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Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) makes desktop virtualization widely available

Microsoft has decided to get involved in the desktop virtualization market. A market that, by the way, today consists mainly of virtualizing Windows 10. Microsoft wants to make virtual desktops more accessible to all businesses.
The idea behind virtualizing a desktop is that the company's data is stored more securely. This is because the company's data is stored centrally in the data center and the virtual desktop can be configured so that the data can also only be stored there. Furthermore, it is possible to achieve a higher level of security with virtual desktops. The data is often stored on a file server separate from the virtual desktop, after each use of the virtual desktop it can be destroyed. If a user then logs on again, a new virtual desktop is offered from a golden image.

Virtual desktops are therefore very popular in certain industries for these reasons. The government often works virtually, but so do insurance companies, banks, the legal profession and healthcare. These are also industries that generally have deeper pockets. Offering virtual desktops to a large number of users has always been quite expensive. It is certainly not an affordable solution for every company.
It has several causes. For example, a lot of hardware is needed, there are licensing costs for Windows servers, for Windows desktops, and there are still third-party software solutions that simplify management. There are also costs for maintenance, installing patches, troubleshooting, setting permissions and installing new applications.
We spoke with Pieter Wigleven, Senior Product Manager at Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop, about the development of the new product.
Microsoft reduces costs and automates management of virtual desktops
With Windows Virtual Desktop, Microsoft has sought to make desktop virtualization more attractive and accessible to many more businesses. For example, the use of WVD is included in Microsoft 365 Business Premium subscriptions and above. Something that many mid-sized companies and above have. They often have what is called an E3 or E5 subscription.

Furthermore, Microsoft has developed a special Windows 10 version that is only available through WVD. This version allows multiple Windows 10 sessions to be run on a single virtual machine (VM). This drastically lowers the cost. Normally, you have to run each Windows 10 session on an individual VM.

Managing Windows 10 virtual desktops simplified

To apply desktop virtualization, you used to have to manage quite a few things. You need to have a Windows server environment and a server farm on which the virtual machines can be virtualized. This requires the necessary configuration of your (Azure) Active Directory, Intune, the desired applications and of course infrastructure for the desktops. With WVD, Microsoft has also simplified this tremendously. You can create an Azure account in addition to your Microsoft 365 subscription and link them together. Within Azure, you can then use WVD at the attractive (linux) rate. You can choose from all the available virtual machines that Azure has to offer: from very light configurations to very heavy configurations. The management of this infrastructure is of course done by Azure.
As an administrator, you can configure a Windows 10 installation and provide it with the necessary applications to then use it as a host image (golden image) for all the VMs that are started. In this way every user has a desktop with the same applications. However, it will also be possible to use a standard Windows 10 image that Microsoft automatically patches every month and add all applications to the VMs through MSIX app attach. MSIX app attach links, as it were, an external hard disk where the application is installed to the operating system. This way the application is independent of the operating system, but you can still run it. The big advantage is that you no longer have to do the maintenance on the operating system yourself. In addition, instead of virtualizing an entire desktop, you can also just virtualize a separate application. MSIX app attach will become available later this year.
Microsoft has also recently added an administrator's portal as part of the Azure Portal, which makes it easier to manage VMs. Previously this was done via PowerShell.

It must become even simpler

Microsoft continues to strive to make WVD even easier to use, according to Wigleven. For example, there has recently been better integration with a local Windows 10 installation. You can now have application icons in your local Windows 10 start menu that point to an application in the Azure Cloud. You won't notice anything else, except that the application might take a fraction longer to start up. These icons do have an additional icon that points to this.
Furthermore, the goal is to reduce the role of the domain controller. When starting a VM you now have to join a domain and that requires extra actions and required infrastructure with the associated costs. This is less interesting for smaller companies. We are looking into whether this can be made even simpler.

Applications must become suitable for virtual desktops

As Microsoft makes desktop virtualization more widely available, it is also being used more and more. That also means that the demand for some applications is increasing and not everything works directly out-of-the-box on a virtual desktop. Sometimes you have to deal with peripherals or audio/visual hardware that can't be controlled properly from a virtual app. Take Microsoft Teams, WebEx or Zoom, for example. Applications that have to make do with video calling. On a virtual desktop the application will look for the local camera, microphone and speakers. That will not work, because there are none. So there must be special versions of these applications that can handle virtual desktops, where they can make contact with the hardware of the logged on user through a virtual gateway. The WVD team, together with the team behind Microsoft Teams, has developed a special version of Teams for WVD. It is now available.

Citrix and VMware are already ahead with complete offerings

Companies like Citrix and VMware are partners with Microsoft for the WVD offering. They now also deliver their Workspace solutions including their management tools in combination with WVD. This allows the VMs to run in the Azure Cloud, but you as a company can use the features that Citrix and VMware offer in their Workspace products. This is very interesting for companies that are looking for a total solution.

A new world opens up for integrators

Companies like Microsoft, Citrix and VMware naturally focus mainly on the very large enterprise customers. Everything below that is done by channel partners and integrators. For them, with the arrival of WVD, a new world lies open to offer desktop virtualization. They can now offer companies a complete virtualization platform at lower costs. Possibly with a complete unified workspace.