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Virtual insanity or virtual (desktop) reality?

Microsoft have announced Windows Virtual Desktop, a new Azure based offering that aims to make desktop virtualisation easier for organisations to deploy and manage.

What does it do?

Its big things is that it will enable multi-user virtual desktop sessions – that is, where multiple users all connect into the same desktop. This has previously been doable by using Windows Server “skinned” to look like Windows desktop, but this often led to compromises with the user experience with missing features and some 3rd party apps not working. Windows Virtual Desktop will be full Windows 10 which means it will look and feel that same as for a local user, and there will be full application compatibility.

As revealed to ArsTechnica, the service supports full VDI, where each user has their own virtual desktop, with both persistent and non-persistent VMs are supported. It can also be used to deliver full desktops or just individual applications.

It can also be used to deliver virtual Windows 7 desktops and, very interestingly, Windows Virtual Desktop will include free Windows 7 Extended Support Updates (ESU) which otherwise are an additional, annual per-device charge.

Microsoft also claim it will be the “best service to virtualise Office 365 Pro Plus” and that partners such as Citrix will have the ability to “deeply integrate” with Windows Virtual Desktop.

How is it licensed?

Windows Virtual Desktop is included free of charge for users of:

  • Microsoft 365 E3
  • Microsoft 365 E5
  • Microsoft 365 F1
  • Windows E3
  • Windows E5

Pricing

As well as paying for the licenses mentioned above, there will be additional costs for the Azure virtual machines (VMs) used to host the desktops, and storage. A wide range of VMs will be available, allowing for desktops with various amounts of cores, RAM, storage, GPUs etc. depending on how they’re being used.

The VMs used can be paid for using Azure Reserved Instances, which enables organisations to secure better pricing for virtual machines they’ll be using consistently over a 1 or 3 year term.

Conclusion

Creating and maintaining a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is often a difficult experience, with multiple elements, complicated setup, and confusing and expensive licensing -and not just from Microsoft!

True, easy, cost effective VDI has long been an unreachable, but persistent, dream for many organisations; I’m pretty sure it’s been the “Year of VDI” every year since 2012. If Windows Virtual Desktop can make VDI in Azure a simple, repeatable, turnkey solution for customers – that could be something of a game changer.

Why do this? It will drive organisations to move to Windows 10 per user licensing/Microsoft 365 and will get more organisations into Azure. I imagine the amount of revenue Microsoft will earn from the Windows Virtual Desktop VM charges will be relatively small, but that’s ok for them. I’ve long thought Microsoft’s main aim is to get people into the Azure portal, in almost any way. Microsoft’s plan is “once they’re in, they will see all the other 100’s (1000’s?) of things that can be done and spend more” – something like a Freemium app model.

What about the competition?

Will customers be able to run Windows Virtual Desktops outside of Azure – i.e. on Amazon AWS or Google Cloud Platform?

If the purpose of this is more around driving cloud (read Azure) spend, rather than simplifying VDI, Microsoft surely won’t be keen on sending customers to other clouds. We have already seen certain things be restricted to Azure, Hybrid Use Rights for example, so perhaps Windows Virtual Desktop will follow the same model.

Further Reading

Microsoft Blog – https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/blog/2018/09/24/microsoft-365-adds-modern-desktop-on-azure/

Microsoft WVD page and preview registration – https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/services/virtual-desktop/

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About Rich

Rich has been in the world of IT and software licensing since 2003, having been a software sales manager for a VAR, a Microsoft licensing endorsed trainer, and now an ITAM analyst looking at software licensing and cloud.

A Northerner renowned for his shirts, Rich is a big Hip-Hop head, and loves travel, football in general (specifically MUFC), baseball, Marvel, and reading as many books as possible. Finding ways to combine all of these with ITAM & software licensing is always fun!

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