Working With Terminal Services Remote Applications (Part 1)

by [Published on 24 Feb. 2009 / Last Updated on 24 Feb. 2009]

Discussing a Windows Server 2008 feature called Terminal Service RemoteApp, which allows you to host individual applications on a Terminal Server.

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

Introduction

Back in the fall of 2006, I wrote an article for this site regarding a new Windows Server 2008 feature called Terminal Services Remote Programs. At the time that I wrote that article, Windows Server 2008 was still in beta testing. Since that time, Microsoft has renamed Windows Terminal Services Remote Programs to Terminal Service RemoteApp. There have also been some other changes in regard to how this feature works. That being the case, I wanted to revisit the topic and discuss Windows Server 2008’s Terminal Service RemoteApp feature.

What is Terminal Service RemoteApp?

Over the past couple of years, a lot of software publishers have been experimenting with offering hosted services. The basic idea behind a hosted services architecture is that an organization does not have to purchase licenses for software applications or have the hassles of installing or maintaining those applications. Instead, an ISP or a software vendor leases the applications to the organization. The application actually runs on the service provider’s servers, and users interact with the application over the Internet.

I have to tell you that I am not exactly a big fan of hosted services. Leasing applications is almost always more expensive in the long run, because the sum total of all those monthly payments eventually exceeds what it would have cost to simply purchase the software licenses.

There are some other drawbacks as well. For starters, hosted services takes an application’s configuration out of an organization’s direct control, and I have also known of several situations in which network administrators were put out of a job because the companies that they work for decided to outsource all of their applications to a hosting provider.

Even if job security and total cost of ownership are not issues for you though, there is one major compelling argument against the use of hosted services. If your Internet connection goes down, then nobody can access to the hosted applications. Of course Internet service is more reliable in some areas than others, but my ISP drops my connection all the time. I can’t imagine making access to my mission critical applications dependent on my ISP’s ability to maintain my Internet connection.

Even though I am not particularly fond of hosted services, the truth is that nobody would use hosted services if there were not some kind of benefit to it. The primary benefit is that the service provider takes care of all of the application maintenance for you.

So what does all of this have to do with Terminal Service RemoteApp? Well, Terminal Service RemoteApp is similar to the software that the hosting providers use to provide hosted services to their clients. Since it comes with Windows Server 2008, Terminal Service RemoteApp essentially allows you to bring the application hosting in house rather than outsourcing it to a service provider.

The Benefits of Using Terminal Service RemoteApp

At first, the thought of hosting your applications in house using a similar method to what the hosting providers use probably sounds a little bit counterproductive. After all, taking this approach to distributing your applications is usually quite a bit more complex and expensive than just installing applications directly onto each user’s workstation. Even so, there are quite a few benefits to using Terminal Service RemoteApp. Many of these benefits are things that you just don’t get if you install the applications locally on each individual workstation or if you outsource your applications to a hosting provider. In my opinion, using Terminal Service RemoteApp gives you the best of both worlds. In the sections below, I will explain some of these benefits.

Seamless Access

Probably the coolest thing about Terminal Service RemoteApp is that application access is completely seamless to the end users. Users do not need to open a Terminal Service session in order to access remotely hosted applications. Instead, Terminal Services RemoteApp provides the illusion to users that the applications are installed locally. Hosted applications can reside alongside applications that are installed locally, and a user would be hard pressed to tell the difference between them. 

What this means for you is that you won’t have to spend time training users on how to access hosted applications, because users typically won’t even realize that the applications are hosted. The fact that hosted applications can run alongside locally installed applications means that you can make the transition to application hosting gradually. You don’t have to move all of your applications over to a hosted environment overnight (or at all for that matter).

Centralized Application Management

Just as the primary benefit to using a hosted services provider is ease of management, easier application management is also the main benefit to using Terminal Service RemoteApp.

There was a time when application management was not such a big deal. Applications were installed, and were never touched again until it was time to upgrade to the next version. Today though, almost every application publisher releases application patches on a regular basis. Testing all of these patches and pushing them out to all of your workstations can be a huge task.

Using Terminal Service RemoteApp does not free you from having to keep your applications up to date, but it does make the job a lot easier. Hosted applications are centrally located, so you only have to worry about maintaining a single copy of each application, rather than keeping every single workstation up to date.

Ease of Management for Branch Offices

Terminal Service RemoteApp is ideally suited to organizations that have branch offices, but who do not have a dedicated IT staff in those branches. Using Terminal Services RemoteApp allows administrators to maintain all of the applications from the corporate headquarters, so that the IT staff does not have to make a trip to the branch offices to perform routine application maintenance tasks.

Better Use of Server Resources

Normally, a Windows Terminal Server provides users with a full blown Windows environment. Of course providing each user with a separate instance of an entire operating system consumes a lot of server resources. Hosting applications on a terminal server still requires a considerable amount of server resources, but not as much as if the server were also hosting the Windows operating system.

Coexistence of Otherwise Incompatible Applications

One often overlooked benefit to using Terminal Service RemoteApp is that it allows for the coexistence of otherwise incompatible applications. For example, Microsoft Office is designed so that only one version of Office can be installed at a time. Even so, I know of some corporations that have a business need for running multiple versions of Office. Since hosted applications are not actually installed on workstations, it becomes possible for users to run multiple versions of Microsoft Office, or to run otherwise incompatible applications.

Anywhere Access

My personal favorite benefit to using Terminal Service RemoteApp is that it allows users to access hosted applications from anywhere. With the right components in place, users could conceivably access hosted applications from their laptops while traveling, from their home computers, or even from a Windows Mobile device.

I am in the process of writing a book on telecommuting that will be available sometime in the early summer of 2009, and using Terminal Service RemoteApp to provide access to applications while on the go will be one of the topics that the book covers in depth.

Conclusion

These are just some of the benefits associated with using Terminal Service RemoteApp. In the next article in this series, I will begin showing you how to install and configure this new feature.

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

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