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Learn all about the ins and outs of Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) below, as well as how organizations can easily deploy, manage, and save up to 75% savings on Microsoft Azure.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Exploring the Versatility and Benefits of Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD)"

Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD), previously Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD), is a Microsoft Azure-based (Windows) virtual desktop operating system used to securely host desktops and applications in the cloud. Windows 10/11 Enterprise Multi-Session is arguably one of the biggest differentiators for Azure and AVD compared to other public clouds. Using Windows 10 or Windows 11 Enterprise Multi-session with AVD is a cost-effective cloud-based alternative to on-premises Remote Desktop Server (RDS) and is typically deployed on a virtual machine (VM). In terms of licensing and pricing, all AVD license costs are already included in several Microsoft 365 subscriptions, including Microsoft 365 Business Premium or Microsoft 365 E3, but more on that below.

Azure Virtual Desktop enables users to not only access their desktops any time and from any location, but also the specific applications on them via almost any browser without the need for that application to be installed on the device. It’s also compatible across Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. Let’s dive into some of the specifics of the AVD service, including aspects of architecture, management, benefits, use cases, and so much more.

Azure virtual desktop architecture

Read more in-depth about the complete Azure Virtual Desktop technical architecture here, otherwise, the graphic below provides a quick summary.

All components of Azure Virtual Desktop are managed via the Azure portal, PowerShell, or third-party tools like Nerdio Manager.

Azure Virtual Desktop supports all current versions of Windows, including Windows 10 Enterprise (single session), EVD (multi-session) and Server 2012/2016/2019.
Azure Virtual Desktop can leverage all image types. These include Azure Marketplace images, custom images, and shared image gallery images. Session host VMs can be created from these images and be kept up to date by updating the image and then re-imaging session hosts to the latest version. Images can be stored in one or more Azure regions for geographic distribution and resilience. Images can use any supported operating system and be both Gen1 and Gen2 VM hardware. There is no limit on the number of Azure images that can be used in an AVD environment.
Azure Virtual Desktop session hosts can be updated via Microsoft Endpoint Manager, through a golden image, or manually in the Azure portal. Applications can be delivered to session hosts via image updates, manual installation on host VMs, or using MSIX app attach. The update and application delivery process in AVD is very flexible and can be fully automated. Read more about AVD application management in this article.
Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) session hosts can be backed up and protected in several different ways including using native Azure services like Azure Site Recovery and Azure Backup. Azure allows organizations to create a robust backup, disaster recovery (DR), and business continuity strategy for their virtual desktop environments. For further reading, check out this article about making AVD deployments more resilient with DR considerations.
Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) includes robust logging, diagnostics, monitoring, and reporting capabilities. Logs are generated by the AVD service and AVD agent running on session host VMs. This information is streamed to Azure Log Analytics where it is captured and visualized with Azure Monitor workbooks. Many third-party monitoring tools are available for AVD to help monitor and measure performance, issues, etc.

Azure Virtual Desktop User Profiles

Azure Virtual Desktop leverages FSLogix for user profile encapsulation. This allows users to easily roam between session host VMs without losing their user state between sessions. Personal AVD desktops can be deployed without FSLogix, but even in persistent scenarios FSLogix profiles provide a valuable profile backup capability and make it easier to manage session host updates through images. An SMB file share is required to host the FSLogix profile containers. This can be an Azure Files share, Azure NetApp Files volume, or a file server VM.

Azure Virtual Desktop Networking

IT admins fully control all aspects of Azure Virtual Desktop networking since it runs in a customer-managed Azure subscription. Static IP addresses can be assigned, VPN tunnels configured, and firewall rules enforced. Azure allows for the creation of self-contained virtual networks (VNets). These can be peered (connected) directly to other Azure VNets, with firewalls or Network Security Groups (NSGs) attached to control traffic. Routing is handled by Microsoft, but route tables can be created if required.

Auto-Scaling

Azure Virtual Desktop uses an Azure usage-based pricing model so auto-scale can be used to drastically reduce Azure compute and storage costs. While there are auto-scaling options in the native AVD service, using third party automation and management tools have been shown to save up to 75% of the costs of peak Azure demand. You can read more about native vs non-native auto-scale comparisons here. It is also possible to use Azure Reserved Instances to reduce costs and guarantee available capacity.

The Complete Azure-Native DaaS Guide: Azure Hierarchy, Azure Virtual Desktop, and Windows 365

Learn more about the technical aspects of Microsoft Azure, Azure Virtual Desktop, and Windows 365 in this free whitepaper. Instantly download now!

Benefits of Azure Virtual Desktop

With Azure Virtual Desktop, organizations benefit from over 3,500 global cybersecurity experts working tirelessly to defend against every threat and protect their data and assets in Microsoft Azure.

Azure Virtual Desktop leverages an organization’s existing Azure security framework to ensure the security of company data and applications. Staff working on sensitive data in high-risk situations are protected because data is not stored on their device. This is equally true for staff working from non-secure networks like cafes, ensuring an organization is fully protected. More information on Microsoft Azure security can be found here..

Azure Virtual Desktop is a much more affordable option compared to on-premises options. Aside from the absence of expensive, outdated hardware that an organization must maintain and store, Azure Virtual Desktop is included in most M365 subscriptions already.

Click here for more information on how Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) saves your organization money.

Click here for our free comprehensive Azure Cost Estimator!

Although Azure Virtual Desktop can be complex when deployed and managed natively, with the help of Nerdio Manager, almost all functions can be performed by any staff member within just a few clicks. Most customers realize up to 80%-time savings when using Nerdio Manager compared to managing AVD natively.
Unlike traditional on- premises options, Azure Virtual Desktop allows multiple sessions on a Windows 10 VM. This means that an organization can have multiple users access the same virtual machine while reducing the cost of maintaining multiple VM licenses. Also, these sessions are isolated from each other, which gives higher security and privacy.

Use Cases for Azure Virtual Desktop

Azure Virtual Desktop is ideal for organizations that require more flexibility and customization opportunities within Azure. This can be done by an on-staff experienced Azure engineer, or by implementing an AVD deployment and management platform such as Nerdio. If an organization’s number of virtual desktops fluctuates often, AVD is very cost effective, as admins can dial in their Azure compute very closely to reduce overall Azure costs for the organization. Microsoft does offer another virtual desktop or more specifically DaaS (Desktop-as-a-Service) solution called Windows 365. Read more about the use cases of Azure Virtual Desktop here: Azure Virtual Desktop vs. Windows 365: Comparing Two DaaS Products

Azure Virtual Desktop IT Admin User Experience

How Much Does Azure Virtual Desktop Cost?

Azure Virtual Desktop requires the user connecting to an AVD session to have an assigned Windows 10 Enterprise subscription license. Windows 10 Enterprise can be purchased as a standalone subscription (e.g., Windows 10 Ent E3/E5/VDA) or be included as part of a Windows 365 suite subscription (e.g., M365 E3/E5 and Business Premium). This Windows subscription license includes the usage rights of the AVD control plane and entitles the user to connect to Windows 10 desktops hosted in Azure. All other costs are part of Azure infrastructure consumption (e.g., compute, storage, networking).

Azure Virtual Desktop infrastructure costs are based on Azure consumption. This includes the compute costs of running AVD session host VMs, the cost of OS disks and the usage of Azure Files for FSLogix storage. All costs are based on actual usage. If a VM is powered off, there is no compute charge.

Azure Virtual Desktop networking costs are incurred at the Azure subscription level where session host VMs run. These charges typically include egress bandwidth, NAT gateway, VPNs, and Firewalls.

Intune can be optionally used to manage Azure Virtual Desktop session hosts. However, Intune is not required for an AVD deployment, and most environments are managed via images.

Azure Virtual Desktop requires a subscription to Windows 365 Apps with Shared Computer Activation entitlement. All Microsoft 365 packages that include Office Apps have Shared Computer Activation.

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How to Connect to Azure Virtual Desktop

To connect to Azure Virtual Desktop, users navigate to https://aka.ms/wvdwebarm or download a client app from https://aka.ms/wvdclients.

Users connect to AVD sessions and cloud PCs using the same client app, which is available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android and as a HTML client. Admins can control the resources visible to individual end-users and the user will see everything in a single feed using the same app. The authentication and multi-factor experience will also be very familiar since it leverages Azure AD, which is used for M365 and AVD authentication.

How to Deploy Azure Virtual Desktop

Using Nerdio Manager for MSP, there are several ways to automatically and very easily deploy Azure Virtual Desktop depending on an MSPs’ unique needs. Read about each of them here, as well as how long each instance takes.
Note that the Nerdio Help Center holds hundreds of helpful articles that will walk the MSP reader through almost any scenario.

For enterprise organizations, Nerdio offers our Zendesk Knowledge Base. And you can read more in this article about how to quickly and easily move existing AVD deployments with Nerdio Manager for Enterprise.

Nerdio Makes AVD Deployment Faster, Management Easier, & Affordable

Automatically deploy a complete virtual desktop environment in a couple of hours or connect to an existing environment in 10 minutes, manage all users from one intuitive management platform, and save up to 75% on Azure compute and storage costs with Nerdio’s auto-scaling feature.

Schedule a Demo Today

Schedule a demo today to see how AVD and Nerdio can fit your organization’s needs.

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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:  

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.