This Azure Virtual Desktop review reveals a virtual desktop solution ready for the modern workplace. It’s modern, fast, and scalable.
Where I work, we have been public cloud hosting Microsoft products for almost 20 years; long before ‘the Cloud’ ever existed. Over the last several years, we have been retiring products such as Exchange and Skype for Business as they became better and more cost-effectively delivered by Microsoft and Office 365. One of our few remaining products is a Desktop as a Service offering called Managed Desktop.
Managed Desktop is based on Windows Server’s multi-session capability and allows us to share resources to multiple users and gives our customers anywhere access to their desktop, apps, and data. It does its job, but it’s feeling pretty dated these days – making Windows Server look and feel like a modern desktop environment is difficult, and that’s without mentioning all the other bug bears. In all honestly, we thought remote desktop was on the road to nowhere and have built a modern replacement based on Intune over the last few years. Like anything, Intune is not perfect, and it doesn’t beat Managed Desktop in all categories.
In 2019 Microsoft released Azure Virtual Desktop. It perked our interest; however, we found several limitations (not least the lack of Azure integration) in the product that led us to park the idea. Fast forward to the recent release of Azure Virtual Desktop ‘v2’ (the original version now known as Azure Virtual Desktop Classic), and we were thinking again. With the help of the Nerdio management platform, and the improvements in Azure Virtual Desktop, we were quietly excited that our vast experience in Desktop as a Service would not be wasted. Over the last 9 months we have built a product on Azure Virtual Desktop we are proud of; a modern, scalable, and cost-effective solution that will provide our customers a vastly better Desktop as a Service experience and meet their objectives of getting to the Microsoft cloud.
We have since been incredibly surprised at the receptiveness to Azure Virtual Desktop among all those that we demo it to. They are excited by the problems it can solve for them, all the while getting a fast, modern desktop experience.
So why the heck would anyone be excited about remote desktop?
The prevalence of cloud-based solutions has made it easy to consume technology directly over the internet to your computer and from anywhere. So why would anyone be excited about remote desktop and centralising desktop delivery? After all, one of the key reasons you would choose to do this is to provide simplified access to on-premises services. Also, it’s been around for an eternity, feels dated, and Citrix, VMWare and other vendors have been doing a decent job of making it usable.
Well, the most obvious reason I can produce is that businesses want cloud. Most customers I deal have some cloud footprint already and are aiming towards a target that sees all on-premises servers gone. Where most get stuck, is that some line of business apps cannot be easily or cost effectively moved to the cloud. Either the vendor is stuck in the dark ages and their app has no hope of ever being cloud native (at least not in the near to mid-term) or moving to a cloud equivalent is a time consuming and costly exercise.
Azure Virtual Desktop can help these customers remove those last few servers. Azure Virtual Desktop is a Desktop as a Service solution that provides a cost-effective way to host desktops in Azure. Line of business apps can be installed directly on the desktop image, and where they require a backend server or database, virtual machines can be used.
Azure Virtual Desktop is not just a way to host line of business apps; it holds its own as a viable way to deliver end-user compute too.
- AVD is based on Windows 10 which gives users a modern and familiar user experience
- With the right setup, AVD is fast. In fact, it’s faster than a lot of fat clients I have used!
- AVD can be accessed from anywhere, on almost any device
- AVD supports the latest Microsoft Office and OneDrive files on demand
- Microsoft Teams and Zoom media optimisation for AVD means you can take calls right from the virtual desktop
From an admin and business perspective Azure Virtual Desktop has some additional benefits:
- Central management of desktop ‘gold’ images is easier than managing a varied hardware environment
- AVD takes care of all the access technologies such as the gateway, connection broker and web portal, leaving you to just look after your gold image
- AVD is the only way to leverage the Windows 10 multi-session experience
- Support for OneDrive files on demand saves on costs associated to storage space
- AVD allows you to leverage lower cost hardware (including thin clients) that doesn’t need to be replaced as often
- AVD can leverage Microsoft authentication technology including MFA and Conditional Access
- AVD’s reverse connect technology means that inbound ports are not opened to the internet. Rather, the desktops connect outbound to Microsoft’s gateway service
- Intune can be supported in some scenarios
- Azure Active Directory will be supported soon (coupled with Intune, this could mean you remove the need for a traditional Active Directory Domain)
- Some Office 365 and Microsoft 365 SKU’s include the required Windows licencing for your AVD desktops
- Performance on demand – easily scale up (or down) including graphics acceleration
- Deploy Windows 7 virtual desktops with free Extended Security Updates
- You can deliver a full desktop experience or just publish apps
We’re not the only ones interested in Desktop as a Service
We’re not the only ones interested in Desktop as a Service (In part due to COVID-19 having us work from home en-masse). The Digital Workspace Deployment & Performance Monitoring 2020-21 Survey Report has some interesting facts:
“The pandemic forced most people to work from home. Some organizations had to
deploy digital workspaces from scratch. Others had to scale their deployments to
unexpected levels. Executives focused more on digital workspaces like never before as employee productivity was paramount. Scalability, performance, troubleshooting of digital
workspaces came into focus.”
Ok, it’s starting to sound like something I might be interested in, but Azure consumption-based costs are scary
We here this a lot. But there is nothing to be worried about if you plan and monitor well. Based on a well-designed environment that automatically scales resources, we are getting some very cost-effective results:
- A simple desktop solution that doesn’t require any backend servers:
- Can be as little as US$50 per user per month for 10 or more users.
- Once you hit around 100 users, this can get down as low as US$30 per user per month.
- Add a backend server with SQL Standard and it will be looking something like this:
- Can be as little as US$65 per user per month for 10 or more users.
- Once you hit around 100 users, this can get down as low as US$50 per user per month
You will also need to licence the version of Windows that your run on your desktops. Some Office 365 and Microsoft 365 SKU’s include the required Windows licencing for your virtual desktops.
Hopefully, you have taken enjoyed this Azure Virtual Desktop Review and it’s perked your interest like it did ours. Azure Virtual Desktop is a very viable solution for the modern workplace. It’s the only solution that supports Windows 10 multi-session, providing a very cost-effective way to deliver a modern desktop experience in line with user expectations, its fast, and solves some of the management complexities of a fleet of hardware endpoints. If you haven’t considered Azure Virtual Desktop, you should.
- Active Directory Options Demystified
- Azure Virtual Desktop Domain Join Options
- Manage Azure Virtual Desktop with Endpoint Manager (Intune)
- Azure Virtual Desktop Classic vs ARM
- Azure Virtual Desktop & Windows 365 Licencing Requirements