What to use & when
Author: Andy Nelson
VP, Microsoft Technology Strategy
Virtual Desktop Basics
In cloud computing, virtualization is the process of abstracting software from the hardware it runs on. A virtual desktop is simply a desktop operating system (like Windows or Mac OS) that isn’t tied to a specific piece of physical hardware like your laptop or desktop workstation. Instead, it runs on a shared hardware set by borrowing a portion of the physical resources, and you access it remotely from any available device that can connect to it.
You may have used virtual desktops before through solutions like Remote Desktop Services (RDS), thin clients, or Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) platforms like Citrix.
Before we dive into the differences between Azure Virtual Desktop (formerly Windows Virtual Desktop) and Windows 365, why use virtual desktops? You would use cloud pc or virtual desktops in cases where you don’t want to provide or manage physical workstations while still maintaining governance over the desktop environment; this scenario is popular with organizations that have high turnover or use several contractors. Many companies also use cloud pc or virtual desktops in cases where there is a need to control the network boundary the desktops operate in, without restricting mobility of the users. This is common within high security environments, and with applications with low latency requirements between client and server.
The cloud pc operates entirely within a known network boundary regardless of where it’s connected into from; the connected user is only looking into the environment with a very long lens, but none of the computing, files, or other data is on the physical device they are using to connect. This not only enables control of the computing environment, but also facilitates client applications with low latency requirements to be located in close physical proximity to their server counterparts, without restricting mobility of the users.
- BYOD Any time you don’t want to provide workstations to end users, but also don’t want to manage their BYOD devices. You’ll provide the cloud pc they can connect to from their own device(s), and you’ll manage the virtual workstation instead of the physical one. A likely scenario would be contractors and high turnover positions.
- Strict Control With cloud pc you are ensuring that the virtual workstation is only being used on your network, since no matter where the workstation is accessed from, the compute happens inside the perimeter of your environment. Any data on the virtual workstation stays within your environment as well, since the access devices are only viewing that data—not storing or even caching it temporarily. As soon as the connection is dropped, so is access to the data. If you need to control what networks the workstation is used on, ensure it can’t be used offline, and absolutely ensure that even encrypted copies of the data won’t fall into the wrong hands if the device is lost or stolen, you have a case for cloud pc. Think compliance scenarios, line-of-business applications, and defense contracting or national security.
Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) & Windows 365
Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) and Windows 365 are two different Microsoft solutions that deliver virtual desktops through the cloud, with less overhead and more scalability than on-premises or traditional datacenter solutions.
But why the two different services from Microsoft?
To provide a balance between simplicity and flexibility.
In the diagram below comparing cloud computing models, the further to the right you go, the more that is managed by the cloud provider. This is effective for reducing overhead, but not so great for control of the environment and the flexibility to support complex scenarios.
As you move left to right through On-premises -> IaaS -> PaaS -> SaaS, you gain simplicity and lose flexibility and control.
As you move from right to left through SaaS -> PaaS -> IaaS -> On-premises, you sacrifice simplicity for the sake of flexibility.
Azure Virtual Desktop is a scalable, cloud hosted, managed VDI platform for Windows desktops, servers, and remote app streaming with enterprise manageability across user identity and profiles, images and applications, network policies, user density, and scaling automation. This gives you a wealth of control just as you would have with a traditional VDI solution, but since the dependent Remote Desktop infrastructure and the underlying Azure compute, networking, and storage resources are managed by Microsoft, this pushes this closer to Platform as a Service (PaaS).
On the other hand, Windows 365 is much closer to a Software as a Service (SaaS) offering. You have some manageability of the virtual desktops, but if you want to use a management utility you are limited to the Microsoft toolset. Additionally, all of the virtualization infrastructure is completely managed for you, and therefore transparent to you as well. There’s some give and take with that—remember in cloud computing anything managed by the provider is out of your hair, but that means it’s also out of your control.
Which one should I use?
As a general rule of thumb, I recommend organizations to always evaluate the SaaS solution first when one is available—stay in the business of your business wherever you can, not in the business of IT. If the SaaS solution can’t accommodate your business requirements, then start moving to the left of that diagram through PaaS and IaaS to customize the solution as necessary until it fits. If you’ve gotten to IaaS and still need more control to meet your requirements, then you’ll have to host it yourself.
Azure Virtual Desktop
A flexible cloud virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) platform that securely delivers virtual desktops and remote apps with maximum control.
• Windows 10 and Windows 11 personalized and multi-session desktops and remote app streaming
• Full control over management and deployment, plus options for Citrix and VMware integration
• Flexible consumption-based pricing
Optimized for flexibility.
A complete software-as-service (SaaS) solution that securely streams your personalized Windows experience – all your apps, content and settings – to any device.
• Windows 10 and Windows 11 personalized desktops
• Management and deployment with familiar desktop tools and skills
• Predictable per-user pricing
Optimized for simplicity.
FSi Strategies is a Microsoft Gold Partner with an Advanced Specialization from Microsoft in Azure Virtual Desktop. Our extensive experience and expertise in deploying, optimizing and securing Azure Virtual Desktop makes us your go-to partner for integrating Azure Virtual Desktop into your IT strategy.
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