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Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) on Azure – What you need to know

Advantages of Windows Virtual Desktops

In late 2019 Microsoft announced the general availability of the Microsoft cloud based Azure Windows Virtual Desktop, now called Microsoft Azure Virtual Desktops.   On the face of it this may look like Microsoft wanting to move into the hosted desktop market but in reality, this is a solution aimed squarely at the large corporates, the “Enterprise” customers with deeper pockets. For small businesses the independent, hosted desktop providers will continue to offer much better value for money, better support and vastly better customer service.

 

What is Windows Virtual Desktop?

Azure is the Microsoft cloud solution for running Windows (or Linux) servers as Azure virtual machines in their data centres spread around the globe.  It’s essentially a pay as you go service where you have flexibility to quickly scale your computer infrastructure based on need.

Microsoft Azure Virtual Desktop, previously called Windows Virtual Desktops, brings a couple of new things to that party. Firstly, Windows 10 Enterprise multi session, the ability to run Windows 10 for multiple users, i.e. multiple users can connect to a virtual desktop Windows 10 computer in the same way they have been able to with a Windows Server for decades. Secondly Microsoft have taken in house the management of a number of components normally required for running remote desktop services, namely Remote Desktop (RD) Gateways, RD Connection Brokers and RD Web Access.

Sounds great, but let’s not get over excited about this.  Hosted Desktop providers have always managed the RD Gateways, RD Brokers and Web Access.  It’s part of the shared infrastructure that gives the economies of scale that makes running a hosted desktop and apps so inexpensive.   Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016/2019 are so similar nowadays that it would be a rare application that cannot run on Windows Server, and for the most part the users wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

 

What is the use of Windows virtual desktop?

While cloud hosted web based/browser based applications are becoming the norm there is still a place for full desktop applications, software that runs on a PC not in a browser.  Desktop applications have scope for superior functionality, features, and performance. Many software vendors rightly resist the urge to dumb down their applications just so they will run in a browser. Azure virtual desktops, and independent hosted desktop services have provided the ability to run a full desktop and apps “in the cloud” for years. Windows virtual desktops is an attempt by Microsoft to simplify this in the Azure environment.

 

What are the advantages of Windows Virtual Desktop?

Compared with Hosted Virtual Desktops or a Windows Remote Desktop Server (RDS) environment running on Azure virtual machines, the only advantages of Windows Virtual Desktop are:

  • Windows 10 enterprise multi session, the ability to run Windows 10 in multi user mode, each user having their own desktop session. Previously each virtual desktop for Windows 10 was its own virtual machine and operating system.
  • Running Windows 10 as a Windows Virtual Desktop gives users access to Windows Store and Cortana which are absent from Windows Remote Desktop Services which runs on Windows Server.

How could Windows Virtual Desktop help your business?

Running applications on cloud-based Windows desktops, whether Windows Virtual Desktop or an independent Hosted Desktop provider, enables business employees to work from anywhere there is an internet connection. This was vital during the pandemic lock downs, but is equally important for businesses with multiple sites, remote workers, or those that simply don’t want the risk and hassle of on-premise IT infrastructure.

Is Windows Virtual Desktop cheaper than a Hosted Desktop?

Very unlikely.   You hear many horror stories of companies who have been hit by massive bills from Microsoft because they simply didn’t understand the basic premise that Azure will only be cost effective if you manage it so tightly it squeaks. Of course, the cost of skills to deploy and manage WVD could possibly wipe out any savings you make.

When you price up a Windows Virtual Desktop solution in Azure pricing calculator it assumes that your usage of the servers will peak during working hours and drop down after say 5pm with maybe a handful of keen beans working later. The pricing calculator assumes this, but the live system will only work that way if you make it.   Your Windows Virtual Desktop computers that were running up till 5pm will need shutting down soon after 5.00 o’clock in order to make the savings, you will need to automate this otherwise it won’t happen.  Those guys still working at 10 past 5 will need to be kicked off and will have to log back on again to the one computer you’ve left running.

Compare that with a Hosted Desktop solution where you can use your desktop whenever you like, all day, all night, the cost is the same.

 

What’s are the unexpected costs with Azure Windows Virtual Desktop that you don’t get with Hosted Desktops?

If you have an “on-premise” server in your business then you are also going to have one of two other things, either you employ an IT administrator to manage that server or you have an external IT company to do it for you. If you have Windows Virtual Desktops then it’s exactly the same.  Azure requires specialist skills to deploy and manage, especially if you want to keep costs to a minimum.

When you have a Hosted Desktop solution you don’t need either. Support for the solution is included in the costs and more importantly it is fixed, you don’t pay extra just because something breaks. Hosted Desktops are designed for businesses who don’t have, want, or need any IT skills either internally or outsourced.

 

Azure Windows Virtual Desktop Price Comparison with Hosted Desktop

For this comparison I will take a typical customer of ours, they run two main applications, Microsoft Office and an Accounting package such as Sage 50 Accounts. they have 10 users and have about 50GB of shared storage. Prices in this comparison are based in December 2019. With us that will be £462.50 per month with a one-off setup fee of £125. That monthly price is fixed, there’s no unexpected costs, no costs based on transactions or usage.  It includes all support, Anti-Virus, Managed Windows Updates and backups for server and data.

Let’s attempt to price it up in Azure, using like for like services

Licences

The first thing that makes you realise Windows Virtual Desktops aren’t aimed at small businesses is that you need one of Microsoft’s Enterprise plans for licences such as Windows 10 E3, Office 365 E3 or E5, Microsoft 365 Business Premium, Windows 10 VDA E3.

As the solution needs Microsoft Office let’s use the most cost-effective option which is the Microsoft 365 Business Premium plan

 

Microsoft 365 Business Premium

£15.10 per user per month

RUNNING TOTAL: £151

Active Directory

To properly use Windows Virtual Desktop, you will need Azure Active Directory Directory Services AADDS, Azure AD for short, managed from the Azure portal.  To compare like for like with hosted desktops you will need Premium P2 plans.

Azure Active Directory

£6.71 per user per month

RUNNING TOTAL: £218

Windows Virtual Desktop

Here’s the second thing that emphasises how this is aimed at Enterprise customers. When you try and price for Windows Virtual Desktop in the Azure portal you can’t specify user numbers less than 100 users. This may be a bug and using a work around we can get the pricing. We’ve based the underlying virtual machines as 2 CPU cores, 7GB RAM with around 220 usage hours per month. The Windows desktops will be multi user so there will be on average 3 or 4 users on each VM, each with their own desktop session. The Azure pricing calculator suggests 3 VMs, 1 running for 550 hours per month, 2 at 220 hours per month, but remember you will need to set up automation scripts to ensure these virtual machines are turned off when not needed.  If you don’t the £159 below will be more like £225

Windows Virtual Desktop

£159.46 per user per month

RUNNING TOTAL: £377.46

Application Server

Unlike the hosted desktop solution where everyone connects to the same, constantly running, server, with a Windows Virtual Desktop solution you are going to need a separate application server to house the Sage 50 Accounts database (or whatever database Line of Business application your company is using).  Here we don’t need anything too large, so a VM with 2 CPU cores, 4GB RAM, running constantly, standard HDD, a 2nd disk for the Sage backups.   When pricing this we hit the first of the “lets guess what this could be” options which is Storage Transactions. Every time something writes some data, reads some data, looks at some data it is a transaction. The costs aren’t high – 100 transaction units = 4p but predicting how many transactions is nigh on impossible, so be prepared for your monthly invoice to vary from month to month.

If you already own spare Windows server licences, i.e. you have a Microsoft Enterprise Agreement, you could use one of those licences on this server for the server operating system and save £4.35 a month.

Virtual Machine

£35.00

RUNNING TOTAL: £412.46

Backups

So already we’re close to the hosted desktop cost of £462.50 and we don’t even have any backups. Let’s be clear, just because it’s in Azure, don’t think your data is any less vulnerable than on premise. If you open an email with a virus attachment you can infect your environment just as quickly.   So, you must backup your data.

So, to compare like for like we’re backing up 3 VMs at 64GB and 1 at 128GB with a 20 day retention

Backups

£46.91

RUNNING TOTAL: £459.37

Anti-Virus

By default, your Azure Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop solution doesn’t include Anti-Virus.  However, if you use Microsoft 365 Business Premium to licence it then you can use the Windows Defender included in Microsoft 365 Business. So, I won’t add on any AV in this comparison. But you do need to make sure you are protected so make sure anti-virus is installed on the Windows Virtual Desktops as well as any other back end servers included in your architecture.  If you don’t want Windows Defender, or you’re using something like Windows 10 E3 plan for your licence then budget about £10 a month for 3rd party Anti-Virus for this solution.

 

Support and Setup

So, here’s the thing that sets hosted desktops apart from Microsoft Azure Windows Virtual Desktops – Support.  With hosted desktops, well certainly those supplied by Your Office Anywhere, support is included in the price. If you have Windows Virtual Desktop you are going to need either an IT administrator (£2,000 – £3,000 a month) or external IT support, an IT company to provide a management service that knows and understands Azure who can support it for you.  Not sure what their charges would be but as a rough guess let’s say £10 per user per month minimum.

There is also Microsoft support in Azure – Their Standard support, described as “Standard support is for small- or mid-size companies with minimal business-critical dependence on Azure” will cost £74.53 for this example.

Setup costs for hosted desktop with Your Office Anywhere are a nominal £125 per server regardless of the complexity, and most customers just have 1 server. All the other servers and services come for free.

Setting up Azure and Windows Virtual Desktop will probably take an IT company 2 days’ work minimum, so expect to pay at least £1000 for setup.

Azure Support £74.53

3rd Party IT Management Service (approx) £100

RUNNING TOTAL: £633.90

Setup – one off costs – minimum – £1000

So in summary a simple solution to run Sage and Office for 10 users will cost:

Hosted Desktop with Your Office Anywhere

£462.50 per month

£125 one off setup fee

Microsoft Azure Windows Virtual Desktop + 3rd party support with management scripts to turn off resources out of business hours

£633.90 per month – approximately, with some variation

Circa £1,000 setup fee

What about Reserved Instances?

It is possible to reduce costs in Azure by paying upfront for 1 year or 3 years usage of virtual machines but we’re trying to compare like for like, and if you wanted to pay us upfront for 1 year or 3 years, we will certainly give you a discount as well.

But to show fairness if you specify the same Windows Virtual Desktop as a 3-year reserved instance then you could reduce costs and save £65.86 and £15.99 for the VM running the Sage application.  So, the equivalent of just over £80 a month saving by paying 3 years up front.   Still quite a bit more than a hosted desktop in total though.   Plus, we would give you 8.33% discount for paying 1 or 3 year’s in advance (12 months for the price of 11).

 

What about variable costs in Azure?

One of the many criticisms I hear from customer who have services in Azure is that the invoices will vary from month to month. Some of this will be down to how much compute resource they’ve used with their VMs.

The other variable costs are:

  • Bandwidth – the amount of data transferred in and out of the storage location holding the data
  • Transactions – the number of transactions acting against the storage account
  • Storage Capacity – the amount of data being stored

Don’t get me wrong, these things generally don’t represent the big numbers when you get your bill, but in some circumstances,  they can add up significantly, and they do mean that you can’t always accurately predict your monthly operating costs.

We spoke with a company who implement Azure solutions recently and they recounted an issue where they had deleted all their virtual machines, so assumed they wouldn’t be charged any more, but they still had data in the storage and so were charged £70 that month for the storage usage.  So, there are a few “Gothcha’s” you have to watch out for.

With a hosted desktop solution there are no additional costs for bandwidth, no additional costs for transactions. Yes, if you need additional disk space this needs to be charged for but that involves a conversation between us and you to outline how much it will cost for more storage, the best pricing rates (as it can be cheaper renting more storage with us) and if you’re happy with that then we will add it to your next month’s invoice. Meaning you could actually have the additional storage free for the best part of a month.

 

What about all the other things Azure gives you?

It is important to mention that there are a lot of features in Azure that you won’t get with a hosted desktop, including the ability to store copies of your data and VMs in multiple data centres across different geographic regions plus a whole host of other features.  If those things are important to you then Azure will more than meet your needs.  What we’re trying to do here is offer small businesses, looking to host their applications in the cloud, a simple comparison between the new Windows Virtual Desktop and Hosted Desktops.

 

Find out more about Hosted Desktop

The other great thing about a hosted desktop is that you can talk to someone about it in layman’s terms before you make any decisions. If you’d like to find out more please get in touch with one of our Sales consultants who can help architect the best solution for you. Please get in touch via our Contact page.

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