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Microsoft disses DaaS with Azure RemoteApp

The upcoming Azure RemoteApp cloud service from Microsoft bypasses DaaS and delivers apps to mobile devices without Windows. In part one of this two part story, we look at why Microsoft sidestepped Windows.

Microsoft's upcoming Azure RemoteApp cloud service sidesteps DaaS and allows IT to deliver apps to mobile devices without Windows -- a move that strays from the company's archetype but boosts its other ambitions.

Microsoft has no plans to deliver Windows desktops as a service (DaaS) from Azure, or any intent to change its Services Provider Licensing Agreement (SPLA) to support delivery of Windows clients from public clouds, according to Klaas Langhout, principal director of program management for Microsoft's remote desktop team.

Instead, the company built Azure RemoteApp, now in preview, to give IT pros a way to run Microsoft apps in the Azure public cloud for better scalability, simpler management and faster updates. End users access app collections through a client installed on their Internet-connected laptops, tablets or smartphones.

Microsoft steers clear of DaaS

Microsoft claims its decision not to offer DaaS on Azure had nothing to do with the changes it would need to make to the SPLA. Rather, the move was based on customer feedback that end users want apps from the cloud, not full desktops, Langhout said.

There is no doubt at all in my mind that Microsoft is right in saying users want apps, not desktops.
Simon Bramfittanalyst, The Virtualization Practice

Customers told Microsoft that opening a remote desktop client on a mobile device, then navigating through the start menu to find the applications they need is too time-consuming compared to accessing apps directly on a device, he said.

"We wanted to respect the design philosophy of the device, rather than enforcing the Windows design philosophy," Langhout said. "We basically provide a single launch point for all apps provided remotely."

But that time-consuming desktop navigation process Langhout describes is exactly what Windows users have done for decades.

"Is Microsoft telling us that it was wrong all this time?," said Simon Bramfitt, an industry analyst with The Virtualization Practice, an IT analysis firm based in Austin, Texas, who recently wrote a blog post on Azure RemoteApp.

Bramfitt "grudgingly" accepts Microsoft's explanation for not delivering DaaS, but points out the major licensing changes required for DaaS may have played a role. The revenue gained from DaaS could have been less than what it would lose if it had to change its licensing rules, Bramfitt said.

More on Microsoft RemoteApp

The Microsoft RemoteApp client for Windows RT devices including Microsoft Surface 2 is giving new life to the ARM-based devices, which aren't designed to run business apps. Azure RemoteApp also works on Apple iOS, Mac OS and Android.

"However, there is no doubt at all in my mind that Microsoft is right in saying users want apps, not desktops," Bramfitt said. "The mobile device revolution has proven this; we have managed for years without anyone questioning the lack of [Windows] on a phone or tablet, and in a technology world shaped by mobile-first strategies and cloud storage, the desktop is declining in importance."

Microsoft, under the leadership of CEO Satya Nadella, certainly appears to recognize this and Azure RemoteApp is one example of Microsoft's momentum toward mobility and cloud enablement.

"They are encouraging change and innovation, and RemoteApp is a good example of what Nadella said in his recent six month letter to employees, said Mark Bowker, an analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group, an IT analysis firm based in Milford, Massachusetts. "They are thinking beyond what they have always done, and looking to innovate."

While telling people they don't need Windows to run Windows apps is a welcome change, leaving legacy applications behind is not -- and that may be what is happening with Azure RemoteApp, said Aaron Ebertowski, lead infrastructure architect at Nimbo, an enterprise cloud solutions and migration services provider based in Houston.

With support only for Windows Server 2012, legacy apps won't work on Azure RemoteApp -- a major limitation among a handful cited by early testers.

In part two, we discuss the pros and cons of Azure RemoteApp, including benefits and limitations.

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Should Microsoft have delivered DaaS?