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Windows Virtual Desktop – What you need to know

Microsoft have released their Windows Virtual Desktop, which is a shared Windows 10 virtual desktop running in their Azure cloud platform.  While Microsoft have been happy to host Windows servers in Azure this is their first venture into hosting shared Windows desktops.   In this article we’ll discuss what the Windows Virtual Desktop is all about, the type of market it’s aimed at and particularly its relevance to small businesses.

The biggest innovation that Microsoft have made with this solution is making Windows 10 multi-user.   In the past Windows 10 has been strictly limited to one user at a time, unlike their server operating systems which have supported multiple users connecting to terminal server (remote desktop server) environments since the late 90s.   Unfortunately Microsoft are keeping this functionality to themselves, large corporations running their own virtual environments outside of Azure won’t be able to take advantage of the multi-user version of Windows 10, they will continue using Windows Server.

Advantages of Windows Virtual Desktops

Having multiple users connecting to a single virtual machine has many advantages, software only needs to be installed and configured once, and organisations can take advantage of the economies of scale of shared computing.

The flexibility of virtual machines means that businesses can easily increase the resources (memory and CPU) available to the machine as demand increases.

Microsoft argue that running Windows 10 (as opposed to a server based OS such as Windows 2012 or 2016) will enable customers to run applications that won’t run on server operating systems.

The Windows Virtual Desktop will be quick to deploy

Users of Windows Virtual Desktops will have access to standard Windows 10 features such as Cortana and the Windows 10 store.

Disadvantages of Windows Virtual Desktops

Users of Windows Virtual Desktops will have access to standard Windows 10 features such as Cortana and the Windows 10 store.  Yes, this is a disadvantage too as, on their own, the Windows 10 virtual desktops are an unmanaged environment and users may easily download and install all sorts of apps from the Windows store to your “Shared” computing environment.

Windows Virtual Desktops seem to be aimed at the “Enterprise” customer rather than small businesses with only a handful of users.   Customers need the enterprise licence for Microsoft 365 (not Office 365) E3, E5 or F1 or Windows E3.

On top of the Microsoft 365 licence customers will require an Azure account and manage the Azure virtual machines upon which the Windows 10 virtual desktops will run.  Including managing storage, backups, anti-virus, and Windows updates.

Support from Microsoft is an additional cost but probably a very necessary requirement, particularly in the early days.

Businesses will either need help from external IT consultants or an internal IT team experienced with Azure to deploy, support and manage the Windows Virtual Desktops in a cost effective way.

How do small businesses take advantage of Windows Virtual Desktop?

The ability to run a cloud based remote desktop environment has been around for over 10 years and hosted remote desktop (hosted desktop) providers are very experienced at building, supporting and maintaining these solutions on behalf of their customers.   More importantly the installation, support and maintenance of a hosted desktop comes included as part of the service.  Small businesses don’t need to know anything about IT, or cloud computing, or servers, or memory, or backups, the service provider looks after all this.   So for small businesses the Windows Virtual Desktop may not necessarily be the right solution.

The only real advantage Windows Virtual Desktop has over a hosted desktop service is that it uses Windows 10 instead of Windows Server.  If you have an application that genuinely will only work on Windows 10 then this may be the answer for you, but these are very rare and I’d say 99.9% of common business applications will run on Windows Server.

Take a look at this article comparing in detail Windows Virtual Desktop with Your Office Anywhere’s hosted desktop service

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