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Microsoft's Windows Virtual Desktop Solution Hits Preview

Windows Virtual Desktop, Microsoft's new virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) service hosted from Azure datacenters, was released as a public preview this week.

Microsoft first announced the service back in September. It's designed to let organizations remotely access Windows 10 desktops (as single sessions or multisessions) or Windows 7 desktops (as single sessions). It also provides application virtualization support for remote access to Office 365 ProPlus and other apps.

The Windows Virtual Desktop service is offered by Microsoft and its cloud solution provider partners. It can be extended by partner solutions housed in Azure Marketplace. Citrix Cloud Services supports the Windows Virtual Desktop service. Also, Samsung's DeX software for mobile devices supports it for access by "mobile firstline workers," according to Microsoft's announcement.

With Windows 7 nearing its end-of-support phase in January 2020, Microsoft is touting the Windows Virtual Desktop service as an alternative measure when organizations can't readily upgrade to Windows 10. Microsoft will provide free Extended Security Updates for Windows 7 with the Windows Virtual Desktop service, allowing organizations to run Windows 7 till January 2023.

Moreover, Microsoft is timing the "general availability" of the Windows Virtual Desktop service for "the second half of calendar-year 2019." General availability is an indication of product readiness, and so this new VDI service likely will be commercially available before Windows 7's end-of-life date.

The Windows Virtual Desktop service, as demonstrated in this Microsoft Mechanics video, appears to allow fast access to applications and files. Things apparently get sped up by technology that Microsoft acquired when it bought FSLogix last year. FSLogix is described as an app provisioning platform that enables "faster load times for user profiles" in Outlook, OneDrive and Office 365 ProPlus.

Client vs. Server VDI
The ability to use VDI with Windows Server and Remote Desktop Services (RDS) protocol has been available from Microsoft and its cloud solution provider partners for years. The new Windows Virtual Desktop service, though, promises to deliver an actual Windows client desktop experience, since it's based on the Windows 10 or Windows 7 operating system.

Microsoft's announcement indicated that Windows Virtual Desktop gives organizations the ability to use either client or server operating systems in a VDI scenario. It described Windows Virtual Desktop as "the only service that delivers simplified management, a multi-session Windows 10 experience, optimizations for Office 365 ProPlus, and support for Windows Server Remote Desktop Services (RDS) desktops and apps."

The Windows Server RDS support in the Windows Virtual Desktop service was explained as follows by a Microsoft spokesperson:

RDS can be run on-premises or on the cloud. For existing RDS customers that want to virtualize on Azure, they can leverage their existing Windows Server desktops and apps, as well as RDS CALs with active SA [Software Assurance], with Windows Virtual Desktop. They will be able to virtualize Windows Server desktops and apps to their users with the licenses they already have.

Moreover, organizations could already have the licensing in place to use the Windows Virtual Desktop service. Here's Microsoft's thumbnail description of the licensing requirements:

For users accessing the Windows 10 and Windows 7 desktops and apps, there's no additional cost if you're an existing Microsoft 365 F1/E3/E5, Windows 10 Enterprise E3/E5, or Windows VDA [Virtual Desktop Access] customer. For Windows Server desktops and apps, there's no additional cost if you're an existing Microsoft RDS Client Access License (CAL) customer.

Windows Virtual Desktop pricing is described at this page.

Requirements
Organizations will need to have an Azure subscription to use the service. They'll also need to pay for Azure virtual machine compute and storage costs, according to Microsoft.

Organizations don't have to set up "any additional gateway servers" to use the Windows Virtual Desktop service, according to a Microsoft document. They can use their own desktop images with the service.

IT pros have access to tools to assign users to "host pools." They can use "Windows Virtual Desktop PowerShell and REST interfaces," for instance, which lets them "configure the host pools, create app groups, assign users, and publish resources." Of course, organizations are relieved of having to manage the underlying hosting infrastructure, which is handled by Microsoft. Native applications can be used with the service, or the "Windows Virtual Desktop HTML5 web client" is available for accessing apps.

There are a few restrictions in place with the preview. For instance, while organizations can use virtual machines in any Azure region for the service, the management component of the service currently resides only in the US East 2 Azure region. That circumstance may be an issue for organizations with local data residency requirements. Microsoft recommends keeping the virtual machine hosting and management capabilities in the same Azure region for optimal performance.

Organizations also will need to have a good connection to the Azure region with the Windows Virtual Desktop service. Microsoft recommends having a "round-trip (RTT) latency from the client's network to the Azure region where host pools have been deployed" that is "less than 150 ms."

More resources on the Windows Virtual Desktop preview are listed in this Microsoft Tech Community post.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.