Tuesday, 19 July 2022

What is Azure Virtual Desktop? And do I need it?

Remote desktop solutions have garnered a lot of interest recently. In this article, we look at Azure Virtual Desktop and why it might be useful.

Microsoft launched Azure Virtual Desktop in 2021 as a progression from its Windows Virtual Desktop solution. In the wake of the pandemic and the associated move to remote working, such remote desktop solutions have garnered a lot of interest.

In this article, we’ll dig into the detail of Azure Virtual Desktop and look at some of the scenarios in which it might be useful.

With steady numbers of us continuing to want to work in a hybrid or remote way, the need to offer secure ways to work remotely shows no sign of abating.

There are, of course, many ways to deliver secure remote working. One of the potential solutions comes in the form of Azure Virtual Desktop. But what is Azure Virtual Desktop? And is it right for your organisation?

Let’s take a look.

Why are remote working solutions important?

Remote desktop solutions are attractive if you are continuing to support remote and hybrid working arrangements as part of your organisation’s new normal. That’s because it gives you much more control over your data and information.

How does a virtual desktop solution work?

From a user’s perspective, the virtual desktop appears as an application on their local device. Once the user launches the virtual desktop app, it opens a window that resembles either their usual desktop or a published application. The user can then work, as they would normally, in the virtual desktop space.

Why would you want to use a virtual desktop solution?

The main benefit of Azure Virtual Desktop is the ability to move on premise applications to the cloud. Historically applications run from a server in your office, with remote/hybrid working now more common, the need for a physical server in the office has decreased. Many organisations are looking to move applications to the cloud and do away with their legacy server. Azure Virtual Desktop allows users to access these applications once they are in the cloud.

Azure Virtual Desktops offer an increase in security and speed when compared to other methods of remote access such as a VPN. There is no data actually being transferred between devices, the data continues to live on the Azure server, as such this ensures the data is kept secure and inside your business network. This has the added benefit of being faster than a VPN, because you are not needing to download and upload data every time you open or save something.

A secondary but important benefit arises in terms of the specification of end-user devices. Because the hard work is being done on the server rather than the local device, the user is likely to be able to work just as effectively on a lower-spec device. This opens the door for cost savings on laptops and PC hardware. It also offers potential for improved convenience for users because smaller and more portable end-user device form factors might be acceptable.

Understanding the history of virtual desktop solutions

Virtual Desktop solutions are not new. For many years, they have offered a solution for remote working. Often this was delivered by an on-premises solution which users would connect to via a VPN. Through the 1990s and 2000s, Citrix was the biggest player in this space.

However, while it is still possible to run virtual desktops in this way, there are now cloud-based alternatives. They come with the usual advantages of cloud computing: no need to purchase or maintain on-site infrastructure, minimal upfront costs, and ongoing cost efficiencies.

These modern solutions are effectively offering “desktop as a service” (DaaS) solutions. Azure Virtual Desktop(1) is one of Microsoft’s solutions in this “desktop as a service” space. Given its tight integration with the rest of the Microsoft range of products, Azure Virtual Desktop is very different both in terms of user experience and IT admin experience to the virtual desktop solutions of old.

Why might you want Azure Virtual Desktop?

You may be considering moving away from your historical on-premise servers and applications and moving these to a cloud server. Azure Virtual Desktop offers the perfect way to access these applications, both in the office and remotely.

Since the desktops are running in a secure environment in the Azure cloud, you have all the security benefits of the Azure cloud. Plus, there is no need for data to be downloaded to your employee’s local devices. From a data governance and compliance point of view, it is a great option.

Plus, as with other remote desktop solutions, because all the compute resources are running in the cloud, your employees can run the desktops on nearly any device. This may deliver cost savings over the long term because end-user device specifications can be optimised in favour of less compute heavy and more mobile devices.

About the user experience with Azure Virtual Desktop

If you’ve used a virtual desktop solution in the past, you might remember them being a bit clunky. However, the user experience of Azure Virtual Desktop is much more familiar. It supports Windows 10 and Windows 11 desktops and is the only solution fully optimised for Windows 11 and Microsoft 365. For Microsoft 365 users, this means that you can enjoy the same desktop experience that you are used to.

Users can access from any device, making managing BYOD less of a headache. Azure Virtual Desktop clients are available for Windows, Mac, IoS and Android. Whatever the client, as far as users are concerned, it’s the familiar local Windows desktop experience.

About the admin experience with Azure Virtual Desktop

The great benefit of using Azure Virtual Desktop is that you can very quickly and easily scale the number of virtual desktops being used. This is the same for most Azure products, as your business grows, they can grow with you. If your business shrinks or you no longer require some of the applications you used, Azure can shrink with you. This is a great benefit when compared to a physical infrastructure which is static and typically does not scale well.

For known, long-term commitments, Microsoft offers the option to prepurchase reserved instances to keep costs down. Or for varying workloads, you can leverage the flexibility of cloud to switch off workloads when they are not in use to save money. And, of course, cloud makes it easy to grow your workloads, without the need for upfront spending.

You have the option to create pools of users to optimise performance and costs. It’s possible to align costs closely with usage by right-sizing virtual machines and shutting them down when not in use.

If you are already on a 365 license such as Microsoft 365 Business Premium, there aren’t any additional license costs: Azure Virtual Desktop can be used with your existing eligible Microsoft 365 or Windows per-user licences.

For IT admins, Azure Virtual Desktop has a similar comfort feeling of familiarity. If you already have applications running in Azure, including Microsoft 365, you’ll immediately feel at home. That’s because you manage your end-to-end Azure Virtual Desktop deployment alongside your other Azure services within the Azure portal.

In the Azure portal, you can configure network settings, add users, deploy desktop apps, and enable security in just a few clicks. You also benefit from Azure’s built-in security protocols, Azure Firewall, Azure Security Centre, Azure Sentinel and Microsoft Defender.

The advantages of Azure Virtual Desktop over on-premises VDI

Being cloud-based, Azure Virtual Desktop offers familiar cloud benefits over traditional on-premises virtual desktop infrastructure. First, you avoid onerous upfront hardware costs. Second, you have greater agility and elasticity and, consequently, should gain cost savings.

Further, because it’s hosted in the cloud, it is accessible anywhere power and Internet connectivity are available. Users don’t need a VPN connection to your on-premises server. This enhances the user experience and offers further cost savings.

Note that if you are already using a VDI, Azure Virtual Desktop offers options for Citrix and VMware integration, making the transition to AVD more cost-effective and easier.

The advantages of Azure Virtual Desktop over other Desktop-as-a-Service solutions

Azure Virtual Desktop has a few advantages over the other VDI and DaaS solutions available in the market today. The most compelling is its tight integration with the rest of the Microsoft product range.

This includes enhanced support for Active Directory and the streamlined deployment within the Azure portal. It also includes integrations for Microsoft Endpoint Manager and Intune for multi-session virtual machine management.

Perhaps most importantly, it includes the tight integration with Microsoft 365, including OneDrive and Teams. Employees want technology that is easy to use, familiar and available across devices – and at this Azure Virtual Desktop excels.

Why might I not want to use Azure Virtual Desktop?

If your workforce has returned in full to working in the office, then Azure Virtual Desktop may not be something you’re going to want to look at with urgency. Nevertheless, if you have a lot of users and depending on your usage patterns, there may be some scenarios where there could be a cost advantage, but the main benefits of secure remote working would be less relevant.

You may also be looking to move away from having a server in the office and Azure offers the ability to do this.

Note that, for smaller organisations which are attracted to the benefits of a remote desktop solution, Microsoft does offer an alternative. Microsoft also offers Windows 365 a “cloud PC” solution which is similar in terms of user experience. It uses Azure Virtual Desktop to offer a single-user desktop experience on a fixed licencing basis (per user, per month). There are a number of licencing options within this. However, there is a trade-off in terms of flexibility. It offers fewer options, especially around security and management, in return for a simplified IT admin experience.

Tips for success

Consider your usage and user needs carefully before deciding whether Azure Virtual Desktop is right for you. The Grant McGregor team are on hand to talk you through your options in more detail if you need us.

As with any IT change, communication is key to success. Without the pressure of the pandemic lockdowns driving rapid change, we have the luxury of reverting to the tried and trusted methods of trialling, testing, and adapting before full-scale rollout. This way, you can iron out any issues before widespread adoption.

As with any cloud deployment, understanding costs and the options for optimising them is key. Make sure you understand the various options and their implications before jumping in – the cost savings can be significant. Again, the Grant McGregor team are available to talk you through this if you need assistance.

It’s worth thinking about ongoing support as well: how will employees ask for additional resources if they need them? How will such tickets be resolved? Quick responses here will be key to productivity.

What next?

If you’d like to know more about or talk through any of the ideas raised in this blog, please get in touch. You can reach our team on: 0808 164 4142


Further reading:

• If you haven’t already tightened your cyber security in the wake of the war in Ukraine, please read our guidance here.

• One way to strengthen your cyber security is to use multi-factor authentication. You can read our guide here.

• If Azure Virtual Desktop isn’t for you, what else can you use to help support and secure hybrid and remote working practices? Here’s a pick of some of our favourite solutions.

• And: our thoughts on what the new normal looks like now.



1. https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/virtual-desktop/overview