The sheer breadth of ways that you can utilise Dynamics CRM/Dynamics 365 for Enterprise (CRM/D365E) can sometimes boggle the mind. Whether it’s through a traditional web browser, mobile app, the new interactive service hub or even through your own website created via the SDK, organisations have an ever-increasing array of routes they can go down when deploying the application into their environment. Despite this, more often than not, you would expect a “standard” deployment to involve using the application via a web browser, either on a local machine or potentially via a Remote Desktop Session (RDS) instance. Whilst Microsoft’s support articles provide fairly definitive software requirements when working on a Windows desktop machine, it is difficult to determine if, for example, Google Chrome on a Windows Server 2012 RDS session is supported. This is an important omission that requires clarification and is worth discussing further to determine if a definitive conclusion can be reached, based on the available evidence.
In this week’s post, I will attempt to sleuth through the various pieces of evidence I can find on this subject, sprinkling this with some experience that I have had with CRM/D365E and RDS, to see if any definitive conclusion can be established.
Before we get into the heart of the matter, it may be useful to provide a brief overview of what RDS is
RDS is a fancy way of describing connecting to a remote computer via the Remote Desktop Connection client on your Windows or OS of choice. Often referred to as Terminal Services, it is a de facto requirement when accessing remote servers for a variety of reasons. Most commonly, you will witness it deployed as part of an internal corporate network, as a mechanism for users to “remote on” when working outside the office. Due to the familiarity of Windows Server compared with each versions corresponding Desktop OS, the look and feel of working on a normal computer can be achieved with minimal effort, and you can often guarantee that the same types of programmes will also work without issue.
Whilst RDS is still frequently used, it could be argued to have taken a back seat in recent years with the rise in virtualisation technologies, from the likes of Citrix and VMware. These solutions tend to offer the same benefits an RDS server can, but places more emphasis on utilising a local desktop environment to essentially stream desktops/applications to end users. As a result of the rise of these technologies, RDS is perhaps entering a period of uncertainty; whilst it will continue to be essential for remote server management, there are arguably much better technologies available that provide an enriched end-user experience, but offer the same benefits of having a centralised server within a backed up/cloud environment.
Now that you (hopefully!) have a good overview of what RDS is, let’s take a look at the evidence available in relation to CRM/D365E and RDS
Evidence #1: Technet Articles
The following TechNet articles provide, when collated together, a consolidated view of supported internet browsers and operating systems for CRM/D365:
- Supported web browsers and mobile devices: https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dn531055.aspx
- Web application requirements for Microsoft Dynamics 365: https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh699710.aspx
From this, we can distill the following:
- Windows 10, 8.1, 8 and 7 are supported, so long as they are using a “supported” browser:
- Internet Explorer 10 is supported for Windows 7 and 8 only.
- Internet Explorer 11 is supported for all Windows OS’s, with the exception of 8.
- Edge is supported for Windows 10 only.
- Firefox and Chrome are supported on all OS’s, so long as they are running the latest version.
- OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion), 10.9 (Mavericks) and 10.10 Yosemite are supported for Safari only, running the latest version
- Android 10 is supported for the latest version of Chrome only
- iPad is supported for the latest version of Safari only (i.e. the latest version of iOS)
The implication from this should be clear - although the following Windows Server devices (that are currently in mainstream support) can be running a supported web browser, they are not covered as part of the above operating server list:
- Windows Server 2016
- Windows Server 2012 R2
- Windows Server 2012
Evidence #2: Notes from the Field
I have had extensive experience both deploying into and supporting CRM/D365E environments running RDS. These would typically involve servers with significant user load (20-30 per RDS server) and, the general experience and feedback from end users has always been…underwhelming. All issues generally came down to the speed of the application which, when compared to running on a standard, local machine, was at a snail’s pace by comparison. Things like loading a form, an entity view or Dialog became tortuous affairs and led to serious issues with user adoption across the deployments. I can only assume that the amount of local CPU/Memory required for CRM/D365E when running inside a web application was too much for the RDS server to handle; this was confirmed by frequent CPU spikes and high memory utilisation on the server.
I can also attest to working with Microsoft partners who have explicitly avoided having issues concerning RDS and CRM/D365E in-scope as part of any support agreement. When this was queried, the reasoning boiled down to the perceived hassle and complexity involved in managing these types of deployment.
To summarise, I would argue that this factors in additional ammunition for Evidence piece #1, insomuch as that RDS compatible servers are not covered on the supported operating system lists because these issues are known about generally.
Evidence #3: What Microsoft Actually Say
I was recently involved as part of a support case with Microsoft, where we were attempting to diagnose some of the performance issues discussed above within an RDS environment. The support professional assigned to the case came back and stated the following in regards to RDS and CRM/D365E:
…using Windows remote desktop service is supported but unfortunately using Windows server 2012 R2 is not supported. You have to use Windows server 2012. Also windows server 2016 is out of our support boundaries.
Whilst this statement is not backed up by an explicit online source (and I worry whether some confusion has been derived from the Dynamics 365 for Outlook application - see below for more info on this), it can be taken as saying that Windows Server 2012 is the only supported operating system that can be used to access CRM/D365E, with one of the supported web browsers mentioned above.
The Anomalous Piece of Evidence: Dynamics 365 for Outlook Application
Whilst it may not be 100% clear cut in regards to supported server operating systems, we can point to a very definitive statement in respect to the Dynamics 365 for Outlook application when used in conjunction with RDS:
Dynamics 365 for Outlook is supported for running on Windows Server 2012 Remote Desktop Services
Making assumptions here again, but can we take this to mean that the web application is supported within Windows Server 2012 RDS environments, as suggested by the Microsoft engineer above? If not, then you may start thinking to yourself “Well, why not just use this instead of a web browser on RDS to access CRM/D365E?”. Here are a few reasons why you wouldn’t really want to look at rolling out the Dynamics 365 for Outlook application any time soon within RDS:
If deploying the application into offline mode, then you will be required to install a SQL Express instance onto the machine in question. This is because the application needs to store copies of your synchronised entity data for whenever you go offline. The impact of this on a standard user machine will be minimal at best, but on a shared desktop environment, could lead to eventual performance issues on the RDS server in question
With the introduction of new ways to work within CRM/D365 data in an efficient way, such as with the Dynamics 365 App for Outlook, the traditional Outlook client is something that is becoming less of a requirement these days. There are plenty of rumours/commentary on the grapevine that the application may be due for depreciation in the near future, and even Microsoft have the following to say on the subject:
Dynamics 365 App for Outlook isn’t the same thing as Dynamics 365 for Outlook. As of the December 2016 update for Dynamics 365 (online and on-premises), Microsoft Dynamics 365 App for Outlook paired with server-side synchronization is the preferred way to integrate Microsoft Dynamics 365 with Outlook.
I have observed performance issues with the add-in myself in the past - outlook freezing, the occasional crash and also issues with the Outlook ribbon displaying incorrectly.
As you can probably tell, I am not a big fan of the add-in, but the writing on the wall is fairly clear - Microsoft fully supports you accessing CRM/D365E from the Outlook client on Windows Server 2012 RDS.
After reviewing all the evidence, do we have enough to solve this case?
Whilst there is a lot of evidence to consider, the main thing I would highlight is the lack of a “smoking gun” in what has been reviewed. What I mean by this is the lack of a clear support article that states either “X Browser is supported on Windows Server X” or “X Browser is NOT supported on Windows Server X”. Without any of these specific statements, we are left in a situation where we have to infer that RDS is not a supported option for using the CRM/D365E web application. Certainly, the experience I have had with the web client in these environment types would seem to back this up, which may go some way towards explaining the reason why this is not implicitly supported.
So where does this leave you if you are planning to deploy CRM/D365E within an RDS environment? Your only option is to ensure that your RDS environment is running Windows Server 2012 and that your users are utilising the Outlook client, given that there is a very clear statement regarding its supportability. If you are hell bent on ensuring that your end users have the very best experience with CRM/D365E, then I would urge you to reconsider how your environment is configured and, if possible, move to a supported configuration - whether that’s local desktop or a VDI, running your browser of choice. Hopefully, the benefits of utilising the application will far outweigh any overriding concerns and business reasons for using RDS in the first place.