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Working with Windows Virtual Desktop

Windows Virtual Desktop is a service hosted on Azure which allows clients to consolidate their workflow like a traditional RDS server, but with a Windows 10 VM instead which is more intuitive to most users. This is a powerful technology for MSP’s which can cut both you and your client’s costs, reduce technical overhead, and increase security. It works out to a large win for everyone involved for most workflows.

Azure has become one of the biggest virtualization and cloud platforms with a medley of offerings and services which meld together into a Windows administrator’s sweetest dream. Let’s see exactly what Windows Virtual Desktop is, what it does well, how to get the most out of the platform if you’re not used to the cloud, and the security and backup features you get as well.

What Is Windows Virtual Desktop?

Windows Virtual Desktop boils down to a solution which allows you to manage a cloud Windows environment without having to manage the tedious parts of infrastructure, maintenance, or the pain of licensing. It is the natural evolution of RDP. We previously wrote about the more technical aspects of what makes a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure work. Let’s look at the features Windows Virtual Desktop offers to get a taste for what it does in practice rather than theory. Microsoft lays their Windows Virtual Desktop offering out with the following features:

  • Set up a multi-session Windows 10 deployment that delivers a full Windows 10 with scalability
  • Virtualize Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise and optimize it to run in multi-user virtual scenarios
  • Provide Windows 7 virtual desktops with free Extended Security Updates
  • Bring your existing Remote Desktop Services (RDS) and Windows Server desktops and apps to any computer
  • Virtualize both desktops and apps
  • Manage Windows 10, Windows Server, and Windows 7 desktops and apps with a unified management experience

You get the ability to use a multi-user, multi-session version of Windows 10 which means a more simplified changeover and an easier licensing situation. You also have the option for Windows Server or an up-to-date version of Windows 7. Desktops and apps alone can be virtualized with this solution.

Windows Virtual Desktop makes it easy to get users virtualized cheaper and more efficiently than other solutions. You handle the setup, they handle the infrastructure (Azure AD) and maintenance (mostly). Microsoft also makes it easier than RDP, you don’t need a gateway server and RDP setups deployed to each desktop, your users just use a simple native app or an HTML5 webapp.

What Makes Windows Virtual Desktop Amazing?

This solution basically provides you a way to make virtual desktops for clients to work off of (which are especially important with work from home), but that isn’t all it does. It also allows support for Windows 7 which is compliant (i.e. it is patched and up to date from the vendor), and it allows porting over existing RDP setups. You get everything a traditional Windows virtualization solution could provide, plus an easier way to administer it and use it. It offers an easy line for clients to move over as well.

If you have clients with old Windows 7 desktops or Windows Server 2008 R2 boxes, you know how painful they can be to manage. The extended support on its own is far too expensive for most companies to realistically consider, so they take their chances with VM’s or trying to isolate the machine from the rest of the network. No matter how it’s done, it’s either expensive or painful for everyone involved.

The Azure setup streamlines maintaining a domain environment. Domain costs can become especially costly per user in smaller traditional setups. Ease of use is a general feature across the board for Azure. That being said, Azure can be hard to get going with since there are just so many features and options.

Augmenting Azure

We offer project services for migrations to help our partners focus on business while we focus on the boring parts. We partnered with both Crayon and Nerdio to augment our Azure offerings. Azure is complicated and can be difficult to navigate, but solutions like Crayon and Nerdio both have different offerings which fill in the gaps. They help handle translating the client’s need into something which can be cost effective with Windows Virtual Desktop (among many other Azure services).

Transitioning to Azure is easy if you’re somewhat technical and can follow directions, but you can end up with 10 different solutions which do the same thing and vary wildly in cost. The cost all depends on how well you understand the platform and what you need to satisfy the client.

Any MSP can handle the technical side, but the platform requires knowledge and experience to leverage it as efficiently as possible. It can be hard to find the time to maintain your business obligations while staying ahead of the dizzying number of XaaS platforms. Paying for a project to migrate or working with a vendor to simplify Azure and Windows Virtual Desktop setup can ensure your first migrations are a success and stay on track for cost and expectations.

It’s easy once you understand it, but it takes a lot of time and effort to get to the point it all comes together naturally. You can choose to learn on your own slowly, or you can get a jumps jump-start with expertise to immerse you in Azure and learn as you go. Neither solution is the right answer for all MSP’s or businesses, but if it gets overwhelming, there are options to get through the most mundanely challenging parts.

Azure Backup and Security

Azure offers a backup service which makes recovery and backup administration trivial if you’ve already bought into the Azure platform. Azure Backup doesn’t just work for devices hosted on Azure, you can also run it on traditional on-premise setups. It isn’t always the most cost effective solution outside of Azure however.

You also have a simplified network interface which abstracts your networking away from supporting a virtual appliance. Some providers still require you to support virtual firewalls and similar if you want the service to work and be secure. Azure makes it easy in general and keeps it easy enough that some power users can even administer it.

Azure Backups running as a cloud appliance rather than an on-premise machine or similar provides an advantage for security as well. Some crypto and ransomware variants are known to target HyperV machines or certain backup solutions to make recovery more painful. It’s a lot harder to do when it’s a one way transfer into the cloud rather than a machine sharing the same network.

I mentioned compliance earlier with Windows 7 with Windows Virtual Desktop, but this is a huge selling point to some clients. They need a legacy OS and they need to do things right or else have a hugely inconvenient network isolation project. We’ve had vendors suggest clients with applications on Windows Server 2008 R2 literally isolate and spin up a full, separate domain (intentionally using different credentials and user structuring), maintain a jumpbox (or two) which is at least partially isolated, and then suggest users transfer data by moving it from their system to the jumpbox, and then to the secure server to try and remain secure because extended support was too expensive. Or, they could just use Windows Virtual Desktop.

Conclusion

Windows Virtual Desktop won’t fit every client or every workflow, but it is a powerful offering and an efficient tool for many companies. Windows Virtual Desktop expounds on the possibilities in Azure with virtualization and creates the natural evolution to RDP and similar tools and technologies. Understand what it does and how, and you can understand when to use it, or when to not.

Services from Nerdio or Crayon can give you a shortcut to getting the most out of Windows Virtual Desktop and other Azure offerings. Windows Virtual Desktop is powerful, but it can be complicated if you are not familiar with the sheer volume of options. You can make the same basic system a dozen ways with a dozen different prices that all work the same; understanding how the options work and are billed is essential to making the right choices. It’s not hard on its own, but it can be when you’re trying to balance a business and selecting technology.

Sometimes it just works out cheaper long-term to rely on another expert to make the best choices and build the best experience the first few times. It’s important to remember how much your time or obligation is worth. We enable our partners to make use of these technologies to get the most bang for their buck.

Windows Virtual Desktop can provide an easier to manage environment which can be cheaper to operate for many clients. It abstracts away many security and infrastructure concerns, as well as unexpected costs. I’m yet to hear of a client moving to Azure or Windows Virtual Desktop and deciding to move back due to anything other than poor planning. The advantages are too great once you understand them.