question and was told “Surprisingly often.” Apparently multiple customers asked for this feature, and at the very least now AppSense has an answer for the inevitable question, “What if I’m offline?”
In addition to the interest from DaaS providers, AppSense has seen a growing interest from customers using the DesktopNow suite on physical desktops. Some are using it just as they would for a virtual desktop–to manage user environments. Others are using it as a way to repurpose PCs as thin clients. We’ve been talking for years about how most of the UEM solutions on the market are great for physical desktops, too, so it’s good to finally hear that people are using it that way.
AppSense still has DataNow, too, and combined with DesktopNow (which they even sell as a bundle called DekstopNow Plus), more people are using it as a migration tool than before. One of many problems with a migration is what to do (and how to find) the data that may be stored on the local machine. DataNow can do that legwork and then make that data available from not just the now desktop but also mobile devices.
As for MobileNow, it’s no longer listed on the Products page on AppSense.com so it's probably safe to assume that it's no longer something that AppSense is pursuing (though we haven't ever heard any confirmation of that). If AppSense is interested in a mobility solution, they could certainly partner with Citrix and VMware to integrate components like DataNow into XenMobile and Airwatch, though I've yet to hear anything specifically about that.
The bottom line is that with the apparent retirement of MobileNow and the fact that this latest release of DesktopNow is adding features instead of fixing bugs, AppSense is without a doubt a desktop-focused company, and their future looks to be much more stable than the last few years.