On March 21st, 2019 Microsoft announced their public preview of the highly anticipated Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD). This is a service that Microsoft announced last September at Ignite, which created significant buzz around this new Azure offering. We at Nerdio have been part of Microsoft’s development efforts for WVD under a Non-Disclosure Agreement for more than a year and are now excited to share the specifics of this new Azure-only service.
In this post I will answer the following common questions that our MSP partners have been asking us:
- What exactly is WVD and how does it differ from what’s already on the market today?
- Is Microsoft offering virtual desktops?
- What does yesterday’s public preview announcement mean for MSPs?
- When will WVD become available in Nerdio for Azure?
What exactly is WVD and how does it differ from what’s already on the market today?
Let’s start with some background. For years Microsoft has made the ability for MSPs to provide hosted desktops difficult through licensing restrictions on the Windows desktop operating system (e.g. Windows 7, Windows 10). To work around these restrictions, many MSPs leveraged the Windows Server OS (e.g. Windows 2012R2, Windows 2016) to deliver desktops to users with a “Windows 7/8/10 Experience” making the server-based desktop look and feel pretty much like the desktop OS by using Remote Desktop Services (RDS).
A few years ago, Microsoft began knocking down many of the existing licensing barriers. First, Microsoft allowed for the use of Windows 10 Enterprise in multi-tenant hosting environments with a license that could be purchased through the CSP program. Then Microsoft started bundling Windows 10 Enterprise in its M365 E3/E5 plans. And now there is an entire product dedicated to desktop hosting—Windows Virtual Desktop.
To understand what is new and different with WVD we need to break down desktop hosting into several components and compare how things are done today with how they will be done with WVD across each of the following dimensions:
Windows Operating System running the desktop
Today: Most hosted desktop implementations use a Server OS (e.g. Windows Server 2016) with desktop experience enabled. This is because the RDS feature is only available in the Server OS, which allows multiple users to share a single virtual machine (VM). This makes the deployment more economical and affordable. There are some virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) implementations that assign a dedicated desktop VM to each user and those could be running Windows 10 today since it’s a single user OS.
WVD: Microsoft is releasing a brand-new version of Windows 10 to support multiple user desktop sessions on a single VM. It is called Windows 10 Enterprise Multi-session for WVD and it is built specifically to enable hosted desktops that are identical to what the more than 800M Windows 10 users are already used to on their physical devices. The new OS also comes with enhancements that improve user experience. For instance, the Windows Search index (which speeds up searching in Outlook and other apps) will be a per-user database that will be portable and can move with the user from one VM to another. In existing operating systems, the search index is a per-machine database so if a user logs into another VM the index must be rebuilt.
Control Plane (Infrastructure Services)
The control plane is a collection of services that determine which user gets connected to what desktop VM. It sounds simple, but there is a lot that goes into it.
Today: RDS infrastructure roles handle this. These roles include: Web access, Gateway, Connection broker, License server and HTML client. These are server roles that are installed on domain-joined Windows Server VMs and are managed by the MSP or customer.
WVD: Microsoft is eliminating the need for any domain-joined RDS roles and instead creating an Azure service that a user will log into and it will then determine where the user’s desktop is and where to “land” the desktop session. This not only eliminates the complexity of having to manage RDS roles but also removes the need for costly VMs to run them.
Today: To use RDS for hosted desktops you need a license for both RDS and the Server OS. The Server OS is usually “rented” via Azure or licensed through CSP Software Subscriptions. The RDS license can be purchased via SPLA, Volume Licensing or CSP Software Subscriptions.
WVD: The use of WVD will become a “right” of any Windows 10 Enterprise subscription at no additional cost. This could be Microsoft 365 F1/E3/E5 or a standalone Windows 10 Enterprise E3/E5 subscription. There will no longer be the need to purchase a Server OS license or RDS. There isn’t any additional licensing that needs to be purchased if the user has a subscription to Windows 10 Enterprise. Nice and simple.
Today: Virtual desktop profiles have been a challenge for a long time. There are a multitude of solutions out there including Microsoft’s own roaming profiles, folder redirection, user profile disks, and many third-party products. All of these are aimed at allowing the user to log into one desktop VM today and another one tomorrow without losing any of their settings and customizations. Most options available in RDS today have tradeoffs. For instance, with User Profile Disks (UPDs) you cannot use the OneDrive client.
WVD: Last year, Microsoft acquired a company called FSLogix that created a profile management solution that eliminates all the limitations. This technology is conceptually like UPDs, where the user’s profile is stored in a virtual disk file on a remote file server and get mounted under C:\users when the user logs in. However, FSLogix has overcome the limitations of UPDs and allows for OneDrive, Outlook search index, Outlook cached mode, and many other previously painful tradeoffs to work flawlessly.
Is Microsoft offering virtual desktops?
No. You will not be able to go to Azure.com and buy a virtual desktop. WVD is a combination of technologies that allow MSPs and IT departments to build and manage virtual desktops in Azure. WVD provides the control plane management service, new desktop operating system, profile management solution and simplified licensing to enable MSPs to create Azure-based virtual desktop offers for their customers.
Deploying virtual desktops with WVD will require planning, deployment, maintenance, and management of the virtual desktop environment – albeit with less complexity than RDS.
What does yesterday’s announcement of Public Preview mean for MSPs?
WVD has been in private preview well over a year now. Prior to September 2018, it was referred to under the name - RDmi (Remote Desktop Modern Infrastructure). Nerdio and other partners have been working with Microsoft on testing and developing all aspects of the WVD solution. With the launch of public preview, the service is now available to the public to test and is expected to go into GA (General Availability) later this year.
During public preview the desktop VMs can be hosted in any Azure region. However, the management solution (the “control plane”) will reside in the US East 2 Azure region. As the service enters GA, Microsoft will start scaling out the management solution to all Azure regions.
MSPs should familiarize themselves with the service while it’s in public preview and learn the terminology and architecture while understanding the deployment models and think through how they will leverage this new technology to build and expand their Azure practice.
When will WVD become available in Nerdio for Azure?
Nerdio is planning to have WVD functionality in our Nerdio for Azure product on Day 1 of General Availability of WVD. MSPs will have the option of selecting an RDS deployment or WVD deployment when creating a new NFA account. We are also planning to offer an automated migration path for customers who want to go from an RDS deployment to WVD in the future.
Nerdio is building on top of native WVD functionality to fully automate the WVD deployment, simplify and streamline management (e.g. template image management process) and automate auto-scaling of WVD host pools by integrating with Azure VM Scale Sets.
These are very exciting times for the virtual desktop hosting space with Microsoft now fully backing this application deployment model and investing heavily into building new technologies to bring the best ever virtual desktops at scale on top of the global reach of Azure. We at Nerdio couldn’t be more thrilled to be part of this journey and continue helping our MSP partners build and grow their Azure practices with the latest technologies from Microsoft.
Ready to keep learning? Here's our mega guide to Windows Virtual Desktops: Windows Virtual Desktops Explained for MSPs