Turn to Microsoft RemoteApp Programs when VDI and RDS just won't do

VDI and RDS aren't always the best fit for remote app delivery. For a lightweight approach, try Microsoft RemoteApp Programs in Windows Server 2012.

Remote Desktop Services is one of those Windows Server roles that IT pros either love or hate. If you're not a fan of RDS, consider using RemoteApps, a tool that's updated in Windows Server 2012 to provide lighter-weight remote application delivery.

The main problem with Remote Desktop Services (RDS) is that it's quite challenging to implement. To succeed, you need deep Windows knowledge, and its mere existence violates a basic tenet of IT: Never give users direct access to Windows servers. The shared nature of RDS sessions creates another problem. Not every application works atop RDS, and others can require complicated hacks to get them functioning.

Implementing virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), on the other hand, takes Windows Server out of remote application delivery and allows you to overcome application incompatibilities. However, accessing a full virtual desktop can be great when you're looking for a contained experience, but it can be heavyweight if all you require is remote accessibility for a few apps that aren't RDS-compatible.

For lightweight VDI and application delivery, Microsoft RemoteApp Programs may be just the answer.

What are RemoteApp Programs?

Windows Server 2012 bridges the application and desktop worlds with Microsoft RemoteApp Programs.

This remote application delivery feature does for Hyper-V virtual desktops what RemoteApps did for RDS sessions in Windows Server 2008. Rather than delivering full desktops, RemoteApps enabled the delivery of seamless applications, making apps appear as if they're running locally even though they're actually executing on an instance of Windows Server back in the data center.

In Windows Server 2012, RemoteApp Programs extend this functionality to virtual desktops. You can enjoy all the application compatibility benefits of Windows desktop pools without the headache of delivering full desktops.

Configuring RemoteApp Programs for remote application delivery

You can configure Microsoft RemoteApp Programs for Hyper-V virtual desktops much the same as you would for RDS servers. First, make sure you've installed the necessary RDS components. At a minimum, you'll need at least one server to operate as a Remote Desktop Virtualization Host and Remote Desktop Connection Broker.

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Next, create a Virtual Desktop Collection. To create the Collection, you need a Virtual Desktop Template. The template includes the desktop settings that should exist on every provisioned desktop. It may also include the applications each desktop supports (or you can install those applications after you create the Collection). Just be aware: Applications must be installed on the desktops in the Collection before they can be exposed as RemoteApp Programs.

Once you've created a Collection and the applications are installed, click to view the properties of the Collection in Server Manager. Then, under RemoteApp Programs, click Tasks > Publish RemoteApp Programs. The program prompts you to select an existing virtual desktop that will be used to populate the list of Start Menu programs. The wizard then contacts that desktop to retrieve a list of Start Menu programs that are available for publishing. This process may take a few minutes.

The wizard's second page lists each discovered program. Select the applications that you wish to publish, and click Publish to complete the wizard and create the RemoteApps.

Voila! Users can access and work with an individual, seamless application on a virtual desktop. They can connect with RemoteApps through either a Remote Desktop Web Access website or icons on their local desktop through the RemoteApp and Desktop Connections control panel.

RDS has a long history of connecting users with applications and data, but today's RDS tends to focus on delivering full desktops to remote users. In cases where that full desktop is a bit too heavyweight, RemoteApp Programs in Windows Server 2012 offers seamless remote application delivery, regardless of where each app is installed.

This was first published in August 2012

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