When we talk about virtualization technology we normally talk about the Big 3: vSphere, Hyper-V and Xen.
But it's becoming increasingly impossible – if that's possible – to talk about server virtualization without talking about clouds: public clouds, private clouds and hybrid clouds, too. And in the clouds the same three hypervisors dominate: Xen in public clouds like Amazon's, vSphere in all manner of VMware clouds, and Hyper-V (in the form of Azure Hypervisor) in the public cloud formerly known as Windows Azure.
Oh, and in case you're wondering, Microsoft changed the name from Windows Azure to Microsoft Azure back in April to reflect "Microsoft's strategy and focus on Azure as the public cloud platform for customers as well as for our own services Office 365, Dynamics CRM, Bing, OneDrive, Skype, and Xbox Live."
So any cloud announcements from these three players are important, and as it happens Microsoft just finished its TechEd North America. What was interesting about TechEd this year was that anyone hoping for the latest low-down on new server product news or System Center updates left disappointed. The focus was very much on the cloud, and by the cloud I mean Azure.
The Most Interesting Development to Come Out of TechEd?
Rather than give a gossamer-thin overview of what came out of the conference, it's probably more worthwhile to take a look at the single most interesting thing to come out of it. And the consensus in this case seems to be in the form of Azure RemoteApp, a way of letting users access applications running in the cloud.
That, of course, is the whole point of the cloud, you're probably thinking. Of course that's true, but what's been needed for a while is a really simple way for people to access applications running on Azure from a variety of devices, including standard PCs, iPads and iPhones, Android devices, OS X machines, and – in theory anyway – Windows Phone devices too.
"Really simple" rules out VDI implementations, which are often a nightmare to use from a tablet or a phone. And then there's another issue involving data that may be pasted into other apps on the device — data that can then get lost and lead to all sorts of security, privacy and compliance problems.
How Does Azure Remote App Work?
RemoteApp works from server images that you upload to Azure. Applications on these servers — and they don't have to be Microsoft applications — are then streamed to RemoteApp users. Administration and user provisioning can be done in a number of ways, including by Microsoft account, via identities stored in your corporate Active Directory or through using Azure AD (which can be synced with your on-premise AD, of course.)
Keeping the data in Azure is obviously an important feature, but what if you want to be able to copy and paste or drag and drop between applications? It turns out that as long as both applications are on the same server image, users can do just that.
Once a RemoteApp service has been set up, programs have been made available, and users have been given access, what's needed is a RemoteApp client for users to sign in and use the applications. There are clients currently available for iOS, Android, OS X and Windows 7 and 8, and a Windows Phone 8.1 app will be available when the mobile OS is launched in the summer.
RemoteApp is available for testing now, and should be released as a service by the end of the year. Final pricing has yet to be announced.
So there you have it. The latest virtualization announcement is actually a cloud announcement from Microsoft. Bet you wouldn't have predicted that a few years ago…
Paul Rubens is a technology journalist and contributor to ServerWatch, EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet and EnterpriseMobileToday. He has also covered technology for international newspapers and magazines including The Economist and The Financial Times since 1991.