Microsoft’s announcement that it will “gradually wind down" Azure RemoteApp may have caught some users of the cloud-delivery app service by surprise. Even though Microsoft said it will continue to support existing Azure RemoteApp customers until Aug. 31, 2017, the clock is ticking. New purchases of Azure RemoteApp will end Oct. 1.
The move is a result of Microsoft’s expanding relationship with Citrix, which will deliver the successor to Azure RemoteApp with the temporary name “XenApp Express.” What does this mean for Microsoft, Citrix, and current Azure RemoteApp customers?
Let’s start with a look at Azure RemoteApp, which will be depreciated but can still be used for another year. When Azure RemoteApp was launched in 2014, it was pretty revolutionary, especially for a company like Microsoft. Without any configuration, an end user could start a Windows-based application from the cloud. The first release was limited to offering only Microsoft Office applications, but it showed the potential of the product. After the initial release, many features were added, including the ability to launch other Windows applications. While there was lot of interest from small and mid-sized companies, larger enterprise companies were not ready for such an environment.
Unfortunately, the platform had some serious issues and outages soon after its rollout. Other drawbacks: The platform does not have scalability, load-balancing capabilities, and administrator-management capabilities required by many companies. Experiences shared by Microsoft RDS MVPs Freek Berson, Benny Tritsch, and Nicholas Dille showed the potential of the platform, but there were still a lot of pitfalls and challenges. Over time, it became apparent that Microsoft could not get the product where it needed to be, and the platform stagnated.
Meanwhile, Citrix was not eager to enter the cloud market because it didn’t want to hurt the ecosystem of its partners who had already implemented Citrix products. But as competitors started offering cloud services, Citrix had to react and started offering cloud-based products on its XenApp/XenDesktop.
When Citrix and Microsoft announced their expanded partnership, the delivery of Windows 10 desktops was the major topic concerning the VDI/SBC space. Not surprisingly, there were questions about this partnership and how it would affect the services and products both companies offered. Microsoft’s decision about replacing Azure RemoteApp was probably not easy for the company because it confirmed that the product could not become the platform they were aiming for and they could not fix the problems. The agreement with Citrix probably made the decision easier because Microsoft now had a partner to help them deliver a new platform that hopefully will fulfill the requirements for the product.
The partnership announcement may be even better news for Citrix. Microsoft is obviously thinking that Citrix can deliver the infrastructure that Microsoft hoped to offer when it started Azure RemoteApp. Second, Citrix’s customer base will probably grow as current Azure RemoteApp users move to the successor platform delivered by Citrix. If this is going to be a success, the service should be available pretty soon so current customers can see how it works. Also, it will be important to see what the costs will be. My guess is the new platform will be priced pretty close to what Azure RemoteApp costs.
Citrix says that a technical preview of the new platform will be available in the fourth quarter, and early adaptors can sign up for the preview now. There is no date yet when the product will be available, but a good guess is it will be launched early next year.
What the product will look like and which features it will have is not clear at this time. The current temporary name XenApp Express implies that the service will offer fewer features than the current Citrix cloud platform. Probably a no-brainer, as otherwise Citrix would kill off its own existing platform. But Citrix did say the XenApp Express service will provide “enterprise customers with superior performance and flexibility by moving the backend infrastructure to the cloud,” simplifying app delivery “without sacrificing management or end user experience.” So the expectations are high and hopefully Citrix can achieve these results.
For current customers, Microsoft and Citrix are working on migration tools, so that current environments can be easily moved to the XenApp Express service. Do current customers have other options? They can build the environment in Azure IaaS, but then they are responsible for the OS layer was well. Another option is to move to another provider that is offering similar services, but availability is probably more locally based than all over the world.
This is pretty big news, because it shows the power and potential of the partnership between Citrix and Microsoft. I think when the new platform is launched, all parties will benefit, not only Citrix and Microsoft, but Azure RemoteApp customers as well. But it is a necessity that Citrix and Microsoft show the capabilities of the new services and platform as quickly as possible.
Photo credits: George Thomas, Microsoft, Citrix