When I first encountered Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD), formerly Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD), at a Microsoft briefing in 2018 my ears pricked up. Having spent many years enduring the problems and overhead of building, managing and supporting on-premises infrastructure and Terminal Server Farms this was music to my ears. A cloud native Virtual Desktop with no backplane infrastructure to manage and no licenses to worry about, it seemed too good to be true.
Reducing Costs while Improving Security
I jumped on the technical preview to do some testing and my initial impressions were very positive. Fast forward to September 2019 and AVD finally went Generally Available. We had our first customer ready to go and excited about the benefits this technology would bring to their business. They were a typical SMB organisation with aging on premise infrastructure that was proving unreliable, expensive to maintain and a security risk. In the legacy world this customer would have invested in new hardware and started the refresh cycle all over again.
I’m a firm believer that it is not economically viable for SMB organisations to maintain hardware infrastructure on premise. Cloud makes so much sense in this segment particularly from a total cost of ownership perspective. However the problem is always, how do we access legacy applications running in the cloud. The answer used to be Terminal Server, but this had so many drawbacks not least of which were infrastructure complexity, licensing costs, security, and ease of access. Enter Azure Virtual Desktop. Our customer was already on Microsoft 365 and once Microsoft announced that AVD would be made available with this product set the decision was simple.
Problem Free Migration
We quickly migrated their legacy applications to a couple of VMs in the cloud. This was easy as we were already using Azure Site Recovery to protect their on premise VMs in case of a disaster. We then created our Windows 10 “golden image”, installed the applications and created the end user profiles. The users logged onto the Virtual Desktop using their existing Office 365 credentials and accessed their legacy applications as if they were running locally. And that was it. They were up and running. There were no latency issues since the applications are running on a VM that sat right beside the data in the cloud. In order to make the solution even more cost effective we scheduled the VMs to power down outside of office hours, so they were only paying for what they were using.
Benefits of Azure Windows Desktop
There are many benefits to this new approach not least of which the customer no longer has any hardware that needs to be maintained on premise. They were happy not to have to make this investment and we were happy with not having the overhead of managing an on-premises server. Site visits and associated costs have dramatically reduced. We have seen other benefits such as:
- Eliminating VPN. Since the solution is 100% cloud native it can be accessed securely from anywhere without the need for a troublesome VPN connection.
- Performance can be monitored and automatically scaled up or down as required depending upon business demand.
- Compatibility – since the Virtual Desktop is a Windows 10 image, legacy applications work just the same as they do in a traditional desktop environment. Windows 7 and Windows 11 images are also available.
- Security is improved since there are no IP Addresses exposed to the internet and access is via the end users existing Office 365 credentials with its inherent security features such as Multi Factor Authentication (MFA) and Conditional Access.
- Printing is delivered as a service directly from the Azure marketplace.
- Always up to date – since there is only “1” golden image we only have one instance to keep patched and up to date.
- Administration overhead is dramatically reduced as it’s all managed via the cloud from a single pane of glass.
- Remote working. I really like this one. When COVID19 hit we got a call from this customer asking us what they should do. I took great pleasure in telling them they simply had to bring their laptops home, connect to the internet and carry on as normal. They called me back a few weeks later thanking us for having the foresight to put them on this solution, even though we obviously had no idea at the time that COVID19 was coming down the tracks!
- Endpoint management – since all the customers data and processing power is now in the cloud the cost of supplying their employees with endpoint devices such as desktop computers and laptops is greatly reduced. We have supplied their remote field workers with cheap and cheerful Chromebooks. There’s an obvious security benefit here as no data resides on the endpoint device in the event it is lost or stolen.
What’s Next for Azure Virtual Desktop?
We are currently trailing a Raspberry Pi device that will act as a dumb terminal to connect their office-based staff directly into AVD instead of having to purchase expensive desktop computers.
Since this initial deployment we have rolled out Azure Virtual Desktop to several more SMB customers. Interestingly many of our enterprise customers who have their main production systems on-premises, are now utilising AVD as part of their DR solution. After COVID19 hit we have noticed that we have 2 types of customers. There are those on AVD and there are those that are constantly ringing us with VPN and remote access issues.
Since the product went GA in 2019 Microsoft have introduced a host of new features to AVD such as integration with Azure Files, Application Streaming, Teams audio redirection and an exciting roadmap that includes direct Azure AD join. It’s always encouraging to see new features coming on stream as it demonstrates Microsoft’ commitment to the product. And why wouldn’t they be committed to it. It’s the piece of the jigsaw that was missing for a long time and is one of the best products they have announced in years. We are delighted that we got ahead of the curve and our customers are reaping the benefits particularly during the current “work from home” period.