What’s new in AppSense DesktopNow and why this is their most important release in years

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.

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

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.

Application Manager

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?”

Onward

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. 

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How big can AppSense get as a Desktop company? No IPO buzz around a desktop settings company. What will they do now? Be a Citrix/VMware b i t c h, sell? Most likely just stay around and increment. However anything they do to make things simpler is good news. I see they still do stuff around data, so will they kill that also?


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It sounds like they have found a home for data, and that seems to me like it might be the only thing that could integrate with a mobility solution from some other company.


I agree that they're not poised to go public any time soon, but that talk was dialed back over a year ago anyway. What's important, and why I wanted to write the article, is that AppSense has steadied the ship after a period where it was anything but.


From a product side, I'm very happy to hear this as there's a lot of good people over there. The business/financial side might have a different outlook, but I'd wager that even they would think finding a direction and proceeding down it 100% is better than 33% in three directions.


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@Gabe I think you may be missing the bigger picture about what exactly is UEM. Can UEM really be only about desktops? If so, it's a niche space and not a big opportunity that will continue to grow or remain relevant over the long haul. AppSense/RES have/had the opportunity to define UEM to be about ANY ANY ANY. So I've always seen the mobile and data plays as a way to expand their policy engine to be more relevant as user environments become more diverse. The MobileNow, DataNow plays I thought were good plays to step into that and test the waters to get into that space. I think they can still do that better than VDI or EMM vendors and build out from their base. If they do that in combination with simplifying their solution, execute well, love their partners I think they can do ok. I think UEM to date has been an opportunity missed and the focus shifted to layers vendors. I think UEM still has the potential to matter if somebody has the coverage to say FU to a desktop only focus. The world is about ANY ANY ANY so solutions that enable this world including the desktop matter. Desktop standalone companies are the walking dead. The future has to cover diversity.Good luck to them, I just hope they don't listen too hard to those telling them to stick to desktop only and destroy their business in the process.


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Nah, UEM isn't just desktops. I'm just saying that AppSense wasn't doing a good job of preserving their desktop product and customers while they tried to go down the mobile path, too. (Their take may be different...I'm just going off of conversations I've had with customers and consultants). Rather than stay on that trajectory, they got out of it.


I was excited by the AppSense message back when they were talking about the combination of MobileNow, DataNow, and DesktopNow. I'm disappointed that the vision wasn't realized, too. But I think that moving into mobility while the desktop side suffers isn't the right path, either.


AppSense is sitting on a lot of IP that they could still find a way to use. Maybe someday we'll see it again, but from my perspective this circling of the wagons wasn't a bad call.


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@Gabe, having spent a lot of time working on AppSense products over the years, I would not give equal credit to everybody you speak to. :-) It's worth digging a little deeper and I'll give you my perspective and you can take it for what it is. The 7.0 product line was reasonable. Then 8.X, specifically 8.1 if I recall correctly was  a crappy release. Add to this the addition of personalization server and things got very messy. This made many loose confidence and it screwed up lots of people. With greedy man CEO and IPO ambitions, partners were getting squeezed as well, so this resulted in even more blood boiling including mine! Based on conversations I had with AppSense product management over the years, clearly a big screw happened moving from the 7.0 to 8.0 edition. I blame crappy execution. When I pressed the issue at the time, I was told they were aware of the issues, and a big effort was under way to bring together their various agents to help simplify the product and make it easier to use. So a big architecture change was happening to address a lot of the stability challenges for the future. In the mean time, we were left to fight the product as is, and had to invest a lot to make it work. This is why I soured on AppSense, it's was just too big a resource drain and too complex to run at scale. An army of experts that you can't find is needed to make it work. Perhaps the changes in the new architecture will help, I just don't know yet. So when you talk to frustrated people, this IMO is what they are really saying by claiming that there is too much focus in other areas. How many of these EM/AM/PM resources worked on Mobile/Data or had the skill sets? They bought a company for that, did some things and built a reasonable data product. I don't see that as lack of focus, it's diversification to make UEM matter looking forward. Sure that money could perhaps have been spent instead to shore up the existing architecture, but can more women make a baby faster? We all know they were also hiring a sales army also at the time to sell a product that they couldn't due to issues, so that's also a lack or focus or denial/greed in this case. So let's not confuse bad execution and architectural change with diversification which will be a nail in the coffin if they don't go beyond desktop. I can't see a reason to invest all the people that it takes to run AppSense if all they do is Desktop. Even RES has learned that lesson and has started to diversity with their IT automation offering.


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Many firms that tried Appsense and had issues with 8.1 or prior releases.  To make matters worse Appsense pricing model did not made it easy for CIOs and approve a large expense just to do UEM.  Many firms settled on their own internal scripting profile solution, some went with RES since they cost 1/2 the price of Appsense.  Many use Citrix Profile Mgmt.  In order for Appsense to win back customers they need to lower the licensing cost and give out more test keys or some type of limited version to let people try it out.  They better do so quickly before Microsoft UE-V get its act together.


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