DON’T FEEL BAD if you missed it, but Microsoft introduced a cloud-based virtual desktop infrastructure solution last September. Called Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) and delivered exclusively on Azure, it could signal an impending earthquake for channel pros.
“This is a massive move by Microsoft, with significant ramifications,” says JD Helms, president of CloudJumper, a Garner, N.C.-based developer of software and services for cloud-based workspaces.
According to Microsoft, WVD is “the only cloud-based service that delivers a multiuser Windows 10 experience.” It is optimized for the ProPlus edition of Office 365, and offers free Extended Security Updates for Windows 7, which reaches end of life next January.
At its core, WVD provides an Azure cloud-native working environment for end users, notes Helms, in which they “log into virtual machines running Windows 10 and can access all their Windows-compatible applications and data.” Azure handles connectivity to WVD via traditional Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) or an HTML5 component that displays the desktop in a browser page.
With WVD, end users are provided with “a fully man-made Windows 10 image that runs/is executed on Microsoft Azure, and then projected onto their laptops, tablets, desktops, or any other devices,” explains Mark Bowker, senior analyst with consulting firm Enterprise Strategy Group.
A Leap Forward
Virtual desktops, of course, have been part of the computing marketplace for some time. But Microsoft’s WVD represents a significant leap forward in a number of ways, according to Helms.
For instance, he notes, Microsoft VDI solutions have traditionally relied on the Remote Desktop Services (RDS) component of Windows Server, a client-server model designed for accessing on-premises applications from outside the LAN. In contrast, WVD code is “cloud-native, purpose-built to optimize the user workspace experience for Office 365 and other business applications.”
“This is a massive move by Microsoft, with significant ramifications.” —JD Helms, President, CloudJumper
Meanwhile, Helms says, WVD’s Azure foundation allows it to provide immediate, same-cloud access to complementary Azure services such as Azure Files, Azure Backup, Azure Monitor, Antimalware for Azure, and FSLogix profile containers. VDI solutions such as Amazon WorkSpaces, by contrast, lack the ability to integrate these services.
Also, WVD enables a variety of devices, like tablets, “to run workspaces and applications in Azure at high performance levels and without the need for additional components installed on the device,” Helms adds, with Azure handling scaling and redundancy issues.
How quickly the market will adopt WVD is a “wait-and-see” situation, according to Bowker. “For now, there are going to be potential customers that will look at WVD and say, ‘Well, of course, Microsoft owns the operating system and Azure, so this has to be the best way to deliver that virtual Windows 10 experience,” he notes.
For organizations that already use Amazon WorkSpaces, or VDI products from Citrix or VMware, WVD is an interesting option, “but [it] will take some time to determine how it fits in with their overall desktop strategy,” Bowker says.
Helms, however, believes Microsoft is going to work hard to drive market adoption, “and clients are going to start making the move.”
Indeed, for channel pros already selling Office 365, WVD is an obvious add-on, and it’s not hard to imagine Microsoft introducing attractively priced new editions of its Microsoft 365 offering, which bundles Office 365 together with management and security services, that include virtual Windows desktops as well.
For MSPs and VARs, Helms says, “[WVD] provides a huge opportunity to drive the conversation with their clients, and own their customers’ cloud experience.”
For some vendors, on the other hand, widespread WVD adoption could be more of a mixed blessing. Companies hosting their desktops in Azure could be tempted to use that platform’s inexpensive, easily attached monitoring, backup, security, and storage services rather than third-party equivalents.
Similarly, Helms adds, look for current VDI and remote workspace providers to come under pressure as well. “The cost structure [of WVD] and integration with the Microsoft 365 solution, combined with Azure resource management, makes it difficult for more complex/expensive models, such as Citrix, to be cost-competitive.”