Microsoft Launches 'True' Desktop VDI with Windows Virtual Desktop

First announced last fall and in preview since March, Microsoft's new Windows Virtual Desktop service became generally available for commercial use on Monday.

Windows Virtual Desktop is a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solution, which also is sometimes called "desktop-as-a-service." The service lets organizations access applications remotely that are running on top of Windows 7- or Windows 10-based client operating systems. Those OSes run on Microsoft Azure virtual machines housed in Microsoft's datacenters.

The new service delivers Windows apps remotely on client machines running Windows, Android, macOS and iOS operating systems. It also works with HTML5-based Web browsers.

True Desktop VDI
Windows Virtual Desktop is a different from past VDI approaches in that the true Windows desktop client operating system gets used. Previously, it was just possible to use VDI to access apps remotely using Microsoft's Remote Desktop Services connections with the Windows Server OS, which didn't offer the same user-friendly experience as the desktop OS.

Windows Virtual Desktop users can use Windows 7 or Windows 10 as the underlying OS. Microsoft has a new Windows 10 product for the Windows Virtual Desktop service that's called "Windows 10 Enterprise Multisession," which doesn't have a limit on the number of end users supported per virtual machine. In contrast, when using Windows 7 with this service, each individual end user must connect to one virtual machine during a VDI session, which potentially can increase the costs associated with using Azure infrastructure for organizations.

The Windows 7 option for Windows Virtual Desktop appears to be there as more of a stop-gap measure for organizations that are having troubles migrating to Windows 10. Windows 7 will fall out of support after Jan. 14, 2020, which is when Microsoft's free security updates will cease to arrive, potentially making things insecure to use.

Alternatively, organizations stuck on Windows 7 can use the Windows Virtual Desktop service and get three years of Extended Security Updates patching support for "free." Extended Security Updates is like an insurance buy-in plan that offers "Critical" and "Important" security patches for three years beyond the January 2020 Windows 7 end-of-support date. It's likely an expensive plan for organizations, but the costs for the three years of Extended Security Updates are included for Windows Virtual Desktop users.

VDI Optimization Technologies
Microsoft made other changes to optimize the performance and storage aspects of its Windows Virtual Desktop VDI service. One key technology is the roaming profile management solution it acquired after buying FSLogix. This technology saves a virtual disk file on an Azure file server, which subsequently will get "attached" to a session when an end user logs into the VDI service, making it seem like the profile is stored locally on the user's machine.

FSLogix technology is used with the Windows Virtual Desktop service. It also was made available to "Microsoft 365, Windows 10 Enterprise and RDS customers" back in July, Microsoft indicated.

Other technologies used to enhance the Windows Virtual Desktop service are described in this Microsoft video, which features Scott Manchester, a principal group program manager for Azure.

Manchester described an "App Attach" technology that's used with the Windows Virtual Desktop solution. It avoids common problems encountered with other VDI approaches, he said. Microsoft's idea is for applications to be stored outside virtual machines as packages, much like how FSLogix user profiles get stored. Microsoft claims that App Attach goes beyond traditional app layering approaches. In particular, the company made "core changes" to Windows to support the dynamic delivery of MSIX packages with the App Attach approach. MSIX is Microsoft's latest packaging approach for applications.

Microsoft also added a technology called "AV Redirection," which will be built directly into Microsoft Teams and gets supported by the Windows Virtual Desktop service. AV Redirection offers a higher-fidelity audio and video experience in unified communications scenarios that aims to reduce latency. It's similar to a "full-metal" experience, according to Microsoft. AV Redirection reduces the encoding and decoding processes associated with unified communications in VDI environments. Instead, AV Redirection bypasses the virtual machine and sends data from one client to another using Web Real-Time Communications (WebRTC), an open source technology for streaming audio or video.

Another technology used to enhance the Windows Virtual Desktop service is called "Azure NetApp Files." The use of Azure NetApp Files is deemed helpful for on-premises Active Directory users because it helps with moving file shares into Azure while maintaining their paths. The idea with using a VDI service is to move an organization's data as close as possible to virtual machine locations, Microsoft explained, with regard to the Azure NetApp Files solution.

Lastly, Microsoft promised that IT pros will be able to control how fast client updates arrive when using the Windows Virtual Desktop service, although the details weren't described.

Partner Support
In addition to announcing the worldwide availability of the Windows Virtual Desktop service, Microsoft noted that its partners are offering support.

For instance, Microsoft's virtualization partner Citrix "can extend Windows Virtual Desktop worldwide," per the announcement. Citrix offers the Windows Virtual Desktop service using either Windows 10 Enterprise Multisession or Windows 7 with the three years of free Extended Security Updates support. Citrix also supports using Windows Server 2008 R2 with free Extended Security Updates with the service.

VMware is planning to support Windows Virtual Desktop on its VMware Horizon Cloud, with a preview expected by the "end of the calendar year." VMware also will offer the option to use either Windows 10 Enterprise Multisession or Windows 7 with Extended Security Updates with the service, Microsoft indicated.

Microsoft also indicated that various partner solutions for Windows Virtual Desktop will be available from the Azure Marketplace. 

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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