December 18, 2019
By Vadim Vladimirskiy
The desktop virtualization journey started 20 years ago with Windows NT Server 4.0 Terminal Server Edition and culminated this fall with the release of Azure cloud-based virtual desktop technology – Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD).
Along the way, many technologies delivered on the value proposition of desktop virtualization, including Terminal Services, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), Citrix, VMware and, most notably, Remote Desktop Services (RDS). However, desktop virtualization didn’t quite take off in the mass market because of cost, complexity and end-user experience limitations — until now. With WVD, Microsoft has knocked down these barriers. Let’s explore some of the advantages brought by WVD compared with its predecessor, RDS.
One of the major hurdles that managed service providers (MSPs) faced with every WVD predecessor technology, including RDS, was the complexity of the licensing model.
With RDS, MSPs had to license the server operating system (e.g. Windows Server 2016 or 2019), plus the RDS feature of the Server OS, plus a version of Microsoft Office that was almost always a component of a virtual desktop deployment. The challenge was that because the server OS was licensed per-core, RDS client access license (CAL) was per-user with a required Software Assurance subscription, and Office is licensed through the Office 365 subscription model. Putting all these components together was not only expensive but complex and maintaining a virtual desktop environment properly licensed over time was even more difficult.
With WVD, these complexities are resolved. No more operating system, RDS or Office licenses. All that’s needed is a subscription to Microsoft 365 (e.g., Business, E3, E5, A3 or A5) or a standalone Windows 10 Enterprise subscription and you have everything you need to use a virtual desktop running Windows 10 in the cloud with Office. And since most of the business world is moving toward Microsoft 365 anyway, WVD becomes a no-fee add-on to an already existing subscription, saving users money every month.
Desktop Operating System
With RDS, service providers had to use the Windows Server OS to leverage the multiuser capability, which reduces the per-user cost of infrastructure. This meant that all users were using a Server OS as their desktop with a “Windows 10 desktop experience”. Not quite the same as the Windows 10 desktop that everyone was used to. This led to application compatibility issues and user experience challenges.
With WVD, Microsoft introduced a new operating system specifically designed for WVD – Windows 10 multisession. This allows multiple users to utilize the familiar Windows 10 OS for virtual desktop sessions using a single virtual machine (VM) or a pool of virtual machines. This improves the end-user experience while keeping the per-user infrastructure costs in Azure low.
With RDS, MSPs not only needed to run and manage desktop VMs but also needed a set of “infrastructure roles” like RD Connection Broker, RD Gateway, RD Web Access and RD License Server that would be responsible for receiving a user’s connection, determining where it belongs, and placing it on the appropriate desktop VM. This required additional server infrastructure and ongoing management (e.g., Windows patching, monitoring, etc.)
With WVD, these infrastructure roles are no longer needed. Microsoft has taken on that responsibility with the WVD Management Service that is hosted in Azure and maintained by Microsoft. Now, all users need is to …
… deploy and manage the desktop VMs by installing a “reverse connect” (no more firewall ports to open) agent on each. When users connect, they get to Microsoft’s control plane first, and are then authenticated and routed to the appropriate desktop based on their entitlements. This not only reduces the cost of infrastructure needed to support virtual desktops, but it saves on ongoing management labor, too.
With RDS, user profiles were a prominent pain point. Technologies such as User Profile Disks (UPDs) and Roaming Profiles often made for poor user experiences because of limitations such as no indexed Outlook searching and no OneDrive On-Demand files, to name just a few. These issues alone made users resistant to adopting virtual desktops.
With WVD, user profile issues are largely eliminated. Microsoft purchased a technology called FSLogix Profile Containers in 2018, which resolves the limitations and allows for native Windows 10, Office and OneDrive functionality to work seamlessly in a multiuser virtual desktop environment.
WVD is just the beginning of the “Windows desktop in the cloud” story. Microsoft is not only working on a robust road map to improve the functionality and performance of WVD across the board, but there are other technologies that are going to make Windows Virtual Desktop even more valuable. For example, Microsoft is already adding new technologies, like App Attach, which leverages a new Microsoft Installer (MSI) format called MSIX that allows desktop applications to be “attached” to a desktop VM at log-on time rather than being installed on the golden image. Announcements like these indicate Microsoft’s continued investment in making WVD and virtual desktops user friendly and the go-to technology of the future.
It’s an exciting time to be an MSP and help customers transform their IT environments. Desktop virtualization completes the value proposition of moving the entire IT environment to the cloud without sacrificing performance at a cost structure that can finally compete with on-premises deployments.
As a creative technologist with an aptitude for business, Vadim Vladimirskiy is the CEO at Nerdio and the dynamic force behind the creation and evolution of its flagship product, Nerdio for Azure, the definitive Azure solution for MSPs. Vadim is a dynamic speaker and most recently spoke on-stage with Microsoft at its Microsoft Inspire event. When he’s not actively pushing the IT envelope, Vadim loves spending time with his family. Follow him on LinkedIn or @GetNerdio or @vadimvl on Twitter.
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