Microsoft's Windows Virtual Desktop: What's in it for me?

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  • Mary Jo Foley
    Mary Jo Foley

    Windows Virtual Desktop, a new service which Microsoft is planning to roll out later this year, is designed to provide multi-session Windows 10 and support for Windows Server RDS desktop and apps. WVD will allow users to virtualize Windows 7 and 10, Office 365 ProPlus apps and other third-party applications by running them remotely in Azure virtual machines. Just last week, Microsoft released its awaited public preview of Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD).

    IT management and automation vendor Nerdio was part of the private preview testing group for WVD. What questions do you have for Vadim Vladimirskiy, the CEO of Nerdio, about WVD?

    I’ll be chatting with Vadim on Wednesday April 3 and will ask some of your best questions directly to him then.


    Does the service require Active Directory Directory Services (ADDS) exclusively? We tried to enable it but couldn’t because we use AAD only. Will it support AAD accounts when it’s GA?

    For the Virtual machine setting blade:

    Select the Image source and enter the appropriate information for how to find it and how to store it. If you choose not to use managed disks, select the storage account containing the .vhd file.
    Enter the user principal name and password for the domain account that will join the VMs to the Active Directory domain. This same username and password will be created on the virtual machines as a local account. You can reset these local accounts later.
    Select the virtual network that has connectivity to the Active Directory server, then choose a subnet to host the virtual machines.
    Select OK.


    What does the MFA support look like? Are they building MFA support into the RDP client itself? For example, there’s no UI showing it’s awaiting an MFA response, and no selection screen to pick a different MFA option.

    Brad Sams
    Brad Sams

    What is the impact of fslogix acquisition with Windows Virtual Desktop?

    Brad Sams
    Brad Sams

    You can find the audio version of this conversation, here.

    Mary Jo Foley: 00:04 Hi, you’re listening to Petri’s MJFChat show. I am your Community Magnate. My name is Mary Jo Foley and I’m here to ask industry experts about various topics that you, our readers, want to know about. Today’s MJFChat is all about Microsoft’s coming Windows Virtual Desktop service called WVD for short. And my guest today is Vadim Vladimirskiy who is the CEO of IT management and automation vendor, Nerdio. Thanks so much for joining us, Vadim.

    V. Vladimirskiy: 00:40 It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.

    Mary Jo Foley: 00:43 You’re welcome. So, first I’m gonna start with a little background. WVD in case you haven’t heard of it is a new service, Microsoft is going to be rolling out later this year. It’s designed to allow users to virtualize Windows 7 and 10, Office 365 pro plus apps and other third party applications by running them remotely in Azure virtual machines.

    Just last week Microsoft released, its awaited public preview of WVD and Nerdio was part of the private preview testing group for this service. So Vadim, let’s just dig right in here. If someone asks you, what is WVD how would you explain it in just a sentence or two? Like your elevator pitch for WVD?

    V. Vladimirskiy: 01:30 Sure. So I would say in the simplest sense, WVD is a set of technologies from Microsoft that enable both IT pros and IT service providers to deploy virtual desktops in Azure with great end user experience.

    Mary Jo Foley: 01:47 That’s good. I’m curious, what is Nerdio’s interest in WVD – why did you want to be in the private preview?

    V. Vladimirskiy: 01:58 So Nerdio has really been in the desktop virtualization space for a very long time. I mean, you know, well over a decade and we are kind of a recognized leader in that space. We were first, deploying virtual desktops as a service provider for many years using both remote desktop services, initially terminal server technology, then eventually various VDI technologies.

    Then more recently, we’ve become an ISV that helps manage service providers and IT pros deploy Azure based environments with our software. So we’ve really been very deep and involved with desktop virtualization for a long time. So when Microsoft announced, RDmi first and then Windows Virtual Desktop later, you know, being part of that initial group of companies that helped them test and vet the solution was very important for us and, and we, you know, we enjoyed participating in that process.

    Mary Jo Foley: 02:59 Wow. You’ve been there since terminal services – you’ve been around.

    V. Vladimirskiy: 03:03 Absolutely. Well, I think, we started offering our services with Terminal Server 2003.
    Mary Jo Foley: 03:08 Wow. Okay. Also I wanted to ask you to define for some of our listeners who might not be in the channel or know about channel terminology. What is an MSP? You mentioned MSP.

    V. Vladimirskiy: 03:21 So an MSP which, which stands for a Managed Services Provider, refers to an IT services company that typically services SMB and mid-market organizations and provides them with a wide array of technology services.

    You know, things like a technology implementation maybe help desk – ongoing IT monitoring and management, virtual CIO services, sometimes staffing and you know, many other services. I think the easiest way to think about an MSP as an outsourced IT department that has a wide range of expertise in many different technology areas.

    Mary Jo Foley: 03:59 Okay, that’s good. So today, if somebody wants to virtualize Windows and Office, what kind of hoops do they have to jump through? And then how has WVD to make this simpler, at least in theory?

    V. Vladimirskiy: 04:13 That’s a great question. So today if somebody wanted to virtualize Windows and Office, and, we’ll talk about doing so in Azure specifically or some kind of hosted environment. They would have quite a few things that they would need to check off and still end up with something that’s probably not as powerful as WVD. Specifically, you know, let’s start with licensing.

    So from a licensing perspective, today the easiest way to license a virtual desktop on a per user per month basis is through the RDS technology. Microsoft introduced a way of being able to do that with Windows 10 just recently about a year or so ago but most deployments of virtual desktops today use RDS. So there are some licensing limitations there. Also deploying RDS requires quite a bit of knowledge and has quite a bit of complexity that goes along with it because there’s a whole set of what they call infrastructure roles that have to be properly rolled out before users can start connecting to their desktop.

    V. Vladimirskiy: 05:20 So there’s, there’s a lot of complexity managing those roles, properly sizing the virtual machines, monitoring them, making sure they’re available. So quite a bit to do there. The next challenge with today’s methodology I would say comes around profile management. So in a typical virtual desktop environment, the most flexible ones are where users can, you know, be logged into one machine one day and another machine another day which means that their user state, their profile has to reside outside of those machines that they’re connecting to.

    And Microsoft as a called user profile discs. There are also technological roaming profiles and all of them have their quirks and limitations. So today that’s a significant challenge. There are lots of third-party tools that have helped bridge those gaps in RDS environments.

    V. Vladimirskiy: 06:17 And I would say the final thing would be the end user experience. You know, a user that’s going to be logging into a virtual desktop based on RDS and using Office, which is really the most commonly used application inside of a virtual desktop are going to be subject to some limitations. You know they may have issues with Outlook searching not being as fast as on a local desktop. They may have some limitations, um, you know, in terms of being able to cache outlook data on the local virtual desktop. So those sort of things are some of the bigger challenges with deploying virtual desktops in today’s environment. The great thing about WVD is it really addresses all of these challenges. It simplifies the licensing by making double WVD management service just be a right of a Windows 10 subscription. So anybody who owns a Windows 10 subscription, whether it be through Microsoft 365 or through just the direct Windows 10 enterprise subscription through something like a CSP program, they have the right to use WVD at really no additional charge. It really removes all of those licensing barriers.

    Mary Jo Foley: 07:24 So could I interrupt you for a minute? Do you have to be a Windows 10 Enterprise user or could you also be a pro user and do this?

    V. Vladimirskiy: 07:33 With WVD, you do have to be a Windows 10 Enterprise user.

    Mary Jo Foley: 07:37 Okay. But you don’t need software assurance, right?

    V. Vladimirskiy: 07:41 You do not. You do not. So some of the skews that include Windows 10 Enterprise would be things like Microsoft 365, E3 and E5 I believe Microsoft 365 Business includes Windows 10 Enterprise as well. And then there is a number of Windows-only skews that also include that product. So it needs to be a subscription to Windows 10 Enterprise specifically.

    Mary Jo Foley: 08:08 Okay. Yeah, every time I talk to people about virtualizing Windows desktops, licensing is always the first thing that comes up. And they’re like, wow, it’s such a headache. I can’t even figure out what I’m supposed to do right now.

    V. Vladimirskiy: 08:20 Absolutely. So, that’s going to be taking care, you know, the other thing around RDS, deployment complexity. So what Microsoft is doing is their packaging into WVD management service. They’re actually bringing all of those RDS rolls into that service. They’re going to be running it and managing it and making it available via Azure as a platform, as a service offering. So somebody, you know, that’s entitled to it can just go in and start using those services without having to deploy them on top of virtual machines, which is what they will have to do today.

    So that eliminates a lot of that complexity too. Then finally on the profile management and end-user experience side of things, because Microsoft is now acquired and integrated FSLogix profile management solution into WVD. A lot of those traditional, you know, tradeoffs that users had to make when using virtual desktops like index search are now a thing of the past because that’s going to be now natively supported. And, and one thing I want to mention that, you know, another significant improvement is with WVD users get the native Windows 10 operating system rather than a Windows Server 2016 or 2019 with the desktop experience, which looks like Windows 10. But under the hood it’s a little bit different. So it has some limitations, especially when it comes to OneDrive and On-Demand Files and some of the more advanced functionalities is limited.

    Mary Jo Foley: 09:50 Okay. So you, you just triggered a couple other questions that we’ve got from readers. One, one is from Brad Sams who’s the editor here at Petri and he, he was asking specifically about FSLogix and you know, when Microsoft bought them last year, they hinted that this would be part of WVD or involved with WVD, but he asked specifically what that technology will bring to WVD that people don’t have right now. And I think you touched on that a little bit. Could you talk a little more about that?

    V. Vladimirskiy: 10:21 Oh, certainly. Yeah, I think it’s a really key component and brings everything together really well. So you know, FSLogix it plays a really significant role in improving the end user experience. And I think the easiest way to think about it as a profile management solution that encapsulates the user profile. You need virtual disk file and then stores that file on the file server somewhere or eventually in Azure files maybe as well. And then when the user logs into a session host, right, which is their virtual desktop, and that could be a different session host every day, right?

    They could be logging into session host A today and session host B tomorrow. That profile gets mounted to that server in a way that the operating system is not even aware that that’s not a local profile. So what this allows is for things like OneDrive, which currently, you know, it doesn’t like to run when it can tell that it’s running across a network. But with FSLogix, OneDrive will run very natively and files can be synchronized easily. It enables things like searching in Outlook, you know, where you get that instant index search. That’s not really possible today natively. You can have things like Outlook cache mode, so it really brings parody to the user functionality between a physical desktop running Windows 10 and a virtual desktop running Windows 10.

    Mary Jo Foley: 11:43 Okay. That’s good. You also did mention RDS – Remote Desktop Services. I was a little bit confused when Microsoft announced WVD if RDS was going to continue as a standalone product or if the only way people will be able to do RDS now is through WVD.

    V. Vladimirskiy: 12:03 So, I think RDS is going to continue with this part of Windows Server 2019. And I think there’s still going to be room for it. I think it’s a well-understood market tested mature technology that’s been around for a very, very long time. And there are lots of RDS deployments out there already and people are familiar with it. It’s also the technology that those who want to deploy virtual desktops on-premises or in the hybrid cloud type of a scenario will be forced to use because WVD is really an Azure only solution at this point.

    Also for those that want to have complete control of not just the desktops themselves but also the control plane and the management service with RDS, they’ll be able to continue doing that.

    Mary Jo Foley: 12:51 Okay.

    V. Vladimirskiy: 12:53 Now I think one thing that’s going to make RDS be less and less relevant is, you know, at least in our experience, the most popular application that runs in the virtual desktop is Microsoft Office. And most people are obviously going towards Office 365 for licensing that.

    So that has the Office Pro Plus product and Microsoft announced in version 2019, of the, the server operating system support for Pro Plus is going to be dropped or it has been dropped, which means that if you’re running RDS on any of the subsequent versions of Windows Server beyond 2016, the most popular application, which is Office Pro Plus is not going to be a supported deployment. So I think as a result of that, there’s going to be a pretty significant shift towards WVD and the Windows 10 operating system.

    Mary Jo Foley: 13:39 Okay. That’s great. Good to know. So one reader, mattchatblog on Petri said, does WVD require Azure Active Directory services exclusively? He said we tried to enable it, but we couldn’t because we only use AD, Active Directory. Will it support AAD accounts by the time it’s generally available?

    V. Vladimirskiy: 14:07 That’s a great question. So in order to deploy WVD you actually need both. You need Azure Active Directory and you need Active Directory Directory Services.

    V. Vladimirskiy: 14:26 So the Azure Active Directory piece is going to house the user objects. That’s where the user authentication information username and password is going to live. And you do need an Azure Active Directory tenant, which is tied to a WVD tenant in order for it to work. But the session hosts themselves, the desktop virtual machines are going to need to be joined to a domain which is using Active Directory Directory Services and it’s not sufficient to have them Azure AD joined only. I don’t believe there are any plans to remove that requirement.

    Certainly, I haven’t heard for GA purposes that that’s going to be removed. So right now you need both. You need Azure AD for the user accounts and you need Active Directory Directory Services for the session host to join. And this Active Directory Directory Services can either be the traditional active directory that’s running on a Windows Server or it also supports the Azure ADDSdeployment, which is sort of another way of running Active Directory in Azure independent or connected to Azure AD. You know, there’s some confusing terminology but those are separate products.

    Mary Jo Foley: 15:38 Yup. It’s very confusing to me especially. I’m curious what you think about the idea of people who are looking at WVD as a way to keep running their Windows 7 apps after Microsoft no longer supports Windows 7 in January 2020. Do you think that’s a good strategy? Is this one of the reasons people should look at WVD or is it like, yeah, if you can do it but not the best idea?

    V. Vladimirskiy: 16:08 Well, you know, I think it depends on the use case. This is something that’s likely going to be leveraged by larger organizations that have like a significant investment in some sort of an application that for whatever reason they’re unable to modernize and get it to work in Windows 10, right?

    So in that scenario they’ll likely just want to lift and shift that environment and put it in Azure and get the extended support and be able to run it through WVD. The challenge, you know, that I see with that strategy, sort of at scale, for the rest of the market does that, you know, Windows 7 is not a multi-session operating system. So you basically going to end up having to assign each user a dedicated virtual machine, which tends to get expensive. With WVD natively using the Windows 10 multi-session operating system. One of the big advantages is now you can have multiple users leveraging the same VM, same infrastructure, which really drives the costs down.

    Mary Jo Foley: 17:05 Right. I was going to ask you about the multi-session Windows 10 feature and it’s funny this, this product has so many different piece parts to it. It’s not just RDS, it’s not just a virtualization strategy. It’s also got multi-session Windows 10. And I’m curious if you think if that is a big seller or if that will be a big driver for a WVD?

    V. Vladimirskiy: 17:28 In my opinion, that’s huge, right, I really think that’s the core of what makes WVD something unique and special. So what Windows 10 Enterprise multi-session enables you to do is to have a consistent user experience both on remote desktops, virtual desktops running in Azure and on local desktops using the same operating system that users are used to have on both. Now it allows for more cost-efficient use of Azure compute resources by combining multiple users onto the same virtual machine.

    And therefore you can increase the per user, or the user per CPU density compared to running one-to-one, you know, a virtual machine per user and make the cost of desktop infrastructure and Azure very appealing. Especially if you use some of the technologies that Nerdio has around auto-scaling and, and scaling out, scaling in based on user demand. You can drive the cost of compute down tremendously even relatively to doing anything on-premise and especially given the fact that the license piece of it is included with Windows already.

    So you get the licensing piece at no additional charge and then the cost of infrastructure by having multiple people on the same virtual machine having the same user experience at a very, very low per user cost. I think is what brings this whole thing together and makes it very unique and exciting from the market.

    Mary Jo Foley: 19:01 Another Petri reader, bluvg asked about MFA support. He said, ‘are they building MFA support into the RDP client itself? For example, there’s no UI showing it’s awaiting an MFA response and no selection screen to pick a different MFA option.’ What can you tell us about that?

    V. Vladimirskiy: 19:23 So, that’s another one of these really useful things in Windows Virtual Desktop. And, it’s really a byproduct. I mean, obviously, it’s by design, but it’s a byproduct of WVD being natively integrated with Azure Active Directory, right? An Azure Active Directory has this functionality around multifactor authentication and conditional access things that many organizations already use today with their Office 365 deployments, right?

    So if you log in from an unknown computer to your Office 365 to Outlook, you know, whatever product you’re using, if you have multi-factor enabled, it’s going to send you a code or ask you to authenticate through an APP. And what WVD does is it leverages that same authentication mechanism for a virtual desktop. And the way it looks to the end user is there is a new remote desktop client app that they download and install on their computer. They open it up and then they do what’s called a subscriber.

    V. Vladimirskiy: 20:20 They click a button to subscribe to their WVD, you know, feed or their desktops. And that’s when the Azure ID authentication process happens. So they type in their username and password. Then, if there is a second-factor challenge, they go ahead and they go through that process. And, then once they’re subscribed, then they can see their desktops and they can double click and launch them. But it absolutely does support it.

    And I know a lot of our partner’s customers have been asking for native integration with Azure AD and multi-factor and conditional access policy support and they’re excited to see it with a Windows Virtual Desktop.

    Mary Jo Foley: 20:59 Okay, great. So I was kind of curious about Citrix specifically now that Microsoft’s doing WVD. Citrix is a long-time Microsoft virtualization partner. I know they’ve publicly said that they’re going to be integrating their services in with WVD and having a new offering based on it when it’s generally available. But I always have my readers ask me, ‘do we really still need Citrix – is Microsoft now providing all the parts and we don’t really need them anymore?’ What do you think the role of partners and specifically Citrix, if you can talk to that will be with WVD?

    V. Vladimirskiy: 21:38 Sure. And, I’ll be happy to give you my opinion on it. I think as you’ve pointed out, with every evolution of RDS, Microsoft has released many features that Citrix that used to be a must for those features. And then as time went on, I think Citrix feature set is really appealing and useful for large and complex deployments that require special things like maybe the HDX protocol, maybe NetScaler other advanced functionality that are not yet in the RDS or the WVD product.

    But, you know, in my opinion, just from experience with the partners and customers we work with, for the vast majority of deployments, I think WVD by itself is going to be more than sufficient. It already has some of that automation and management services built into it. And the RDP protocol is, is great, and maybe sufficient for the vast majority of deployments. So I do think there is room for Citrix. Citrix’s stack of products for large complex deployments, but I think for the vast majority of the smaller, more straight forward ones, it’s probably not necessary. And, you know, people can save the cost of Citrix licensing.

    V. Vladimirskiy: 22:57 Now, you mentioned, you asked the question about partners and the role partners play in WVD and people ask us that a lot. Because what Nerdio ultimately is, it’s an automation tool that helps Manage Services Providers deploy virtual desktop-centric environment in Azure. Like that’s kind of what we do.

    And people say, ‘Hey, we’re WVD, do we not need Nerdio anymore?’ And, the answer is that with WVD as I mentioned, it’s a set of technologies. They still need to be deployed and managed and automated. And both we and Citrix and other partners in the ecosystem are going to be building automation and management tools around the WVD core technologies, making them available to IT professionals and MSPs to then be able to go and leverage those WVD services that Microsoft is going to be releasing later this year.

    Mary Jo Foley: 23:55 That’s good. Good to know. So any last words that you’d offer to people either like hidden features or your opinion of how the product’s evolving so far? How does it look? Um, just anything you think our listeners might want to know about before we sign off?

    V. Vladimirskiy: 24:13 I can’t really think of anything at this point. We’ve covered a lot of really great questions from your audience. Very insightful – You know, we’re all very excited and been working on this for quite a long time and happy to be able to speak about it in public forums and help our partners and customers really understand what WVD is and how it affects them – how they can price it and use it once it comes out into general availability.

    Mary Jo Foley: 24:41 Great. Well thank you so much for coming on the chat today and helping to explain to our listeners more about WVD. I think it’s going to be a really big focus for Microsoft this year, as well as for its partners and customers as you said. Thank you to everyone who’s listening to this MJFChat.

    Mary Jo Foley: 25:02 Also, we’ll be back again in a couple of weeks with our next guest, so make sure to watch for that. And when I post who it is – in the forums, send in your questions using the MJFChat forum area. Look there too for an audio recording of this chat and transcript as well for this and all of our chats. We’re going to have all of those available in the forums. So thank you very much.

    • This reply was modified 10 months, 3 weeks ago by Brad Sams Brad Sams.
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