At Exigent, we’ve been implementing and supporting Microsoft technologies for decades. We’re excited to provide Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop as a secure and efficient solution that can grow with your organization.

If you’d like to learn how Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop could work for your business, or take the first steps toward an implementation, talk to one of our expert consultants.

If you would like to learn more about the solution in general, you’ve come to the right place. In this essential guide, we’ll answer the following questions:

  • What is Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop?
  • What is Microsoft Azure?
  • What operating systems are supported for Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop?
  • What are the benefits of Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop?
  • Are there any drawbacks or limitations to Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop?
  • Is Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop secure?
  • How much does Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop cost?
  • How to create a Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop

 

Ready to learn more about Microsoft Windows Virtual desktop? Read on.

What is Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop?

The most succinct definition of the service comes straight from Microsoft: “Windows Virtual Desktop is a desktop and app virtualization service that runs in the cloud.”

The key here, of course, is “virtualization service.” Essentially, a virtualization service moves computing off a local device, like a PC or Mac, and into the cloud. This means that you can access a fully functional computer that is running the latest Windowsoperating system by running it on Mcrosoft’s Azure cloud servers, instead of yourPC.

Importantly, Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop can be delivered as a multi-user service. This means that you can use it to standardize your workforce, giving everyone access to the same applications with a uniformed look and feel, without needing to buy newcomputers.

For a full understanding of the service, it’s worth watching the video below. In it, Microsoft explains how virtual desktops work in general, and showcases some of the main features of the Microsoft platform in particular.

 

What is Azure?

Of course, what makes a virtual desktop virtual is the fact that it functions via computing power outside of the local computer. While this can happen via on-premise systems, most often, it happens on the cloud – and if you’re at all familiar with Microsoft’s platforms, you’ll be unsurprised to know that Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop is only available through Azure.

Azure is Microsoft’s cloud.

Microsoft explains Azure this way: “The Azure cloud platform is more than 200 products and cloud services designed to help you bring new solutions to life.”

Put more bluntly, Azure is service and infrastructure. Microsoft has about 50 data centers across the world, the most of any cloud platform, and commands the largest revenues for its cloud services (although these numbers are arguably inflated compared to, say, Amazon Web Services, due to the way Microsoft products are delivered).

Functionally, Azure is secure, scalable, and remarkably cost-efficient. In other words, it’s a perfect place to run a virtual desktop.

What operating systems are supported for Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop?

If you’re interested in implementing Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop for your workforce, you probably want to know whether or not it will support your employees’ devices.

The short answer is: Yes, almost certainly.

Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop supports the following operating systems:

  • Windows
  • MacOS
  • iOS
  • Android

And it even supports HTML5.  This means that you can simply connect to your virtual desktop through a web browser.

The takeaway is that your users will be able to access the Windows Virtual Desktop platform from almost any modern web browser on virtually any modern device.

What are the benefits of Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop?

Now that we’ve clarified how the platform works, let’s unpack some of the benefits of the functionality.

One of the biggest is security.

If your organization hasn’t optimized your remote work environment, employees might be using a wide variety of personal devices from a range of locations to process sensitive data. This is dangerous.

Let’s say your employee has the same laptop for business and personal use. During the course of their workday, they regularly access customer data or other sensitive information from their machine. Then, when the day is over, they check their personal email or browse unsavory or malicious websites. Unknowingly, they click on a malicious link, and their device is hacked, and the business data that’s stored on it is now compromised, too.

Unfortunately, this happens all too often.

However, with Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop, this scenario can be avoided. Computing happens in the cloud, which means that professional data accessed via the platform isn’t stored on unsecure local devices. Plus, your organization can monitor and lock down the Windows virtual Desktop so that risks are substantially mitigated.  It’s a big step toward a proper cybersecurity hygiene.

Another benefit of Windows Virtual Desktop platform is standardization.

Obviously, it’s helpful for your workforce to run on the same applications; it speeds up workflows and keeps everyone on the same page. But, if you have a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy, the user experience can be different across different platforms. For example, the tools that run well on PCs may not work the same on Macs.

Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop ensures that everyone has an ideal experience with the applications your business runs on.

Flexible scalability is another benefit.

Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop is flexible in a variety of ways:

It allows users to access the same experience through any device. This makes maintaining a BYOD policy feasible and reduces the need for expensive hardware purchases.

It allows you to only pay for what you need. In other words, you don’t have to overpay now for what you might need in the future. The cloud, by its nature, is scalable; as you add more users or require more computing power, you can increase your plan to access more resources.

It can be configured so that your virtual machines run in close physical proximity to the apps and services that connect to your data center or the cloud. In other words, if you’re accessing an app that relies on an East Coast data center, you can run your virtual machine on an East Coast data center, too. This reduces latency and improves overall performance.

Are there any drawbacks to Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop?

Yes, there are some drawbacks to using Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop as a remote work solution. Most of these, however, won’t be major concerns for most organizations.

To access Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop, you need reliable internet access. Most modern work already happens online, so this isn’t a huge issue for most organizations. However, if some employees don’t have access to a good connection, they will struggle to use the platform without annoying lags.

To access Microsoft Virtual Desktop, you will need a reliable internet connection.  Since most of the work that we do today requires a stable connection to the internet, this won’t come as much of a surprise.  The good news is that a secondary or “backup” means of internet connectivity is well within reach for most people these days.  For example, most smartphones can act as a “hot spot” in a pinch.

You’re relying on Microsoft’s Azure cloud. That means you have one point of failure; if Microsoft has a service outage, your productivity will be compromised, at least temporarily. Of course, the reality is that you have to rely on someone for the tools you use, and Microsoft is about as reliable as it gets.

Your organization uses or prefers the Mac OS or Linux desktop.  Windows Virtual Desktop can be accessed from Macs and the computers running Linux, but once you connect, you are running Microsoft Windows.

Again, for most businesses, these cons are negligible, and Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop is, a great option.

Is Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop secure?

We’ve touched on this briefly above, but it’s worth digging into in a bit more detail, because for as long as the cloud has been a buzzword, security on the cloud has been a large topic of concern.

Put simply: Yes, Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop is secure by design – and it can be made more secure through best practices.

As we’ve explained above, the fact that computing doesn’t happen on user machines reduces the risk of user errors or malware compromising business data. With Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop, everything is on Azure – and Azure is secure.

Microsoft has an extensive amount of documentation available explaining their approach to Azure security, but a few highlights include:

  • Just-in-time access and privileged access workstations so that unauthorized users don’t gain access to the Azure network.
  • Intensive quality assurance on network cabling and equipment.
  • Encryption of data in use, in transit, and at rest.
  • Regularly monitored firmware.
  • Confidential computing, which segregates execution and data from the underlying operating system.

In other words, they’re doing everything they can to create a secure cloud environment.

However, as Microsoft notes, “it’s important to understand that while some components come already secured for your environment, you’ll need to configure other areas yourself to fit your organization’s security needs.”

For instance, if you’re accessing an application via Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop, the security for that application isn’t inherent in the virtual desktop platform. Organizations are responsible for securing their own apps and user identities.

Security is multifaceted and vulnerabilities are interconnected. If you adopt a solid cybersecurity stance, Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop can boost your efforts. But, if you leave some areas of your business unsecure, Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop is not a silver bullet.

How much does Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop cost?

This is a big reason why Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop is so appealing: If you have an eligible Windows or Microsoft 365 license, you can access the platform at no additional cost.

Now, because the platform is facilitated by Azure, you do need an Azure account to create and manage your deployment. If you already have one, you’re in luck (but you will likely need to add capacity). If you don’t have an Azure account, creating one isn’t prohibitively expensive. Again, part of the appeal of the cloud is its scalability. You can access the features that you need for the number of users you have without overpaying, then add more as you grow.

To get down to brass tacks, here’s a tactical example using Microsoft’s Azure pricing calculator. For 100 professional service users on standard SSDs at a size of 128 GiB, the cost comes out to about $18.75 per user.

The total cost will vary greatly depending on what existing licenses you have, what capabilities you require, and how you want to structure billing (Microsoft offers pay-as-you-go, annual, and three-year plans). The bottom line, though, is that this tends to be an affordable solution.

How to create a Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop.

Finally, if you’ve read this far, you’re probably considering deploying a Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop solution in your environment.

As we’ve hopefully made clear, that’s a good idea. But it does take some technical prowess to pull off.

The good news is that deployment can now be done entirely through the Microsoft Azure Portal, which means that PowerShell is no longer required (although it’s still an option).

There are four main steps to the process:

  1. Create a host pool in Azure. Per Microsoft, “Host pools are a collection of one or more identical virtual machines (VMs) within Windows Virtual Desktop environments.” Essentially, this is the computing power that users will be accessing when they use the solution.
  2. Create and manage application groups. These are the programs that users will be able to access via Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop. Note that you can create multiple application groups and assign different users to each, meaning that you easily can control who has access to what and restrict access for unauthorized users.
  3. Create another host pool to validate service updates. This is an environment where you can run updates before deploying them to your live environment. Microsoft recommends this practice because it reduces the likelihood of application issues.
  4. Set up service alerts. This is another Microsoft-recommended practice and will help you to keep your Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop healthy.

For a further breakdown of each of these steps, it’s worth checking out Microsoft’s helpful video tutorials.

TechRepublic also has an extensive guide to this process, complete with screenshots. Note that these platforms are constantly changing, so screens and button placements will vary over time.

As a final note: Again, this implementation process requires technical expertise. If you’re going to deploy Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop, it’s important that you do so correctly. To that end, it can be helpful to work with Microsoft experts who have implemented these solutions many times across many business contexts.

Are you considering implementing Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop for your organization?

Hopefully, the above information has been helpful as you consider whether Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop will work as a solution for your workforce.

If you’d like to learn more – or if you’d like to take the first step in implementing this solution for your organization – get in touch with us.

At Exigent, we know Windows inside and out. We’ve been helping businesses to meet the demands of their fussiest Microsoft Windows power users since 1997. Cumulatively, our staff has over 200 years of experience implementing and supporting Microsoft technologies.

We can help answer any questions you have. And if you’re ready for implementation, we can provide white-glove support to make the process quick and seamless.