Goodbye Azure RemoteApp, Hello Citrix XenApp Express

Microsoft is discontinuing Azure RemoteApp and replacing it with a Citrix solution. This changes the Desktops as a Service landscape, read on to find out all the details.

What is Azure RemoteApp? RemoteApp allows you to deploy Windows applications in the Azure cloud and access them from a range of devices. Originally known as "Mohoro", Azure RemoteApp was released in December 2014.

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Azure RemoteApp Inflexible Licencing

I was disappointed to hear Microsoft had killed Azure RemoteApp, which is strange in a way, as I had never used the service before. I thought Azure RemoteApp sounded quite appealing. A flexible computing ‘desktop’ environment you could connect to from anywhere on almost any device. It even had a hybrid option to provide on-premise access to run custom applications.

What I didn’t like the sound of was the licencing. It’s impossible to say if Azure RemoteApp could have been a success if Microsoft had eased up on the licencing but it may have helped.

Azure RemoteApp was licenced with a minimum requirement of 20 users when bought as a pay as you go service. Let me break that down, say I am trying out RemoteApp with two users, I actually have to pay for 20 full users, irrespective of needing much less than that.

This was restricting small businesses from using this service, as this Azure UserVoice feedback shows:

“We are dealing with alot of Small to medium size business . Most are wanting 1-10 users setup. Remote app give them an easy option to enter in. But at a 20 User minimum. It raises the entry for Small business.”

Microsoft did much later introduce a more expensive Premium tier, this had a minimum requirement of 5 users instead. Further feedback shows this was still a hindrance:

“Still don't get it - for the smaller business, they don't need the "premium" features. Sure, minimum is only 5 users, but price is 2 - 3 times more per user.”

Azure RemoteApp to be discontinued

Out of the blue news came that Microsoft had thrown in the towel, Azure RemoteApp was no more. From the official Microsoft announcement - Application remoting and the Cloud:

Customers have provided us consistent feedback that they want a comprehensive, end-to-end, cloud-based solution for delivering Windows apps. The best way for us to deliver this is with Citrix through XenApp “express”, currently under development.

Perhaps the economies of scale hadn’t paid off with an expensive backend infrastructure needed to provide the service. What was just as surprising, though, was while Azure RemoteApp was being killed off, Microsoft was handing the service over to Citrix.

XenApp “express” combines the simplicity of application remoting and the scalability of Azure with the security, management, and performance benefits of XenApp, to deliver Windows applications to any employee on any device. We will have much more to share on this offering through the coming months.

Not the same at all but it’s a bit like Microsoft saying, we had a good crack at Hyper-V, it’s not worked out, let VMware come in and take it over instead! Of course, Microsoft and Citrix have long worked together, like way back such as with Windows NT Server 4.0, Terminal Server Edition.

Citrix XenApp Express

Little is known about Citrix XenApp Express, not even the name, which is a temporary for now. It will be hosted on Azure and offered through the Azure Marketplace.  Here are the announcements from Citrix regarding Citrix XenApp Express:

Here is how Citrix are positioning XenApp Express:

"In many ways, you can look at this XenApp “express” service as Azure RemoteApp v2.0. You can also see it as the fastest, easiest way to use XenApp in the cloud. Either way, this new service will be the next generation application virtualization and delivery service for Azure"

This is the landing page where you sign up to be notified when the XenApp Express Tech Preview is available.

Key Dates with Azure RemoteApp to Citrix XenApp Express transition

Here are the main dates that I have assembled from the various new sources:

  • XenApp Express to be demoed at Microsoft Ignite at the end of September
  • New purchases of RemoteApp will end as of 1st October 2016
  • Tech Preview of XenApp Express Q4 2016, possible late November
  • XenApp Express general availability in early 2017 and will be offered through the Azure Marketplace
  • Citrix will have a migration tool to help existing Azure RemoteApp customers move to XenApp Express
  • Azure RemoteApp remains supported until 31st August 2017

Closing Thoughts

Microsoft mustn’t have seen any advantage in continuing Azure RemoteApp. It wasn’t the killer app perhaps they were hoping for or Microsoft want to focus more on the core technology, improving Azure etc.

Ultimately, this is a good decision, Microsoft gets to focus on what matters to them most and the value that brings, while Citrix gets to innovate in space that they are still very predominant in.

I’ll be following what happens to Azure RemoteApp closely so look for further updates and check me out on Twitter @CianAllner if you get a chance. Thanks for reading.