I took an in-depth look at Microsoft Azure RemoteApp in June this year, praising its performance and ease of use while drawing attention to missed opportunities and unanswered questions. Now, five months later, Microsoft has taken the plunge and opened the door to paying customers, and it’s not at all bad.
From a features perspective, the big change between the preview I looked at in July and today’s release is that Microsoft has extended the service to include support for App-V. When I first assessed Azure RemoteApp, I voiced concerns that potential customers, especially those that cut their teeth on Citrix XenApp, would find it unwieldy and difficult to use. I thought this largely because Azure RemoteApp was based exclusively around the administrator’s ability to generate full desktop images and incorporate them into a cloud-based application hosting environment. However, with the transition to production readiness, Microsoft has updated Azure RemoteApp to include support for App-V for the first time. It’s still not perfect, lacking application management capabilities. However, App-V support by itself may be enough to move the product from an “interesting, but frankly unusable” curiosity to a mainstream application hosting platform. If you want more details about the production release, Microsoft is running a weekly “Ask the Experts” webinar, with people on hand to answer any questions you might have about the service.
When I first looked at Azure RemoteApp, one of my key concerns was how much Microsoft would charge for the service. At the time, I polled a number of independent software vendors (ISVs) to get their perspectives on possible pricing, and I received estimates ranging from $5 to $15 per concurrent session per month. I was also curious about how Microsoft would be charging for the service: would it be a flat rate per session, or would Microsoft be looking to charge directly for hardware resources consumed? Now, with the service formally launched, I can confirm that Microsoft has attempted to do both, with both a flat rate and capped consumption-based pricing, and that it won’t be going out of its way to make my ISVs happy.
Microsoft has settled on a starting price of $10 per user per month for the Basic tier, rising to $15 for the Standard tier. This is not exactly in line with my ISVs’ expectations, but it is not too far off. However, once you start reading the fine print, Microsoft’s real prices do not look so good. For your first $10 to $15, you only get forty hours per month. Any time after that is billed by the hour, with the maximum bill capped at $17 per month for Basic and $23 per month for Standard. Compared to the $5 per month ISVs were hoping for, $23 does not look so good.
While I feel that Microsoft deserves some praise for taking the first steps to fuel consumption-based pricing for desktop delivery, the praise goes no more than skin deep. Just as with VDI, Microsoft licensing is never as simple as it sounds.
For instance, whereas one user using an Azure RemoteApp session for 100 hours in a month would be charged $17, 100 users using the service for only one hour each would be charged $1000. Best not to use it for timecard entry, then. For comparison purposes, the same calculations performed for Amazon’s GPU-enabled AppStream application presentation service, which is billed at $.83 per hour, would cost $83 per month regardless of how that service was sliced.
The full breakdown of pricing structure follows:
|Target user||Task worker||Information worker|
|Example applications||Lightweight LOB applications (e.g., data entry, expense reporting)||Productivity applications (e.g., Office)|
|Storage (user)||50 GB||50 GB|
|Starting price (user/month)||$10||$15|
|Hours included in starting price (month)||40||40|
|Hourly overage rate (hour)||$0.175/hr||$0.20/hr|
|Capped price (user/month)||$17||$23|
Microsoft hasn’t indicated what the differences between a Basic session and a Standard session are beyond their target users. I can only assume that a Standard session has significant resources associated with it, if only because a dedicated virtual desktop session from Amazon WorkSpaces starts at $25 per month, and full VMware Horizon Air SHVD servers can be had for $600 per month, the same price as just twenty-six Azure RemoteApp Standard sessions. Some serious benchmarking is required to assess which service delivers the best value for money. (Login VSI, are you listening?)
Still, Microsoft has taken the refreshing step of ensuring that all prices are the same, regardless of where hosting is from. A RemoteApp session in East Asia is the same price as one in northern Europe, the eastern US, and so on. This is something that Amazon would do well to learn from.
Azure RemoteApp evinces neither the head-in-the-sand willful ignorance that typifies Microsoft’s stance on VDI licensing programs, nor entirely the enlightened approach of an organization looking to establish a beachhead in the cloud application delivery markets. However, it exemplifies a step in the right direction, and one still gracefully unencumbered by any perceived need to deliver Desktops as a Service.