What’s the Big Deal with Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) & What Does It Mean for Enterprises?

Note – Microsoft announced the rebrand of Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) to Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) in June 2021. Read more about it here.

The idea of a virtual desktop is not new – the technology has been around for years, if not decades, starting with Microsoft Terminal Services and then Citrix and VMware. Enterprises typically configured these environments with a collection of on-premises servers and other infrastructures needed to host virtual desktops for their user community. Sometimes organizations deployed the platform within their own facilities and other times they stood up the environment in a third-party data center. In both cases, the enterprise typically invested significant capital in both the hardware and software to run these virtual desktop environments.  

Virtual desktops had and continue to have many benefits; it is an easy way to centralize access and security, particularly for distributed organizations and for remote user support. Virtual desktops are also a scalable solution to a degree and make is easier to run or publish certain applications. However, over the years, despite the great promise, virtual desktops never have seemed to live up to the hype.  Indeed, enterprises discovered virtual desktop environments could be complex to set up and operate. Moreover, they could be expensive when considering the cost of hardware, software licensing, bandwidth, and data center space. They also came with not insignificant ongoing management costs.  

Times are Changing – The Move to Public Cloud 

The first sign of change was when the public cloud became an alternative option to the traditional hardware needed to run virtual desktops. Shifting from on-premises servers and networking infrastructure to an as-a-service model meant that enterprises could now turn their virtual desktop solutions into more of an operating expense; able to grow and shrink without the need for purchasing hardware. Paired with the widespread of broadband access, this enabled many organizations to give virtual desktops a closer look, yet not necessarily adopt with great speed. Certainly, with the hardware piece turned into a monthly consumption charge, organizations began less resistant to testing and sometimes on a small scale deploying virtual desktops running in a public cloud such as AWS or Microsoft Azure. What they found was that there was a level of complexity involved due to needing multiple servers and gateways, some technical requirements (e.g., needing to run Windows 10 on a Windows Server OS) as well as some licensing challenges. All of these contributed to virtual desktop adoption gaining momentum. 

Along Comes Azure Virtual Desktop 

It was then that the release of Microsoft Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) service in Microsoft Azure changed the game for several reasons. 

First, AVD runs as a service within Azure—no additional servers for gateways, connection brokers, etc.  The desktops run as native Windows 10 desktops under this service—there is no Windows Server license needed to run a desktop. This reduces complexity and with a significantly different licensing model, the cost to run a virtual desktop is dramatically reduced. 

Next, AVD supports pooled desktops. While you can still run a dedicated VM per desktop, you don’t have to do this. Enterprises can run multiple desktops on a single VM, and by correctly sizing the VM, will not have performance issues. Moreover, customers can build these pools across a collection of VMs (also called host pools) that can scale up and down to fit the environment from a cost and performance perspective. Again, this is a simpler, yet more elegant solution that is far more cost-effective.  

The last reason and maybe the biggest reason that AVD is a game-changer in that it truly represents a shift in Microsoft’s strategy. Microsoft has always had tacit support for remote desktops, but with AVD, the company is signaling a much different direction. AVD is a core initiative and is part of nearly every discussion Microsoft and many of its partners are having with customers. The AVD beta program had the highest level of interest ever for a pre-release product, and since AVD went toGeneral Availability (GA), there have been thousands of customers looking at it in some form. Certainly, the pandemic accelerated the adoption of AVD—it became an ideal solution accommodating remote workers–and interest has continued to accelerate. 

Indeed, AVD is the last step in the transformation of traditional software and hardware to a utility-based subscription model. Originally, you had PCs from hardware manufacturers using perpetual software OS licenses from Microsoft. Then, Microsoft developed and sold server OS licensing that then evolved into Azure-based resources. AVD is the natural evolution of desktops into a cloud-based service.  The result is Microsoft now delivers a complete enterprise solution all the way to the end-user. This seamless all-in-one experience is extremely robust, scalable, reliable, and secure. All delivered via an operating expense model featuring a competitive total cost of ownership. 

Nerdio Manager for Enterprise enables IT professionals and Enterprise organizations to quickly and easily deploy, manage, and optimize AVD.  

Deploy a new AVD environment in a couple of hours, manage every environment in just 3 clicks or less, and optimize costs by saving up to 75% on Azure compute and storage with Nerdio Manager for Enterprise. 

Start your free trial today or click here to learn more. 

Nerdio Manager for Enterprise Case Study: Kaplan

Case Study

Learn how a global enterprise organization deploys, manages, and cost-optimizes Azure Virtual Desktop company-wide with Nerdio Manager for Enterprise quickly and easily. 

 

About Kaplan

Kaplan is a global provider of educational and career services for individuals, schools, and businesses. Founded in 1938 in Brooklyn, NY as a test prep company, Kaplan now has operations in nearly 30 countries and serves one million-plus students and thousands of educational and corporate clients. It’s known for expanding access to education and pioneering digital learning technologies. In addition to prepping students for high stakes exams, Kaplan offers undergraduate and graduate degrees and helps universities enroll new international students, build online programs, and create new career readiness programs for students. 

Kaplan’s Metis business is a leading provider of data science skills training for individuals and businesses. Kaplan is also a leading provider of professional instruction for licensing exams for attorneys, physicians, and nurses. Kaplan’s IT team works constantly to ensure access and productivity for all its users. 

The Situation

Responsible for all end-user computing for Kaplan, the Technology Services team is comprised of desktop services, desktop engineering, service desk and identity and access management for Kaplan’s teams throughout North America. In particular, the desktop engineering portion of the team maintains their complex and vital virtual desktop environments. 

The use of virtual desktops has been part of Kaplan’s business continuity blueprint. The IT team’s goal is to keep widely dispersed users running despite myriad complications, natural disasters, power and connectivity or other technical issues.  

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a substantial increase in the number of users needing to work from home in a secure environment. From the onset of public health restrictions in March of 2020, Kaplan’s IT team prepared for the challenges to come by seeking options for secure remote work. This need for flexibility also necessitated rapid deployment of a scalable technical solution. “We had to fast-track the ability for people to work from home in a secure environment, so we scaled up virtual desktops,” said Chad Marino, Executive Director, Technology Services, Kaplan North America.  

This included the remote use of company-issued laptops connecting to Kaplan resources through a VPN or virtual desktop. The company’s call center -which primarily used on-premises desktops– were able to use personal computers through virtual desktop technology.

The Solution 

When IT leadership was looking for the best way to implement its virtual desktop plans, they reviewed several alternatives, including Microsoft Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD). As a Microsoft Azure customer, Kaplan knew that AVD was well-suited to their needs. While very familiar with its usability strengths, the team was also focused on managing costs. The ability to easily scale to the users’ peaks and valleys was an important factor in this regard.  

In choosing the most effective solution in terms of AVD deployment, management, and cost-optimization, Kaplan reviewed many options. With recommendations from Microsoft, combined with their own research, the Kaplan team held a “bake-off” pitting Nerdio against a similar product on the market. 

“We were blown away by Nerdio Manager for Enterprise’s capabilities in our demo. Our internal team was excited to show off all it could do,”– Chad Marino, Executive Director, Technology Services, Kaplan North America.

The Results 

Nerdio Manager for Enterprise has exceeded expectations as Kaplan’s chosen solution. Its enterprise-level features supply the automation, management, scalability, and cost optimization that are critical to the virtual desktop initiative at Kaplan. Nerdio offers keen insight into how the system is working: how many users are connected, statistics around CPU utilization, latency, and login times, which are all extremely valuable as the Kaplan team manages the enterprise’s virtual desktop environments.   

“From a pain-point perspective, Nerdio Manager for Enterprise’s auto-scaling is a key functionality. We couldn’t have done what we needed to do without that,” Marino said.

“We’ve never had the kind of visibility we get with Nerdio,”– Chad Marino, Executive Director, Technology Services, Kaplan North America. 

“Our Nerdio team has been great as we continued our evaluation and we scaled this out to a large number of users,” according to Marino. “We wanted to make sure it could do everything we needed; solid automation without administrative headaches. And again, the cost was so important. We wanted to make sure we could turn on machines when we needed them and turn them off when we didn’t – without the constant involvement of our IT team,” he continued.

Nerdio Manager for Enterprise can save enterprise organizations up to 75% on Azure compute and storage costs through its advanced auto-scaling capabilities. Download the application today from the Azure marketplace and begin a free 30-day trial: nerdio.com/nerdio-manager-for-enterprise

DOWNLOAD THE CASE STUDY HERE

Find Nerdio in the Azure Marketplace: nerdio.com/nerdio-manager-for-enterprise

Scripted Actions: Things Are Evolving (Fast) & We Want To Hear From You!

Scripted Actions have been part of Nerdio Manager for AVD for a couple of months now and the feedback that we have been getting is nothing but positive. The predefined scripts we have added, which are easy to change and reuse (clone), together with the option to upload your own Scripted Actions building out your library both turned out to be very popular.

Recently, we added the option to run code outside of your virtual machines (though still tied to the VM), directly in Azure enables you to deploy and build different types of Azure resources. This is accomplished with Azure Automation Runbooks and can leverage both AzureRM and Az PowerShell modules. Not too long from now, we are getting ready to take it to the next level.

It gets even better

As part of version 2.9.0 of Nerdio Manager for Enterprise we will be adding a third option to the mix: 

Global Azure runbooks scripted actions. A New type of scripted action designed to run in the context of the Nerdio Manager application in the Azure environment without being tied to a specific VM. Scripted actions can now run as Windows scripts and Azure runbooks based on VM triggered events (e.g. VM start, stop, create, delete, update, etc.) or in an Azure subscription according to a schedule or run once on demand.

As of next week, we will have:

  1. Windows scripts – VM specific runs inside OS (desktop images, session hosts)
  2. Azure runbooks (VM) – VM specific runs inside OS (desktop images, session hosts)
  3. Azure runbooks (global) – not VM specific within Azure

The global Azure runbooks can be run directly from the SCRIPTED ACTIONS page or scheduled to run on a recurrence. 

We are also adding new VM events to trigger scripted action execution. Scripted actions can be attached to host pool VM events: VM start, VM stop, VM create, and VM delete.  For example, an Antivirus agent can be installed and registered on VM create and un-registered on VM delete or a monitoring agent can be installed on VM start and removed on VM stop.

What’s not to like?!

Enter third parties

As a next step (we have multiple planned), we will be adding an additional building block on top of the ones we already have, enabling any third-party service or application that supports programmatic access. But it doesn’t stop there. Where it gets even more interesting is when third parties can start to build their own integrations, baking themselves into WVD leveraging Nerdio Manager for WVD as a platform. We will offer the tools and building blocks to do just that – API included, which we have released a few months ago. Unfortunately, I cannot share any more details at this time, but it’s going to be good, we promise.

Eventually, there could be an entire community effort around plugging anything and everything into WVD.

We are looking for input from YOU!

While the above is being worked on as we speak, we want to involve as many of you (the community) as we possibly can. In short, we are looking for scripts that add potential value to Windows Virtual Desktop to be made available through our Scripted Actions library. You will get full credits, of course. We might alter your script(s) slightly according to our standards, though you will always be able to review before we publish.

PowerShell scripts can be combined with chocolatey, for example the Evergreen PowerShell module, to name another, or anything else you can think of in this pace.

Please let us know if you would like to be involved and in what way.

You can do so by emailing either Neil McLoughlin at nmcloughlin@getnerdio.com or myself (Bas van Kaam) at bvankaam@getnerdio.com and we will make sure to reply ASAP.

We are looking forward to your submission(s).

As always, if you have any questions or any other comments or suggestions on how we can make things even better, please do let us know as well. Remember, we’re just getting started. More to come (very) soon!

Bas van Kaam

Nerdio Field CTO, EMEA

How to Save Money on the Microsoft Azure List Price  

How-to-Save-Money-on-the-Microsoft-Azure-List-Price-300x169

Cost control and Azure Resource optimization are important parts of building out your cloud practice in Microsoft Azure. In other words, you don’t want to waste any money and need to be using your Azure resources in the most efficient way possible in order to increase your overall margin. This article will highlight a couple of ways that will enable you to save on Azure list pricing and optimize Azure Resource usage.  

Since this is meant to be a practical guide, we’ll go over each item one-by-one. Some tips will have a direct impact on the list price, as the title implies, while others will help you get your Azure resources running more efficiently. This means you won’t save on list pricing per se, but you will get more out of your Azure Resources and thus spend less as a result.  

1. Becoming a Direct or Indirect Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) 

This might not come as news to some of you, but there are still a lot of MSPs who are not aware of the CSP program and the additional (financial) benefits it has to offer. Trust me, it’s worth looking into if you haven’t done so already.  

Being a CSP will not only make it easier to transact Azure (i.e., create customer subscriptions), but it will also allow you to increase your margin by receiving a discount off Azure list prices via your CSP Provider. You will also be eligible for various incentives that Microsoft makes available to their CSPs based on their growth objectives.  

These incentives are incremental to the discount you’ll receive on Azure consumption and can be in the 10% range, or more, when added up. 

There are two types of CSPs: Direct CSPs and CSP Resellers. Direct CSPs purchase Azure directly from Microsoft but are required to maintain high consumption volume and need to overcome various qualification hurdles.  

CSP Resellers purchase Azure through an Indirect CSP Provider. These CSP providers are large distributors that help CSP Resellers understand Azure, its pricing, and billing. Any MSP can become a CSP Reseller without any volume commitments or certification hurdles. 

Have a look at the below discount overview. Note that these numbers (might) change overtime and we can’t guarantee the exact percentages displayed.  

Direct CSPs and CSP Resellers are eligible for the following benefits: 

  • Azure consumption discounts: 7%-15% 
  • Azure Reserved Instances (more on this below) discounts: 1%-5% 
  • CSP software subscriptions (more on this below) discounts: 5%-15% 
  • Office 365, Dynamics 365, and Microsoft 365 discounts: 10% – 20% 
  • Local, regional, and other accelerators (i.e., rebates): these vary by year and Microsoft priorities. Some are available to Direct CSPs only. 

2. Choosing the Right VM for the Job  

Another advantage of using Cloud resources is having a choice, and lots of them.  

Within almost all regions globally, you can choose to work with dozens if not hundreds of different services – virtual machines being just one of those services. VMs come in various shapes and sizes, also known as families. In short, for every type of workload out there you will be able to find a VM type/size to go with it.  

When sizing your Azure virtual machines, be cautious when copying the specifications of your on-premises (physical and virtual) machines. These are often oversized for their purpose; a problem you won’t have with cloud-based VMs. Even if you pick a small size, to begin with, perhaps even too small, they can always be re-sized later within minutes. This ensures that you’ll make optimal use, or close to it, of the compute and storage resources available without paying for additional “reserved” capacity you probably won’t need during the first year or so.  

By the way, services like Azure Migrate (migrate existing on-premises virtual machines to Azure) can help with the above as well. Azure Migrate supports Hyper-V and VMware virtual machines and will help you to pick the correct VM size depending on various statistics.  

3. Microsoft Azure Promos 

[Offer has ended.]

More information can be found on the Microsoft website here

4. B Series Machines 

B-series VMs are known as “burstable” VMs. They are used for non-CPU intensive workloads (domain controllers, file and web servers, for example) and cost about 50% of an equivalently sized Ds-series VM (often used within Azure Virtual desktop environments). The reason they are cheaper is because Azure imposes a quota on how much of the total CPU cores can be used. This quota is usually a fraction of the total available CPU. 

Every second that the VM is using less than its quota, it is “banking credits”. These banked credits can be used to burst up to the total available CPUs when needed. While bursting, the VM is consuming its banked credits. Once credits run out, the VMs CPU-utilization is throttled down to its pre-defined quota.  

For approximately the same price you would pay for a Ds-series VM, you can get a B-series with double the CPUs and double the RAM. But again, use them for non-intensive CPU workloads only.  

5. Ephemeral OS Disks 

We also want to highlight the use of Ephemeral OS disks, which are especially interesting if you are running stateless, or “non-persistent” workloads.  

Ephemeral OS disks are a form of stateless disk storage. They are created on the virtual machine’s local storage (as part of the available VM cache, read on below) and are not written/saved to Azure Blob storage. This makes them ideal for stateless workloads, providing lower latency and thus faster read and write times. As always, there are multiple pros and cons to consider.   

To start with a big pro, they are free!  

You are not charged for storage costs. Though, keep in mind that the Azure compute used as part of the VM that the Ephemeral disk is part of will still cost you money – nothing new there. If you have any other disk types attached to the VM, you will pay for those as well. 

Another important thing to note, and one of their biggest drawbacks is that Ephemeral disks cannot be stopped/deallocated. Restarting is supported. However, when combined with the auto-scale engine built into Nerdio Manager for Enterprise or Nerdio Manager for MSP, that problem goes away almost completely. Our advanced and patented auto-scale engine can easily create new VMs from scratch within minutes, pre-stage machines, monitor and auto-heal VMs, and completely remove and deallocate virtual machines when they are no longer needed.  

In other words, you get the best of both worlds!  

6. Azure Hybrid Benefit and CSP Software Subscriptions 

Comparing costs between Cloud based resources like a virtual machine, for example, and buying a physical server can be tricky. There’s a lot to consider. People often look at the monthly cost of an Azure VM, multiply it by 36 to get its three-year cost and conclude that it is much more expensive than buying a server.  

What most don’t realize is that the pay-as-you-you-go list price of a VM includes in it the “premium of optionality” (i.e., you can turn it off at any time and stop paying) and a subscription to the Windows Server operating system.  

Also, you need to take into account the flexibility that this model offers. Machines can be shut down, deallocated etc., meaning you will instantly pay less or nothing at all. Spinning up a new machine will take you minutes instead of hours/days and you’ll always be able to find a configuration that will fit your use-case. What a about resiliency, instant scalability, and there’s more to consider.  

By reserving the base compute and bringing your own license for the operating system, the cost of the VM drops by 80%! 

Microsoft has created a special entitlement called Azure Hybrid Benefit usage (AHB) that allows MSPs to pay for the Windows Server operating system via another licensing program and not through Azure. AHB is a benefit unique to Azure. You can’t bring your own Windows server license to AWS or GCP, for example. The cost of a VM in other public clouds will include the cost of the license, even if you already own Windows. 

AHB can be enabled on a per-VM basis (easily done by using an automation platform like Nerdio, all at once or one by one) in the Azure portal. Turning it on stops the Windows OS billing meter and the cost of the VM becomes lower. How much lower? That depends on the VM family but can be up to half of the VM’s cost. 

7. Azure Reserved Instances 

The cost of Virtual Machines (VMs) in Azure is the single biggest component of a typical MSP’s IT environment. Therefore, focusing on reducing this large consumption component is where we’ll start. The savings can be significant.  

Reserved Instances are reservations of a specific type of compute capacity (i.e., VM family/series) in a specific geographic location (i.e., Azure region) for a predefined period (12 or 36 months). Depending on the VM family, duration of the reservation, and region, these RIs can save you from 20% to 57% relative to the list pay as you go (PAYG) price. The trade-off is that you have to commit to the reservation in advance for an extended period of time — 12 or 36 months. This is great news for MSPs because typical IT workloads they deploy in Azure on behalf of their customers are persistent and customers are generally open to making one or three-year commitments. No customer wants to move an IT environment from one cloud to another every month! 

The good news is that RIs can be paid for monthly as well. 

RIs can also be exchanged without any fees or penalties. Any unused portion of an RI will be applied as a credit towards the purchase of a new RI for a different family, in a different region, or both.  

Even if you want to cancel an existing reservation, you can. However, there is a cancellation fee. The cancellation fee is 12% of your purchase price. The unused portion of your reservation will be refunded to you minus the 12% cancellation fee. There are some limitations to this on an annual basis. For example, your cancellations cannot exceed $50,000 in a year. Cancellation fees apply to both upfront paid reservations and those that are paid for on a monthly basis.  

8. Use AutoScaling to Lower Your Azure Compute and Storage Costs Significantly 

The cloud is famous for its pay-per-use model. This sounds like a dream come true and it is a great concept for sure. However, taking advantage of this is not as easy as it sounds. You need to have a mechanism in place that can constantly monitor what is going on within your environment and act accordingly. It needs to be able to stop and start machines in a flexible manner, and not “just” on set times, build new machines completely from scratch, and throw those same machines away when they are no longer needed.  

Workloads need to be resized from time to time and systems need to be monitored for health so that proactive measures can be put in place when applicable. And what about keeping your Active Directory clean when it comes to machine names and objects, for example? Those need to be taken care of also.  

What if we could resize machines to a smaller (cheaper) version during night-time? It would still be available but will cost a lot less regarding the underlying Azure compute and storage resources. That, times the number of machines you manage, can lead up to significant savings. Or have machines completely shut down, drained from the user first while also notifying them beforehand. Of course, in a perfect world, we would all have access to something like this. 

This is exactly what Nerdio is capable of. In fact, you will save up to 75% regarding your underlying compute and storage resources while keeping your users happy because it won’t affect the overall user experience.  

9. Final Notes and Various Tips 

Next to the above, keep in mind that there are also price differences per Azure region. When storing large amounts of archive data, it might make sense to store it outside of your own region to save on costs. And there are more examples, of course.  

Tagging your resources in Azure (or directly from within Nerdio Manager for Enterprise or Nerdio Manager for MSP) can help to track resource usage and thus the associated costs. Azure also offers various options to monitor your spending and other ways of cost control by setting budget alerts, for example.  

The use of Management Groups to govern your underlying subscription as part of your tenant is another way to make sure things don’t run out of control. Applying policies, which can be set on a subscription level as well, can help with controlling what can be configured where. As an example, maybe you only want virtual machines to be created within your own region and block the use of other regions.  

Hopefully, this post has provided you with some insights on how to take full advantage of all that can be done to lower (and monitor) costs and optimize overall Azure usage and cloud resources in general. While this may seem like a lot of information at once, if you take your time and handle these topics one by one, it will be well worth your trouble.  

Bas van Kaam

Nerdio Field CTO, EMEA