Vuzion Cloud Solutions Architect, Andrew May writes …
The focus of this blog is on Microsoft’s Windows Virtual Desktop - currently in preview, but shortly to be generally available.
However, before we look in detail at Microsoft’s new offering, let’s cover a brief history of how we got to where we are today with shared computing.
From the dawn of programmable computing...
... the aim to create a single, powerful computer shared by many users has been at the forefront.
In the early days, those wanting to use the computer had to schedule time, and wait days/weeks for an allocated slot.
Technology improved, and the central processor was cut into fine slices of time, each allocated to a different user sitting at a terminal (essentially a keyboard and screen), and so that each appeared to be the sole user.
In reality, the terminal was located remotely, and connected to the central computer via a wire along which the digital signals – the ones and zeros representing the key pressed and the next character to display on the screen – travelled. The computer was actually being shared between many people at the same time.
With the rise of Microsoft and introduction of the Windows desktop, the keyboard and screen were joined by a mouse, graphical interface, video and sound, available firstly due to Terminal Services and then with Remote Desktop Services.
Windows Virtual Desktop is the next step in that development.
Why centralised computing?
An obvious question might be, that in a world where we all have mobile phones, laptops, desktops and tablets - each of which is more than capable of doing any task - why do we need technologies to share a centralised computer?
The answer is due to a blend of reasons stemming from cost, support issues, manageability, security, user convenience and productivity for example, most IT kit bought for employees:
- Is never used to its full potential
- Can pose a security and/or financial risk - of being lost, stolen or damaged
- Often stores sensitive data, and is rarely backed up
- and with users notoriously lax at getting updates installed, is often vulnerable to exploits.
With a remote desktop solution, an organisation can provide a consistent experience to their users, with access available from anywhere in the world and on any device. Sensitive data is no longer stored on physical devices in the wild. As it’s centrally managed, simplified software patching and security updates result.
Less compute power needs purchasing as resources can be shared.
So, what is Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD)?
In simple terms, Windows Virtual Desktop is the next version of Remote Desktop Services (RDS), running on Azure in the Microsoft Cloud. While it’s been possible to run RDS in Azure for some time, it requires deployment and configuration of supporting services to enable it to work – the Web Access, Gateway, Connection Broker and Licensing servers plus a database, and load balancers. The user desktop runs on Windows Server – which looks, feels and behaves a bit differently to Windows 10 and lacks some of the features.
With WVD, Microsoft takes care of all the supporting services, so that we need only to deploy the Virtual Machines (VMs) that the user desktops run on and then plug into the WVD service. With the introduction of multi-user Windows 10, many users can share a single Windows 10 computer, so the experience is more in line with what they’re used to. Microsoft also provides an image with Office 365 pre-installed, and which simplifies deployment.
WVD still allows for Windows Server based desktops if required and can also run Windows 7 - although not in multi-user mode - with extended support continuing for three additional years after general retirement in January next year (2020).
With WVD, payment is only for the Azure VM charges, as the WVD service itself has no additional cost. VMs can be turned off when not in use to save money or if constantly in use, Reserved Instances allow pre-payment of VMs at reduced rates. Licensing is now via Microsoft 365, so has also been simplified, making management easier and costs more predictable.
Our Head of Projects and Professional Services here at Vuzion, Kev Gower, says:
“At Vuzion we’ve spent a lot of time deploying and using WVD since it entered public preview.
"Understanding how it works, the different options available and what the experience is like for those looking after the platform and those using it, all position us to better assist our partners and their customers for when the service becomes available for general consumption.
"What we’ve seen looks very exciting! But, we need to remember that this is still a product in development, and is not generally available yet.
"The management interface needs improving and integrating into the Azure Portal, lots of configuration must be done via PowerShell, changes are made regularly and there is no support or SLA available from Microsoft – you are on your own.
"But, if you have a customer who wants to be at the bleeding edge and understands the implications of using a preview service, we can assist with the design, costing, deployment and configuration of Windows Virtual Desktop."