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Can Microsoft’s Azure RemoteApp service be deployed without IT support?

It’s been five months since Microsoft’s Azure RemoteApp service went into preview and some users have turned into pseudo-IT pros out of necessity.

Two professors from Creighton University Heider College of Business in Omaha, Neb. recently began deploying a pilot test with approximately 100 students on their own. The school’s IT department was already committed to other projects so the professors were largely on their own.

The pilot test started because the University had problems supporting a mixed operating system environment for its students, said Trent Wachner, associate professor of marketing at Creighton University.

With students already bringing Macs, PCs and tablets, the professors needed to learn to deploy Windows applications to students efficiently.

“This platform benefits us in different ways,” said Charlie Braymen, assistant professor for the department of economics and finance at Creighton University. Students with Mac laptops needed access to Windows applications and software from the computers without having to go to a computer lab.

The business school tested a number of offerings including those from Citrix and VMware before turning to Azure RemoteApp.

One of the key benefits to Azure RemoteApp is its ability to scale and support occasional use or leverage heavy usage from students in an entire classroom, Braymen said. In addition, the professors use Azure RemoteApp to create custom images.

While the business school has not encountered many glitches so far, the one obstacle they had was when students all logged into the service at the same time.

“It took a while for the additional virtual machines to fire up,” said Braymen. The issue was resolved quickly. Microsoft adjusted the setup to increase the number of servers and CPU cores allocated, he added.

But even if the professors turned into pseudo IT-pros for this project, they still needed support from their own IT department. The service needed to be integrated into the college’s own campus authentication system, requiring help from Microsoft and the university’s IT department to resolve the issue as quick as possible.

Creighton’s Heider College of Business has so far had a positive experience but whether the university adopts the service throughout all its colleges is unclear. The business school is ready to roll out the service when Microsoft announces pricing and moves into general availability mode.

But service licensing issues remain. Microsoft still must clarify Azure RemoteApp’s licensing and pricing policies.

Indeed the business school is working through issues as to whether licenses available for one location can be used at another.

“It’s a work in progress,” said Wachner.

Some hiccups encountered

On the other hand, some testers have encountered hiccups with hybrid deployment and accessing OneDrive uploads.

Some reported challenges include Internet latency and file access problems with OneDrive and inability to attach files to emails. Others believe the core technology works but the management features are still in its infancy.

“The biggest difference between traditional RemoteApp and Azure RemoteApp is the management [of the service],” explained Gabe Knuth, a virtualization expert and TechTarget columnist, based in Omaha, Neb. “The protocols and operating systems are the same, but managing Azure RemoteApp from the cloud is not the same as managing RemoteApp locally.”

Issues such as hybrid deployment set up, configuration of the VPN, load control and custom apps are not easy to set up, said one tester.

The setup has been so difficult that blogger Freek Berson for The Microsoft Platform published a post teaching IT pros about how to set up an Azure RemoteApp hybrid deployment.

“The team is aware of these requests and interacting closely with customers to resolve issues…,” said Klaas Langhout, principal director for program management of Microsoft’s remote desktop group.

Most users and IT pros are cognizant the service is still in beta mode and work needs to be done before companies can deploy the service.

For now, whether one deploys the service or waits, companies needs to determine whether the Azure Remote App service is for them. Companies can also look at offerings like Amazon’s Workspace or other competitive DaaS products.

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