End of an ARA: Azure RemoteApp is shutting down, Citrix stepping up with new Azure-based service

Azure RemoteApp legitimized delivering Windows apps from the cloud. Now Microsoft is passing the baton to Citrix.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been two years since Microsoft cleared the air around Project Mohoro and introduced us to Azure RemoteApp. The move simultaneously validated delivering Windows apps from the cloud while showing that Microsoft was going to be a driving force in how that was done. In the two years that have passed, Azure RemoteApp, or ARA gathered a lot of interest and had a number of cool features, but suffered from the fact that it just wasn’t manageable or scalable in the ways that companies needed it to be. Because of this, I wrote an article a few weeks ago that speculated that ARA might be transitioned into some other platform, and indeed it has (though not exactly how I envisioned it).

Today, Microsoft and Citrix (more on Citrix in a minute) announced that Azure RemoteApp will be deprecated. It will no longer be sold after October 1, but will remain supported until August 31, 2017. Reasons for the change boil down to the number of enhancements that customers were asking Microsoft to make to address the manageability and scalability of the platform. It’s not an Azure thing–that’s plenty flexible–it’s simply that the way ARA was implemented doesn’t mesh with the way customers wanted to use it.

This kind of thing could almost be expected this early in the cloud phase of IT, especially when it comes to something like desktops and applications that are much more complex than they receive credit for. In this case, it’s like a starter house. You think you know what you want, but a year after you move in, you want bigger closets, a kitchen with a different arrangement, some place to put all those pinball machines, and that whole-house vacuum system you thought would be awesome isn’t as great as you thought it would be.

So Microsoft learned a lot from ARA, and before it got to be “too big to fail” they decided to shelve it and move on.

That doesn’t mean that ARA customers are stuck, and it doesn’t mean that the model of being able to deliver published Windows applications from the cloud is going away. That’s where Citrix comes in.

At Microsoft Ignite, Citrix will be debuting a yet-to-be-named cloud service built on Azure that offers the same high level functionality as Azure RemoteApp, but with a Citrix-based backend. Ignite will serve as the first public appearance of it, and you can expect a Tech Preview sometime in mid-Q4 with an eventual release early next year. This new service will be sold through Azure Marketplace, and the plan is for Citrix to create a migration tool to help ARA customers move to the new platform.

This new Citrix XenApp "express" for Azure (that’s a temporary name for the ARA replacement) differs from Citrix’s XenApp and XenDesktop Service in a number of key ways. While both platforms allow you to publish applications, only the XenApp and XenDesktop Service will let you publish desktops. The XenApp and XenDesktop Service also comes with the full Citrix Studio management capabilities, full Director monitoring capabilities, and unlimited number of catalogs, and can work on any cloud.

Conversely, XenApp "express" for Azure features a simple cloud-based management interface similar to the one ARA customers have now, basic monitoring capabilities, a limit to the number of catalogs (catalogs were called “collections” in ARA) you can have, and only works on Azure. There will be different instance types to choose from based on the expected workload, similar to the way ARA works today with its Basic, Standard, Premium, and Premium Plus tiers for different target user types.

It sounds like Citrix will also continue the Hybrid and Cloud-only models that Microsoft had, though the names might change. In the context of ARA, Hybrid mode lets you install your own applications and connect the RSDH server to your Active Directory. Microsoft would scale this out, but you still had to maintain the images. Cloud-only mode, on the other hand, was a pre-built instance of Windows with only Microsoft apps on it. You couldn’t really change this (though you could bolt on more Azure services like those from CloudHouse to add more applications), but Microsoft would handle all the maintenance as well as the scaling.

Overall, this is a great decision for both Microsoft and Citrix. Microsoft can focus on Azure and the platform, and partners like Citrix can focus on the services that leverage that platform. Sure, you could roll your own ARA and just run your images in Azure IaaS, but then you’re responsible for managing and scaling and everything else, which defeats the purpose of using the cloud to begin with. This new arrangement lets Microsoft do what they do best, and Citrix do what they do best. Plus, Microsoft is sharing what it learned about running Azure RemoteApp with Citrix while Citrix designs the replacement, so we should see a more robust platform that meets customer needs from the start.

If Microsoft continues to lean on partners in this way, perhaps we won’t see a DaaS platform from Microsoft as I speculated last week. That still leaves questions around whether or not we’ll ever see a SPLA license, but this may kick that can down the road a bit. I’m still hopeful, though, that we’ll see it sooner than later.

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