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Need advice/help on converting a Windows desktop application to a Cloud based app.

Posted on 2014-09-16
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Last Modified: 2016-06-23
I have an application, a rather extensive one, that currently is a single user, desktop system.   It really needs to be multi-user and run in the cloud.   But, I don’t know how to make this happen and I’m hoping that there is an expert(s) who would give me advice and maybe even guide me through this process.
The application is written in Visual Basic and uses MS Access for a database.   So, it’s a Microsoft application and I was thinking of using Azure.   And I’ve learned that Access is not compatible with Azure so the database would have to change.
I don’t want to change the programming language.  The app is just way too extensive for that.   It was built over a period of years and changing the programming language would just be too daunting of a task.   So, I’m very hopeful Visual Basic can be retained.
Retaining the codebase means I would retain the Windows application, desktop interface.  Instead of the program connecting to a database that resides on the PC I would like to connect it to a database that resides in the cloud.   That seems reasonable to me but it may not be possible, I just don’t know.
Is there anyone that has had experience with a conversion project like this that would offer me some tips/advice/guidance?   Thanking you in advance.
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Question by:kylucky
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Scott McDaniel (Microsoft Access MVP - EE MVE ) earned 44 total points
ID: 40326784
You can change your datasource over to SQL Server/Azure, and in many cases you don't have to make any changes. See these articles:

https://www.fmsinc.com/Consulting/sqlserverupsizing.aspx
http://www.jstreettech.com/downloads.aspx (The Best of Both Worlds)

Those should give you much more insight into the upsizing process.

Note too that Azure may or may not be the best platform for you. If everyone who uses your application is on the same network, then often installing SQL Server (Express, Traditional, etc) is simpler and provides better performance.
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by:kylucky
ID: 40326955
Thanks for your guidance.   The articles were very interesting and helpful.    It seems that what I would like to do is possible.   I sent you an email in which I asked if you would take a look at my project and make some cost estimates about converting it to the cloud.    I hope to hear back from you.
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by:PatHartman
PatHartman earned 418 total points
ID: 40328030
The application is written in Visual Basic and uses MS Access for a database.   So, it’s a Microsoft application and I was thinking of using Azure.   And I’ve learned that Access is not compatible with Azure so the database would have to change.
You are not using Access at all.  You are using Jet (.mdb) or ACE (.accdb).  Those are the database engines that are merged in many people's minds with Access.  Access is the RAD tool that you would use to create an application.  It is used to create forms and reports and queries.  Access can use any database for which there is an ODBC driver.  The ONLY thing that Access needs Jet/ACE for is to hold the application's own objects.  it never needs them to hold data.

Access, the RAD tool IS compatible with Azure since Azure is a relational database and there is an ODBC driver for it.  However, if you are talking about ACE (.accdb) and you used one of the new data types introduced with A2007, then those data types are not compatible with anything except SharePoint lists.  You cannot convert them to any other database.  You will need to recreate them in a correctly normalized schema.

This is an Access forum so we can't really advise on what to do with your VB code.  Converting an Access app to use a different RDBMS is not difficult but I don't know what is involved for VB.  I would guess that it is more work because you'll have to change the syntax of all your SQL statements to whatever syntax your target RDBMS requires.  The nice thing about Access is that it uses its own SQL syntax and the ODBC drivers convert that to whatever the target database needs.

BTW - your app is almost certainly multi-user right now.  Jet/ACE support multiple users so it is only a matter of placing the database on a shared drive and having multiple users connect to it.  Of course, you could have made it single user programmatically by using temp tables and other techniques either deliberately or inadvertently.

In theory, you could convert the database from Jet/ACE to Azure/SQL Server/Oracle/DB2 and make the relevant modifications to the VB code and you'll be back in business.

Think long and hard about what you mean by "in the cloud".  Are you really asking for remote access for your employees when they are out of the office?  Will they still be using a laptop?  If you need to support other devices, you will need to convert to a web based tool and create pages that can be rendered at different resolutions.  Are you trying to open the app to strangers so you have to take connections from undefined sources or will your users always be known and pre-authorized?

Have you considered using Citrix or Remote Desktop?  Once you make your app multi-user by putting the database in a central location and getting rid of any parts that make it single-user then everyone on your network will have access to the app.  To extend that to off-premises people, you can use Citrix.  If you don't have a lot of off-site people to support, you won't want to go to the expense of setting up your own Citrix server so you can buy support for individuals for $30-50 per month depending on whether you also need MS Office installed in the Citrix instance.
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by:kylucky
ID: 40328112
Wow, Pat.   So much for me to read, reread, and digest.   Thank you for taking the time to give me all of this valuable information.   I'm in a rush out the door now but will respond in much greater depth later.   And I look forward to doing that.   Thank you Pat for all of your thoughts and ideas and I'll be back later.    Jack
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Author Comment

by:kylucky
ID: 40328881
Pat, let me give you more info.   Just a series of bullets more or less.

I used Access to store data; not for RAD.  I have 25 tables.   I have a few ad hoc Access queries but none that are a part of the application.  And no reports that are a part of the application.    All queries and reports are done in visual basic accessing the Access database.

I certainly haven't intentionally coded anything that would preclude multiple simultaneous users but I may have inadvertently done so.   Neither have I done things to make multiple simultaneous users possible.   Maybe I've lucked out and gotten that for free.   I guess the only way to find out is through extensive testing.   I don't use any temp tables.

You guessed it about what I meant by 'in the cloud'.   I just need multiple users to be able to use the system from anywhere and I didn't really consider something like Citrix or remote access.   There would not be many multiple users at any one time; maybe two or three.  I need to explore this further.   Right now I'm using Cisco WebEx to remotely control a user's computer to both install the app and train users.   It's meeting software that allows for remote control and shared desktops.   Maybe this would work.   It would need to be unattended access so I would have to research that.  If this would work then maybe I wouldn't need to change the database or go to something like Azure.   Definitely something I have to look further into.   I think I'll start with what I know - Cisco WebEx.

I haven't used EE much and didn't know I was in an Access forum.   I marked Access and also VB and also cloud computing.   I wonder if this appears in those forums as well.

Thank you for your advice Pat.   I'm going to further explore this remote desktop possibility.
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by:PatHartman
PatHartman earned 418 total points
ID: 40328927
Products like Cisco WebEx may not allow multiple concurrent users.  They may allow one user at a time.  Citrix definitely supports multiple users.  I have a number of clients who run their own Citrix servers and that gives them excellent options.  Local users who are in the office can simply connect via the LAN and remote users can connect via Citrix.  Since Citrix creates a virtual computer on the server, the app runs "locally" so all that gets transmitted from the user to Citrix is key strokes and mouse movements and all that comes back from the app is a picture of what is happening on the virtual PC that Citrix is managing.  This solution requires no program changes (at least for my Access apps with SQL Server databases) and probably won't require changes for you either.  The difficulty is when the company isn't large enough to run their own Citrix server.  If you have to go to an outside company, then everyone will need to use Citrix to run your app since the app will be running on the provider's server so will not be on your local LAN.

So, look at it this way - pay the cost of a few Citrix services for a few years which worst case will be ~$30 per user per month or spend thousands to convert your app to be cloud friendly.  Door #1 will probably be up and running in two weeks.  Door #2 could take months.
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by:kylucky
ID: 40328956
Thanks for this info Pat.   I have a call into Citrix right now and am waiting on them to call me back.

I want you to understand my app and situation better.   I'm marketing an app for animal shelter management.   It keeps records on animals, donations, volunteers, etc.   It's currently running in only 4 shelters but as time goes by, I hope this number increases.

The shelters are set up that one person inputs animal information while another may log in donations and while another may put in information about animal health.   Somehow I need to allow them to have these users able to do their work from afar and do it simultaneously.

Under the Citrix solution I envision that each shelter would have a central computer (probably a laptop) and users (probably no more than three at any one time) could remote in via Citrix and do whatever they needed to do.   Do you think this is a feasible idea?   There would be no LAN's involved at all.   Just a central laptop, the internet, and a client laptop most probably.

In the above scenario each shelter would have their own setup.   But, your comments made me think that there may be another way.   I could have and maintain the central computer and the users for each shelter could log in to 'me'.   Each shelter would have their own database on the computer under my control.   Somehow when a user logged in they would have to be directed to their shelter's database.

Does any of this make any sense and with this knowledge would you give me different, or further advice?   Thank you.
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by:kylucky
ID: 40328979
I just spoke with Jason at Citrix.  What an idiot.   He didn't know if Citrix could handle this and he didn't know anyone at Citrix who could help.   Huh?   He said he was a remote meetings guy and that is all he knew.   He said look at Xen Desktop so I'll do that.
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by:PatHartman
PatHartman earned 418 total points
ID: 40329143
You need to find a service bureau that offers third party support.  Citrix just sells the software.  They don't offer cloud services that I am aware of.  Setting up a Citrix server is pretty expensive and none of the Animal shelters could afford it.  They would be hard pressed to spend the $100+ per month to pay for three licenses at a service bureau.

I did some research for a client last year but all my notes are at their office and I won't be back there for another month.  I'm off to a meeting so I can't look for you.  Good Luck.
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by:kylucky
ID: 40329248
Thanks Pat.   My technical skills certainly are not great and the animal shelter's technical expertise is even much less than mine.   So, I know setting up a server would not be anything we could pull off.   They don't have much (any?) money and neither do I.   So, this could be tough. :)   Thanks for helping me on this.    Maybe I need to start thinking cloud again as that might be easier; at least I wouldn't be in the hardware/network/setting up servers business.   I hope your meeting was enjoyable and fruitful.
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by:PatHartman
PatHartman earned 418 total points
ID: 40330416
To put anything in the cloud you need to either run your own server or find a provider who offers a service you can use.  Here are 2 links to Citrix service providers.  These people will understand what you are talking about.  

http://www.connectria.com/technologies/citrix_hosting.php?_bt=24721705823&_bk=citrix%20service%20provider&_bm=e&gclid=CNm309T16sACFShp7AodSUkA3w

http://www.cloudconnect.net/?gclid=CIG5ysH26sACFaTm7Aodrw4ASg

Any other solution will require changes to your application to implement.  Citrix allows you to keep the app as it is but allow multiple people to have remote access.

To know whether or not this will even work you need to put the database on a networked computer and connect to it from at least two computers at the same time.  If the app won't work as multi-user on your local network, the Citrix solution won't work either.  You'll need to rewrite it.
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by:kylucky
ID: 40330499
Pat, thanks much for this advice.   I'm going to go to these links right now.   And maybe talk to them.   I'm not set up in any way to put the database on a networked computer.   I'm a self-contained organism with one laptop :)  But maybe Citrix would be willing to set up a test.  I'll find out right away.
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by:PatHartman
PatHartman earned 418 total points
ID: 40330548
Then borrow a laptop from someone else and have them connect to your home network.  You won't know what to do until you know if the app as it stands can be multi-user.
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Author Comment

by:kylucky
ID: 40330574
It seems I would need three computers with one acting as a server that I don't know how to set up.    I do know WebEx remote desktop control but that would not work as two people could  not be controlling the same computer.   I would like to do this test as the results would be very interesting but currently I don't know how to configure a server nor do I know how to modify the connection string so that the app would access the database.   I need a network administrator or to be one myself.   Which I'm certainly not.   Is there an easier way than what I'm outlining?    Also, I have a call into Citrix.   I saw on the link that they want $500/mo.    I may be able to afford that someday but not at this point.   I may be able to get them to come down for a non-profit.
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by:PatHartman
PatHartman earned 418 total points
ID: 40330639
No.  You don't need a server.  If you have cable or DSL at home, you have a network.  It is peer-to-peer.  You probably never set it up because you have only one computer.  Your service provider should have instructions on their website.  The only reason you have to set it up is because to make this work, you need to allow file sharing.  In theory you could do this with a friend at the local Starbucks.  The problem is that if you open your computer to allow sharing, all the other folks connected at that site will see it also so be very careful with what you share.  A password should protect you but I'd rather not risk it.  Or, if a friend has a home network, go there.  Join the network and allow sharing.  My grandchildren have laptops and smartphones.  When they come to my house, they log in to my network and they can use my printer and save stuff to my shared drive.  I have no server.  It is all peer-to-peer.  

WebEx is completely different.

The $500 per month may be for them to host a "server" for you.  Or it may be a one-time charge to set up the network which your client would pay.  The rate should end up being ~ $30 per month, per user.
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Author Comment

by:kylucky
ID: 40330659
I do have a home network and I can get another computer so I should be able to do this.   When you say 'allow file sharing' do you mean make the database sharable?   That is the file that needs being shared I would think.

I spoke with Citrix and I did talk to them about them running the server.   That's what I thought I wanted.   But, I found out I didn't.   They want $650 per shelter per month.   OMG.   I certainly like the sounds of $30 month per user; that is if a user would be a shelter.
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Author Comment

by:kylucky
ID: 40330693
Pat, both of the links you sent earlier; CloudConnect and Connectria, both are Citrix hosting plans and cost significantly more than $30/mo.   Is there a specific Citrix product that you are thinking of that is the approx. $30?
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by:PatHartman
PatHartman earned 418 total points
ID: 40330788
Don't ask for a server.  Tell them you have 3 users only.  I think you are getting quotes for hosting a server.  That is not what you want.  You want a very small piece of THEIR server.  It's like the hosting plans for databases.  You can have the provider set up a private server that is only for your use or you can have them host a database on their server.  Option 1 will cost thousands to set up and hundreds per month.  Option 2 is $5.95 per month and set up is generally free.  As I recall, set up for the Citrix hosting is not free because they have to do the setup but adding new users just adds additional monthly cost.

File sharing - in order for computer B to see files on computer A, computer A must share them.  This is done at the directory level.  So computer A shares C:\mytestdatabasefolder.

You need a way of configuring the connection string on install since the path from each computer could be different.  Again, this is pretty easy with Access but it is harder from VB.  The string needs to be configurable by the user.  So in the example above, the connection string on computer A would be:
C:\mytestdatabasefolder\mydb.accdb
but from computer B it would be
\\computerA\mydb.accdb
or if you map a drive:
Z:\mydb.accdb
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Author Comment

by:kylucky
ID: 40330829
Pat, this is such good info and you are so helpful.  Thank you.   I'm going to contact Citrix again, right away.   And then I have to go out for a while but hopefully later today I'll try to follow your instructions.   They are very clear and I should be able to do it.   I've been working on this beast for 8 years now and have thought many times 'I wonder what it would take to make this multi-user'.   Maybe I'm on the verge of finding out.   That would be great.   Thank you and I'll be back to you.
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by:PatHartman
PatHartman earned 418 total points
ID: 40330909
Don't contact Citrix.  Contact one of the companies I gave you links for or search yourself for Citrix hosting.
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Author Comment

by:kylucky
ID: 40331866
I contacted Connectria from above and they don't offer what you suggest.   They only offer to set up a dedicated server for me at the $650/mo rate.    I'll contact the other company on Friday.    And, I've shared that folder and I have another computer now.   On Friday morning I'll try accessing the folder from both computers.   I'll let you know how it goes.  Thanks Pat.
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Author Comment

by:kylucky
ID: 40332667
When I go to computer B and click on network I see JACKS-PC listed (it's computer A for our purposes).   And when I click on it it says enter credentials for JACKS-PC.   I don't even know what they are.   On JACKS-PC I shared the folder with the database in it.   It asked me who I wanted to share it with and I just clicked 'Everybody'.    It seems that Computer B should not be asking me for credentials for computer A if this folder has been shared with everyone but I guess that's the rule.   So now I need to figure out what Computer A's creds are.
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Author Comment

by:kylucky
ID: 40332684
Does the following look like a good connection string to you?

Public connASBF As New OleDbConnection("Provider=Microsoft.Jet.OLEDB.4.0;" & "Data Source=\\JACKS-PC\rescue\rescue.mdb")
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by:PatHartman
PatHartman earned 418 total points
ID: 40332941
Here's the text of a conversation we had off-line:

When Access opens a database, it opens a lock file with the same name and an extension of .ldb or .laccdb depending on the version of the database.  It is this lock file that controls multi-user sharing.  Then each new person who "opens" the database is logged into the lock file.  When the last person closes the database, Access deletes the lock file.

 1. Make sure your app is not opening the database in exclusive mode since that would prevent other users from opening it.
 2. Make sure that all users have CRUD permissions to the folder with the database - Create, Read, Update, Delete.  If a person doesn't have Create permission, they can't create the lock file and so although they could join an open lock file, they couldn't be the one to create it.  Same with delete.  If they were the last person to exit the database, the lock file would be left open.

 To test the security.  Make sure the file is closed (there should be no lock file).  Then open it from computer 1.  Close it and open it from computer 2.  Then try to open it from computer 1 again.  Make sure the lock file is being created at the appropriate time and then deleted.  

I can't comment on the connection string since I only use Jet from Access or DAO and neither use a connection string.  I would check about OLEDB though.  That might be deprecated and I would probably convert to an .accdb just to stay current.
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Author Comment

by:kylucky
ID: 40333099
Is .accdb the latest extension on an access database?   I'm using 2007 and that extension is .mdb.   The shelters I'm working with all have an earlier version so I'm reluctant to try to change.

I fired up my app and used it for a few minutes and then logged out of it.    I then looked in the directory and the access lock file was not present.   So, I'm pretty sure that logging out closes the database properly.

It's easy for me to open the database from A but when I go to B I can't reach the database.   I click on 'This PC'/Network/JACKS-PC  and then it asks for the credentials to JACKS-PC which I haven't figured out yet.   So, thus far I've been unable to manipulate the Access database in any way from Computer B.    I'll try to figure out these credentials and maybe I'll be able to do it in a little while.
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by:PatHartman
PatHartman earned 418 total points
ID: 40333203
In theory the clients don't need to have Access installed at all since you are using Jet/ACE.  They will need to have the correct drivers installed but they are a free download from Microsoft.  The .accdb is the latest format and it requires the ACE database engine.  The .mdb needed Jet.  Jet used to be installed with Windows so all computers had the needed drivers but to get ACE, you either need to install Access or the drivers yourself.  If it is easier for you, you could download and install the A2013 runtime.  You might find A2010 but I doubt that you can still get A2007 given its age.  The runtimes are free.  They will load the necessary drivers.
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Author Comment

by:kylucky
ID: 40333588
Pat, if I could get this operating in the cloud then it should be 'easy' (is anything ever easy) to always provide the latest version of Access.   Right now I'm dealing with whatever version they happened to buy and put on their shelter computer.   As you know I want those databases off of those shelter computers and onto some server somewhere so that they would be reachable by multiple users simultaneously.

I just spoke with a person from the other link you sent me, cloudconnect.    This didn't work out either.   I made it clear that I wanted to share a server and not have a dedicated one and he said it would cost in the neighborhood of $450/mo.   So, that is out.

It's looking like I need to go back to further delving into Azure.   I have to convert Access to SQL Server which I guess in the long run would be good although it would certainly cause some short term pain.   It doesn't seem like we can find anyone to house an Access database cheaply.   If you have any other ideas let me know.   And thanks for everything so far.    I'm getting smarter as we go along.
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by:PatHartman
PatHartman earned 418 total points
ID: 40333740
I think you are confusing "cloud" with "browser".  Your application does not run in a browser, nor will it ever (except in the Citrix model).  It is not a web app.  It is a client/server app.   It runs on the local computer (except in the Citrix model where it runs on the Citrix server) and so is completely dependent on the software installed there.  Moving the data to Azure moves the data to the cloud but not the application.  The application is still client/server and must still be installed along with any supporting software on the local PC.

You can get hosting for the Access database or a SQL Server version of it for around $6 per month at lots of hosting sites.  GoDaddy is a big one.  There are also many sites that host Azure but the pricing model is seriously complex and I can't even begin to understand it.  Those would cost more but probably not more than $20 per month per shelter but it's an outright guess at this point.  I should warn you that most providers are geared toward hosting web pages.  They don't understand naked databases so you may have trouble even finding appropriate pricing.

I don't know what it will take for you to convert the app to SQL Server.  Most people are disappointed when they convert from Jet/ACE to SQL Server because their app is actually slower.  It all depends on how it works behind the scenes.  Since your FE is not the typical Access FE, you may already have designed it with proper client/server methods and so you will not experience a slow down.  I doubt any of the shelters has enough data to be a problem even if you are using poor client/server techniques.

You can convert to SQL Server pretty easily.  Download a free copy of SQL Server Express.  Azure is SQL Server but more constrained to operate better over the web.  Don't worry about that for now.  Although if there is a free version of Azure you could load that instead.

Once you convert the data - Access comes with a built in conversion tool called the upsizing wizard.  It will take a Jet/ACE database and copy the structure and data to SQL Server.  Hopefully all your tables have primary keys.  If they don't, you'll need to stop right now and do some clean up work.  Also, I think Azure may require your primary key to be an identity column (autonumber) so if you are using multi-field primary keys or text fields or no PK at all, you have a conversion in your future for EVERY shelter.  I don't know this for a fact but it is something I ran into when trying to convert an older application to an Access web app.  The issue may be entirely related to the Access web app stuff rather than an Azure issue.  The one time I played with Azure, it was one of my own databases and it had been built with upsizing in mind so it had no conflicts with how Azure wanted stuff done.  I found Azure to be disappointingly slow when connected to my Access FE but I had a very "heavy" form.  You may not have any problem at all.

It's all in the connection string so as I mentioned earlier, you need to externalize that at a minimum.  Plus converting from Jet/ACE to SQL Server for you means changing EVERY SINGLE QUERY to switch from Access SQL syntax to T-SQL which is what SQL Server uses.  The syntax changes are pretty simple but you will have problems if you are using functions that don't have a direct counterpart in T-SQL.  You would need to either manage without the function or write a stored procedure or SQL Server function to replace it.
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Author Comment

by:kylucky
ID: 40333805
Pat, I love this stuff.   I wish I was younger and smarter.   And had not had such a misspent youth.   But, I get up every day wanting to learn and you're ensuring that I do.   Thank you for that.

I don't have any problem with having each desktop having the app installed.   Right now when they save some data it just travels probably inches to a hard drive.   I would like, optimally, for everything in their eyes to remain exactly the same; only the saved data might travel thousands of miles to a server somewhere.    And for several people to be able to access that data simultaneously.    That to my way of thinking, is putting the database in the cloud.   I know the app is not there but maybe I could someday end up putting it there as well.   It would be better if it were there.

I do business with godaddy on several websites.    They're good.    I'll certainly check with them to see if they would host my Access database.   That would be great if they could.   If I could find a company willing to host this database cheaply that would be awesome.    I'll certainly look further before going the SQL Server/Azure route.

My FE was done in Visual Basic and it's pretty good.   Lots and lots of edits and validations, different colors, easy nav, lots of features, etc.   I really need to keep it as changing to another language; well, let's just say I won't live long enough to do that.

My wife is on my you know what to take her to dinner.   Thanks so much Pat for all of your help.    This thing will get architected soon.
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Author Comment

by:kylucky
ID: 40337825
I'm talking with Rackspace about this and they have engineers engaged in figuring out if this will work or not.   Thanks for all of your help Pat and your suggestion to get in touch with hosting companies was good and just what I've done.   I'll just leave this open for now as no definite solution has yet to appear but it may in the near future.   I'll update this accordingly.    Thanks.
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Author Comment

by:kylucky
ID: 40356918
Pat, it doesn't look like Rackspace is going to be the one.   I put up another question in what I hope is the right forum here.   I've pretty much decided I want to use Azure.   So, I'm just going to start working thru the mechanics.  I think first will be a conversion to SQL Server.   Thank you for your help here and I will close this out.
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by:David Johnson, CD, MVP
David Johnson, CD, MVP earned 38 total points
ID: 40451675
have you looked at azure remoteapp which is currently in preview
http://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/services/RemoteApp/
https://portal.azure.com
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by:kylucky
ID: 40452102
Thank for this tip.  RemoteApp looks interesting.   I still haven't even figured out the platform but I'm researching and talking to people.  Cost is certainly a consideration and this may be cost effective as well and we know that Microsoft is always going t be there and always going to be good.   Much appreciated.   I've got a techie, far better than I, working with me now so I'm sending this to him.   Thank you.
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by:MacroShadow
ID: 41668925
No comment has been added to this question in more than 21 days, so it is now classified as abandoned.

I have recommended this question be closed as follows:

Split:
-- Scott McDaniel (Microsoft Access MVP - EE MVE ) (https:#a40326784)
-- PatHartman (https:#a40328030)
-- PatHartman (https:#a40328927)
-- PatHartman (https:#a40329143)
-- PatHartman (https:#a40330416)
-- PatHartman (https:#a40330548)
-- PatHartman (https:#a40330639)
-- PatHartman (https:#a40330788)
-- PatHartman (https:#a40330909)
-- PatHartman (https:#a40332941)
-- PatHartman (https:#a40333203)
-- PatHartman (https:#a40333740)
-- David Johnson CD MVP (https:#a40451675)


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