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Azure (Windows) Virtual Desktop

The Ultimate Guide to Azure Virtual Desktop

What is Azure Virtual Desktop?

Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) launched in 2019, under the name Windows Virtual Desktop. It is an evolution of Microsoft’s remote desktop services (RDS) technology. An Azure-only service, AVD consists of four primary innovations over traditional Remote Desktop Server (RDS) methods:  

  • Windows 10 Multi-user Operating System – This allows multiple concurrent users to use a single Azure virtual machine as a desktop. Prior to AVD, this was only possible with the Windows Server operating system.
  • User Profiles – These are handled independently of the virtual machine that serves the user’s desktop. These profiles are placed in containers and the containers are stored separately from the desktop VM in Azure. This is enabled by FSLogix technology that Microsoft acquired in 2018.
  • Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) Offering – A new PaaS offering contains the management and connection broker functionality for AVD and is the service that determines which users end upon which Azure virtual machine when they connect. 
  • Licensing for AVD — Licensing has been drastically simplified. AVD rights are included at no additional charge with multiple Windows 10 subscriptions including Microsoft 365 and Windows 10 Enterprise.

In June 2021, Microsoft launched Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) as a way to refocus Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) branding with their vision of the future of desktop virtualization. By switching out “Windows” with “Azure,” the name hopes to clarify some things. You can read more about the 2021 name change and changes to the service here.

As you can tell from our brief overview – AVD is the natural evolution of desktops into a cloud-based service. Originally, organizations used PCs from hardware manufacturers using perpetual software OS licenses from Microsoft. Then, Microsoft developed and sold server OS licensing that evolved into Azure-based resources. The result with AVD 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.

In order to set up AVD, there are a few requirements you must meet such as applicable licensing for users based on your chosen apps, infrastructure and user components and virtual machine standards.

Read more about Azure Virtual Desktop frequently asked questions here.

Azure Virtual Desktop vs. Windows 365

Both Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) and Windows 365 (W365) are virtual desktop solutions from Microsoft. Their differences span across their architecture features, overall IT admin experience, end-user experience, license and infrastructure costs, and their pricing models.

Check out this in-depth guide on the differences between Azure Virtual Desktop and Windows 365.

So, how do you choose between the two? It all depends on your unique business needs and work styles. AVD can be used across all business types and sizes but there are a few scenarios where Windows 365 may be a better fit for you. Check out our recommendations on when to use the Business edition of Windows 365 vs AVD. These include organizations that are only utilizing a handful of desktops, have no current or planned Azure footprint, have no previous experience in desktop virtualization, have an investment in Microsoft Endpoint Manager, need personalized desktops/local admin rights, or need 24/7 access to desktops. Overall, AVD allows for much greater flexibility and cost optimization, but it does require technical expertise and in-depth Azure knowledge without an optimization or management tool.  Add-on platforms, such as Nerdio Manager, can make managing both AVD and Windows 365 extremely simple and also eliminates the need for an experienced Azure engineer on staff.

Learn more about Nerdio Manager here.

How much does Azure Virtual Desktop Cost?

Figuring out the cost of running a virtual desktop environment in Azure can be difficult. Before diving into the costs of Azure Virtual Desktop, it is important to understand Microsoft Azure’s consumption-based pricing model. This is common among public cloud providers. If you do not properly optimize your Azure infrastructure, your monthly Azure bill can be unpredictable and higher than your budget allows.

The cost of Azure Virtual Desktop is broken down into three parts: software licensing, AVD Management services, and Azure infrastructure costs. You can purchase Azure services directly through the Azure website,  an Azure sales specialist, a CSP distributor or a Microsoft Partner.

There are five main categories that make up Azure Virtual Desktop costs. These include compute (70%, OS disks storage (12%), FSLogix storage (9%), Networking (3%), and Other (6%). There are various strategies you can implement to save money on the Azure list price and optimize usage.

It’s important to understand the difference between pay-as-you-go (PAYG) pricing and reserved instances for the best possible method of optimizing your Azure costs. You can read more about reserved instances here.  For more information on reducing Azure Virtual Desktop costs. Check out this article.

If you are interested in how much Azure or Azure Virtual Desktop will cost your organization, try Nerdio’s free Cost Estimator tool that uses a simple, wizard-driven way to easily estimate your costs for running an IT environment in Azure that is broken down by user per month.

What License is Needed for Azure Virtual Desktop?

AVD is an entitlement of a Windows 10 subscription license. This license can be purchased as part of Microsoft 365 Business/E3/E5/A3/A5 or as a standalone subscription. If you already own one of these licenses there is no additional cost to use AVD from a software perspective. 

You will need to purchase the Azure infrastructure necessary to deploy and manage any AVD environment. These costs can be decreased by leveraging Azure Reserved Instances, Windows 10 multi-session, or a solution that optimizes and reduces Azure computing and storage costs such as Nerdio Manager

Learn more about Azure Virtual Desktop licenses here and check out our article detailing Nerdio license structure and costs.

Benefits of Using Azure Virtual Desktop

When it comes to equipping end users with the desktops, apps and devices they need to be most productive and empowered – Azure Virtual Desktop is the best, most cost-effective, flexible option on the market. Leveraging leading Microsoft technologies and the powerful Azure cloud, the Azure Virtual Desktop service is secure, resilient and managed by Microsoft.

It provides a plethora of benefits. From optimizing or reducing hardware investments to streamlining application management and helping organizations reduce costs and resources through Microsoft-owned software and pooled, multi-session resources – AVD has it all!

Compounding these benefits is the increased market demand and even employee demand for Microsoft technologies that are well-known and well-adopted across managed services, enterprises and SMB businesses. Users already love Microsoft Teams, the Microsoft 365 suite and many are accustomed to using a Windows desktop. AVD delivers all of these, securely and at scale. It is becoming a powerful tool for organizations’ remote work, cloud and employee experience initiatives.

Schedule a demo to see Azure Virtual Desktop in action.

How Do I Add Users to Microsoft Azure and Azure Virtual Desktop?

Users can be added natively through the Azure portal or streamlined through Nerdio Manager. Our solution allows you to easily see and manage all users including completing tasks like assigning users to groups or desktops, shadowing user sessions to resolve an issue, resetting passwords, or assigning Microsoft 365 licenses. Read more about adding users to Azure and AVD in this article.

Natively adding users to Microsoft Azure and Azure Virtual Desktop can be done through the Azure portal.  You will also need to configure the appropriate amount of host pools, session hosts, workspaces, app groups, user groups and access policies for your organization’s needs.

Learn more about Azure terminology here.

Once users are assigned to the appropriate host pool, desktop and groups, admins can attach FSLogix profiles or MSIX App Attach and assign users roles based on the Azure Virtual Desktop delegated access model. Once users have been assigned to their app groups, they can connect to an AVD deployment with any AVD client such as Windows 10, Windows 11, Android, macOS, etc.

Click here for a free downloadable guide on all Microsoft Azure terminology.

How Do I Log Into Azure Virtual Desktop for the First Time?

Microsoft provides the gateway and broker services for Azure Virtual Desktops. They have also compiled “how-to” guides for connecting each client type to AVD that you can find here.  But regardless of how simple Microsoft has made connecting to AVD, MSPs and enterprise IT pros alike will undoubtedly still be asked, “How do I log into my AVD desktop?” by end users they support.

Setting up the AVD client for login is easy and quick and can be completed in a minimal number of steps. All authentication occurs via your organization’s Microsoft tenant without any need to provide consent or accept permissions. 

Learn more about the two most common ways end users will be connecting to AVD in this article.

How to Troubleshoot Performance in Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) Environments

Because of various system components and the underlying deployment architecture, AVD environments can often be challenging to fix when it comes to improving the service’s performance for your end users. It is extremely important to provide an optimal user experience. In fact, poor or inconsistent performance is by far the most common reason virtual desktop projects fail, regardless of the deployment size.

There are four main culprits when it comes to hindering AVD performance:

1. CPU

2. RAM

3. Disk

4. Network

Diagnosing CPU and RAM-related performance issues can be done through free, native Azure tools like Windows Resource Monitor and Windows Task Manager. For tangible advice and a practical approach to troubleshoot performance in AVD, visit our technical deep dive on the subject.

Azure Virtual Desktop Management

Ongoing management of Azure Virtual Desktop environments involves understanding and using all of the Azure services AVD runs on as well as elements like image and storage management, host pool creation and maintenance, updating security permissions, and much more. If you do not use a management solution like Nerdio Manager, you will manage everything directly through the Azure portal.

Azure Virtual Desktop is the only VDI service available that offers Windows 10/11 enterprise multi-session capabilities for centralized management. This allows companies to pool their virtual machines and host pools to reduce the number of resources needed along with their Azure costs. It also allows for easier management of desktops in Azure because group and user policies can be applied, and app groups and images can be updated at scale.

Nerdio Manager allows MSPs and Enterprise IT professionals to easily deploy and manage Azure Virtual Desktop environments in just a few clicks and in one centralized management platform. Schedule a demo and see it in action.

To master or improve your AVD management skills, check out our certification programs. Subscribe to our newsletter so you don’t miss any new content or announcements!

Think Azure Virtual Desktop is right for you? Check out this definitive guide.