Microsoft have quite a good history with remote desktop technology. Since 2008 we have had the Remote Desktop Services, which used servers to deliver remote desktop environments to a thin client (a low-power device optimised for connecting to a server). We also had the Windows Virtual PC, which was then followed by Hyper-V – all of which were reliant on servers.
Now, in 2021 we are seeing the biggest uptake of remote desktop technology so far, thanks to Microsoft and their cloud-based virtualisation tech. At TechQuarters, we believe it will revolutionise flexible and remote working. We are here today to talk about Windows Virtual Desktop, and how it might be exactly what your organisation needs this year.
What is WVD?
Windows Virtual Desktop (or WVD) is a service which runs in the Microsoft Cloud. It delivers the full Windows 10 desktop experience without any lengthy installations needed. Unlike previous remote desktops, the WVD user experience is nearly indistinguishable from the local version.
How does it work?
If, like many of us, you’re not a techie, you may have heard of WVD but not fully get how it works, and what the implications are. Windows Virtual Desktop works by using a Virtual Hard Disc (VHD), as opposed to the traditional Hard Disc Drive stored in your machine. So you can, for example, store all the files needed to run Windows 10 on a VHD, and the same goes for many different applications. This Virtual Hard Disc is then stored in the Cloud.
On the end users’ side, there will be a client/application that allows them access to some, or all, of the contents of the Virtual Hard Disc. This means that you can deliver applications and even full Windows 10 desktops to an end user’s device, without them needing to install them. An app or desktop is delivered in sessions, which saves energy and money compared with traditional server-based Remote Desktop services.
The end user must install the Remote Desktop client onto their device – or have their admin install it – and from there, they subscribe to a workspace. Your workspace is the area where you can see whichever applications or desktops that you have access to.
WVD with a Windows session open
What are the benefits?
The virtualisation you get with Windows Virtual Desktop saves you money in a number of ways. For example, you will see a marked reduction in hardware expenditures. Rather than using servers to run shared desktops and apps, Azure can deliver the full Windows 10 desktop in multi-user sessions from the Cloud, and therefore you will not need to spend money on servers to get it. The sessions-based model means that your Virtual Machines are only turned on for as long as it is being used, which also saves a lot of money.
You may also find that delivering virtualised applications to multiple users and rolling out updates via WVD is more cost-effective than installing the app onto the machines of each user that needs it.
Unlike with Microsoft’s other older remote desktop and virtualisation services, WVD is not limited by the need to set up servers to deliver its service. This means that there is no limit to its scalability.
Of course, in terms of licensing there will be costs in scaling up WVD, but it will the difference between a slightly highly monthly fee for a future-proofed solution, compared with spending thousands for on-prem hardware that will eventually become obsolete.
The tools and framework for Windows Virtual Desktop is already established in Azure. So rather than building from the ground up, IT experts merely need to know how to use the tools to set up and deliver the service for your business – at which point, the possibilities are almost endless.
What is the security like?
Windows Virtual Desktop comes with a few different security advantages, compared with on-premises setups.
One of the best aspects of virtual desktops is that the actual PC or laptop you are using to access it could have a virus on it; but because all your applications and work desktops are stored in the Cloud, there is no way that they can be infected.
Another great aspect is that the security responsibilities are shared between you and Microsoft, rather that being entirely on you. So, while you will still need to configure certain aspects, a lot of your security is taken care of by Microsoft.
WVD can also have conditional access put in place, meaning users cannot log-in unless they fulfil certain actions, such as using multi-factor authentication. You can also collect logs of user and admin activity, which helps identify suspicious activity.
By delivering just RemoteApps, as opposed to full desktops, your users will have access to everything they need to work; while at the same time, this ensures that other sensitive parts of the virtual machine remain secure.
What can you expect this year?
Coming this year, admins will be able to put in place screen capture protection on all their WVD environments – meaning that a client using the remote desktop app on their device will not be able to take screenshots of remote desktops or apps that they are using. This simple feature goes a long way in protecting sensitive information; and it can be used in a number of scenarios – for example, if you were giving a contractor or guest account temporary access to your virtual desktops, you can give them the access they need, but make sure they can’t take anything away with them.
Another new feature is the MSIX app attach. This will enable WVD architects to take any Windows-supported app, old or new, create a cloud-based package which they then install onto a remote desktop. This means that you can assign individual users all apps within their remote desktop – as well as assign different apps to different desktops, depending on the needs of the users. Normally, WVD delivers applications and remote desktops as separate entities within a user’s workspace. But with the new MSIX app attach, you can deliver applications inside of a remote Windows 10 desktop and launch those applications just like you would on the local Windows 10. On the back end of WVD, the MSIX solution will improve performance, and make a range of things easier – such as updating apps, and assigning them to multiple users.
Historically, virtualised & remote desktops provided quite a different user experience compared with the tried-and-true local machine desktop. Windows Virtual Desktop, however, is a huge step forward in DaaS. WVD means that a user could be using almost any laptop, and be anywhere in the world, and they will have all the tools they could possibly need, and it is as easy as installing the WVD app and logging into their workspace.
Windows Virtual Desktop is already a superb and cost-effective solution for a lot of businesses, but we also expect that in the not-so-distance-future that virtual and local Windows 10 desktops will become completely indistinguishable – at which point there will be no question about choosing virtual over local.