Windows Virtual Desktop – Revolution or Evolution?September 26, 2019
By Henning Volkmer, president and CEO of Cortado, Inc.
It is easy to say that desktops in the cloud are no longer a revolutionary idea. For years, Desktop-as-a-Service has been offered by a number of players, including Amazon AWS, Citrix and VMware. However, while being a somewhat commoditized offering, Microsoft’s direct participation in the market is bound to make things interesting.
Those who are familiar with the desktop virtualization space know that Microsoft has historically been more of a behind the scenes player. The sales teams from Citrix, VMware and others were simply too good and ultimately each of their customer’s also needed a Microsoft license. In addition, there was a complexity issue that needed to be addressed. The industry has plenty of stories about the difficulty and sometimes even impossibility of properly licensing virtual desktops.
However, the times are changing with Microsoft developing an interest in directly participating in the virtual desktop space. With Windows Virtual Desktop Microsoft is satisfying almost all of the market’s desires with just one requirement: They have to run on Azure.
Everything’s Great as Long as Things Run on Azure
To look to the future, we have to understand the past. The idea for Remote Desktops started more than two decades ago when Microsoft made licenses available for Citrix to move their multiuser operating system to Windows, even though it was originally designed for IBM OS/2. Shortly after, it became apparent that Microsoft would not renew these licenses. This caused a major crisis for Citrix, but ultimately resulted in a long standing, very successful partnership between the two companies.
The “Terminal Server” – or “Remote Desktop Session Host” as the feature is currently named – was born. Almost exactly a decade later VMware’s customers came up with the idea to use their virtualization solutions to run several instances of Windows desktops on the same server hardware. This was driven by the desire to use remote desktops with a desktop operating system rather than sharing a server operating system that imposed limitations on application compatibility.
The virtual desktop was born.
From that point on there were two fundamental concepts to deploy a Remote Desktop. One, as a server based on Remote Desktop Session Hosts or two, as a Windows Desktop. The server-based concept offers much more efficient scalability, while the desktop concept offers higher compatibility to a “regular” desktop. This gap in compatibility keeps increasing because the release cycles between Windows 10 and Windows Server are increasingly taking place on different schedules. In an ideal scenario, the solutions would be a combination of both. That’s exactly what Microsoft is delivering with Windows Virtual Desktop.
Windows 10 Multi-Session
Windows Virtual Desktop is based on a new version of Windows 10: Windows 10 Multi-Session, which is sometimes called Windows 10 Multi-User. This operating system is exclusively available on Microsoft Azure along with a technology that was last called RDMI – Remote Desktop Modern Infrastructure – which offers an easy integration of cloud-hosted desktops into the existing corporate infrastructure. To accomplish this, Microsoft is offering RD Web, RD Broker and RD Gateway – previously dedicated server roles for on-premises installations – as platform-as-a-service offerings.
The result is a very efficient and easy way to provide a cloud-based Windows desktop to users. Because Windows Virtual Desktops can be used directly from a web browser, all is needed from users is a URL. And, for those who don’t want to set up their own testing environment can take a look at the setup process in a YouTube video.
An Almost Irresistible Offer
The multi-session-capability of Windows 10 alone would be a sufficient reason to go with Windows Virtual Desktop, but Microsoft didn’t stop there. It also removed the usually complex licensing for remote desktops. Once a user has a valid subscription for Windows 10 Enterprise, all licenses are covered. This includes the access from different devices and Remote Desktop access licenses, as well as the server access licenses. The Azure consumption is the only additional cost.
What’s more is that Windows Virtual Desktop is optimized for Office 365 Pro Plus and supports the current version of Microsoft’s Edge browser. Additionally, Windows Virtual Desktop includes Extended Support for Windows 7 to offer customers with legacy application a longer migration path.
Windows Virtual Desktop may sound like it is one package from Microsoft that includes everything, but that is only half the equation. The reality is that it is a platform on which many of Microsoft’s partners can deliver added value. Microsoft is looking to their established partners when it comes to services, such as printing or user management.
In addition, Microsoft will allow the use of Windows 10 Multi-Users outside of Windows Virtual Desktops by partners who are looking to build their own platform, just as long as these run on Azure. Citrix, VMware, Workspot and many others have already announced their offerings based on Windows 10 Multi-User.
Microsoft’s entrance into the virtual desktop market seems comparable with the launch of Exchange Online in 2006/2007. Back then, Microsoft conquered the market for hosted Exchange very quickly. According to Brad Anderson, Corporate Vice President for the Microsoft 365 Platform, “The demand for Windows Virtual Desktop is already ramping up much more rapidly as it did back then with 4,500 customers registered for Windows Virtual Desktops as of the end of May.
The virtual desktop market has been stable now for a few years, however Microsoft’s entry into the space is likely going to shake up some long-standing assumptions and is going to spur innovation from the incumbents as well as new partners building on Windows Virtual Desktops. Both of which will benefit customers at a much broader scale than before, with new features at a lower price point. Everyone who is looking to modernize their workplace should definitely be excited about these developments.
About the Author
Henning Volkmer is the president and CEO of Cortado, Inc., driving the execution of the company’s strategy as the leading innovator across print management, enterprise mobility, and improved collaboration for teams. He has established a broad technological background and has been at the forefront of technology trends for the past seventeen years. In addition to holding various positions within the Cortado group, Henning Volkmer served as part of a project team focused on reducing costs in the network infrastructure division with what is now Nokia. Under Volkmer’s direction, ThinPrint brand has increased its lead as the premier print management software, while Cortado brand has become recognized as a pioneer business solution, shaping the future of the cloud desktop. Originally from Berlin, Germany, Henning currently resides in Denver, CO and spends his time away from work with friends and family, traveling or exploring restaurants.