What is Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD)?

Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) is an Azure service which, combined with appropriate Microsoft licenses, other Azure services and resources, delivers a complete virtualized multi-user Windows 10 (or a single-user Windows 7) experience together with Office 365 ProPlus. WVD includes centralized management and monitoring; system administrators can quickly deploy and manage desktops, apps, and Windows servers in the Azure Cloud.

Who would benefit from WVD?

Small to medium-sized businesses (employee strength of 10-1000) with limited IT resources and a significant percentage of mobile staff working from different locations would find Azure Windows virtual desktop an ideal solution. Here are some scenarios that benefit from WVD.

1. Security and Regulation as highest priority

Financial Services, Healthcare and Government sectors with their regulatory policies and rigorous security norms.

2. Flexible workforce situations

Business undergoing mergers and acquisition or contractor businesses where there are shuffling of employees including short term employees.

3. Specific workforce circumstances

Employees with BYOD and mobile staff, call center workforce and branch employees working from different locations.

4. Specialized Workload Cases

Engineering & Designing companies, businesses using legacy applications, IT sector into software development and testing.

Advantages of Windows Virtual Desktop

Decreases costs

By moving their desktops and applications to Azure with WVD, businesses wish to gain greater flexibility in allowing secure access from multiple locations from a variety of devices. At the same time, they have cost constraints and preference for the desktop Windows OS such as Windows 10 and 7, to ensure better compatibility with legacy applications.

Windows 10 Virtual Desktop reduces costs in the Cloud by allowing session-based desktops on Azure Virtual Machines (VMs) which results in improved utilization of costly resources.

By simplifying licensing for the use of Windows 10 on WVD environment, and not requiring additional Client Access Licenses (CALs) for access, as a Server OS would require, the Microsoft licensing costs come down.

For companies that prefer Windows 7 on a desktop, they can continue getting free updates and support for Windows 7 for another three years, which would otherwise expire in January 2020.

Improves flexibility

Moving Office IT infrastructure to the Cloud simplifies operations for both IT staff and the end-users.
End-users can access their desktops and applications from various devices and browsers.

Some of the Office 365 applications and OneDrive have now been optimized to work with WVD, and the end-user experience is smoother.

After moving to the Cloud, IT staff do not spend as much time managing physical machines and local network. All apps, data, and resources can move to the Cloud.

Desktop apps are easier to migrate as WVD allows Windows 10 or Windows 7 OS. IT staff can generate persistent and personal desktops from desktop images.

In WVD, the user profiles and apps are stored in separate containers, and this can improve flexibility and scalability.

Starting now with just enough centralized management capabilities, the management interface of WVDs is going to get more sophisticated with time, and at some point, emulate the capabilities of on-premise infrastructure management tools for Windows system administrators.

Other advantages of moving to Azure WVD is the availability of a virtually infinite variety of services and resources in the Cloud and better integration with Office 365 products.

Office 365 products, themselves on the Microsoft Cloud, will see improved performance on WVD environments. Similarly, there would be improved performance of other applications that require minimum latency to the desktop. For graphics-intensive applications, virtual graphics processing is available.

Is a system admin needed to implement Windows Virtual Desktop?

While Azure Cloud takes away the headaches of dealing with physical machines, cabling, and network equipment; deploying Azure WVD requires at least mid-level system administration and networking skills, and familiarity with Azure services and resources.

Remember, when your resources are in the Cloud, they are more vulnerable to outside attacks forever. That means you need ever watchful system administrators who design for security and monitor performance and vulnerabilities. Unless you have such resources in-house, it is advisable to find a dependable Azure Cloud Service Provider to work with you.

What is required to get started with Azure Windows Virtual Desktop?

To get started with WVD you need the following…

  • Subscription to Windows 10 Enterprise for each WVD user
  • Azure Active Directory (AAD) tenant
  • Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) deployment
  • Azure subscription
  • File Server

1. Subscription to Windows 10 Enterprise

WVD Management Service and Windows 10 desktop OS are licensed via a subscription to Windows 10 Enterprise. The following licenses can be used for WVD:

  • Microsoft 365 – E3/E5/A3/A5/Business
  • Windows (via CSP) – E3/E5/A3/A5

To connect to multiple WVD desktops, whether they are Windows 10 Enterprise multi-session, single-session, or Windows 7, you can use the same per-user subscription license.

2. Azure Active Directory (AAD) tenant

For deploying and managing WVD as an administrator, assign users to desktops and applications, there must be an Azure AD (AAD) tenant. AAD is Microsoft’s cloud directory service and everything ties to an AAD tenant.

The tenant is given a unique domain name also referred to as “Directory” or “Account”. If you are already using Office 365 then you are an Azure AD tenant that you will use to deploy WVD.

When you sign up for Office 365 an AAD tenant gets created. You will need to create a Global Administrator account that has access to the AAD tenant. The global administrator account means you have unlimited control over the products in your subscriptions, and you can access maximum data.

3. On-Prem Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) deployment or Azure Active Directory Domain Services (Azure AD DS)

While Azure AD is a container of user objects, the actual WVD virtual machines or the hosts running the Windows 10 Enterprise multi-session, must join an Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) pool.

Note that you will need both AAD (contains user objects) and AD DS (contains computer objects), plus the AD DS must be synchronized with AAD via ADConnect.

If you do not have On-Prem Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) deployment, you can use Azure AD DS. This will also reduce the overheads of maintaining local Active Directory Servers.

No need to deploy, manage or patch domain controllers in the cloud. It will integrate with your existing Azure AD tenant. Users can sign in using their current login details. However, this service comes with an additional cost of around $109 per month.

4. Azure Subscription

For creating and running WVD session host VMs, you will need Azure subscription. The subscription includes WVD Management Service, Windows 10 VMs and infrastructure.

5. File Server

WVD uses profile management technology from FSLogix to enhance, enable, and simplify pooled (non-persistent) Windows computing environments.

The users’ Windows profiles are encapsulated in VHD files and stored on a file server independent of the Windows 10 session host VMs. When a user is assigned to a pooled (i.e. non-persistent) desktop, the profile (including Windows Search cache) can follow the user no matter what virtual desktop VM they log into.

This functionality needs a file server accessible to the session host VMs to store these profile disks.

Windows Virtual Desktop Azure license requirements

WVD licensing requires either of the following licenses. You can use WVD without any extra licensing cost if you own any of the following licenses:

  • Windows 10 subscription licenses: Standalone subscription license
  • A part of Microsoft 365 Business/E3/E5/A3/A5 licenses: Windows 10 Enterprise E3

These licenses cover Azure VMs only, hence they cannot be used for on-premises or other cloud platforms.

The licenses for Remote Desktop Service (RDS) or Azure Windows Server operating systems are not required, as WVD doesn’t use any of these.

Infrastructure pricing: an example

Let’s assume a scenario of 30-user account willing to move to Windows Virtual Desktop. For this Windows licenses, domain controller, virtual machine, file storage, bandwidth, and backups (if required) will be needed to purchase separately. Here goes the pricing part…

A: License

Windows 10 Enterprise E3 ($10/user) = $300/month

B: Domain Controller Cost

VM Size: D2v3 (2 vCPU 8GB Memory) = $139.87/month

C: Windows 10 Multi Session VM Cost

VM Size: 1 x D8v3 (8 vCPU 32GB Memory) = $559.49/month/virtual machine (Based on pay-as-you-go per month model for the US East Coast location)

D: Total License and Compute Cost: A + B + C = $968.99/month

File storage and bandwidth will be other costs which depend on individual requirement. Let’s assume blanket costs for storage and bandwidth 1TB each. Then the total cost of ownership goes as follows…

WVD infrastructure pricing

This is a typical case for 30-user scenario. The costs may change for different requirements.

Items Cost per month
Windows 10 Licenses $300.00
Domain Controller $139.87
Windows 10 Multi Session $559.49
1TB Shared File Storage for User Profile Data $60.06
1TB Bandwidth $88.65
Azure Backups $77.97
Total $1,226.04

A typical pricing per user will be around $50/user/month. On top of that, a Cloud Service Provider may charge an additional fee for managed services and support. Apps4Rent has a fee starting at $10/user/month.