October 31, 2019
Remote Desktop Services: The Benefits of Windows Virtual Desktop
Microsoft’s Windows Virtual Desktop offers a fresh alternative to Remote Desktop Services.
Microsoft recently released Windows Virtual Desktop and CDW is one of Microsoft’s few partners that is already delivering projects with this technology. I am one of the engineers who has been working with WVD and this blog post will cover what can be expected from it.
Getting Started with Windows Virtual Desktop
If you are already familiar with Remote Desktop Services, WVD is an Azure-hosted RDS environment. Instead of organizations managing the Connection Brokers and Web Access Servers, Azure handles the infrastructure. What WVD does that RDS doesn’t is supporting Session Hosts running Windows 10, not a server operating system disguised as a workstation OS. It also has the option of running Windows 7, and having that operating system supported with security updates two years after they stop for other Windows 7 systems.
Before Session Hosts can be provisioned for end users, there are some installation requirements that must be performed. As a leftover requirement from WVD’s development phase, the WVD tenant needs to be associated as a third-party application with the Azure tenant where the service is to be deployed. It is anticipated that this requirement will be removed in later releases of the service.
Session Hosts are required to be joined to an Active Directory domain and communication to a domain controller is a must. The domain controller can either be an on-premises server or hosted in Azure. Optionally, an Azure Active Directory Domain Controller can be used if the organization is pure cloud.
WVD takes advantage of the FSLogix technology that was acquired earlier in 2019, which brings excellent handling and performance compared to the legacy profile handling techniques. The feature is configured with Group Policy, which also speaks to the requirement of an Active Directory domain discussed earlier.
If FSLogix will be leveraged, enough network storage needs to be provisioned to host the user profiles. While the host or cluster that will house the data can be on-premises, the best performance will come with having the data stored in Azure. If the WVD workload is intended for production, it is advisable to configure the storage in a Failovver Cluster configuration, which may add to the monthly tab, though Azure Files may be an alternative.
What a WVD Deployment Looks Like
Deploying a basic WVD Windows 10 Session Host is a straightforward affair, and the UI provided by Azure is logically laid out. This is unfortunately about the extent of a usable UI provided by Microsoft for WVD. There are two Azure apps that can be deployed to aid in administrative tasks, but they can be tricky to install.
Unlike Remote Desktop Services, WVD does not provide much in the way of a GUI. PowerShell is the best way to perform all the required configurations and assignments, and there are plenty of cmdlets to allow that management.
Fortunately, there is a free tool available called Windows Virtual Desktop Manager available from workspace-guru.com that is good for most daily administrative tasks. The interface is stark, but don’t let that throw you off. It will do most of what is required.
For administrators who are used to building reference machines with SCCM/MDT, Windows 10 1903 does not come with the index for Windows Virtual Desktop, meaning that admins are not able to build their reference machines from scratch. To build a reference machine locally, one must build a Windows 10 Session Host in Azure first, Sysprep it, and then copy the detached VHD to their local machine.
For admins that are using ARM Templates for automating workloads, WVD can deploy Session Hosts via templates.
For Citrix shops, Citrix Cloud supports all the features that are the hallmark of Citrix with Windows 10 Session Hosts. For VMware shops, support by Horizon is coming soon.
WVD Shows Great Promise
While this review may sound a little grim, there is plenty to like about WVD. The end user experience is far superior to that of RDS. The number of pop-ups and warnings that are generated are far fewer, which is due to the back-end infrastructure being preconfigured. Accessing a WVD Session through the HTML5 portal is straightforward and responsive. The new RDP Client is also nice to use, and while it provides just as great an experience as the portal, not having to deploy and update an agent is always a plus.
Overall, Windows Virtual Desktop is a slick solution that shows a lot of promise. There has been quite a bit of buzz surrounding this solution, and the buzz is merit-worthy. Microsoft is investing in this service and I am looking forward to using it as it matures.
As is with any client virtualization solution, this is not a money-saving mechanism. The operating of the WVD Session Hosts has very real costs with resource consumption and care should be taken to scale the environment correctly.
If the current shortcomings of WVD aren’t too daunting for your organization, this service is worth evaluating. For those with M365 or RDS licensing, WVD is included with your existing licenses. For organizations with an existing VDI environment, WVD can provide an easy way to deploy a real Windows 10 experience to their end users. For those evaluating VDI for their organization, WVD should be considered as a potential component to the solution.