In March 2019, Microsoft introduced the public preview of a new cloud-based form of the Windows Operating System. It is called Windows Virtual Desktop, or WVD. It is a desktop and application experience that runs in Microsoft’s Azure cloud. Now, after a full year of pandemic use, Microsoft has improved the overall aspects of building and maintaining the desktop for IT Solutions Providers. For those who use the desktop, that experience has been significantly overhauled as well. You wouldn’t know you are using a cloud-based virtual desktop if you didn’t click a unique icon to run it.
What does all this futuristic technology mean? Well, for one thing, by the end of this year, I hope to offer WVD as an alternative to full-fledged desktop solutions along with Azure as a server replacement. In a few years, the typical five-year desktop and seven-year sever hardware refresh may fall by the wayside for small businesses. That’s because it will no longer be about how much RAM or the version of the CPU in a physical computer. Instead, it will be about the number of IOPS (input-output operations per second) and the overall internet speed at your business location.
The primary advantage of WVD is that you can access your business desktop from any device with a web browser. The login process uses multi-factor authentication for security. You connect to your business’ Active Directory server, which contains your user profile information. You get access to the full range of Office applications via Microsoft 365 and standard desktop applications like Adobe Reader and even QuickBooks.
One of the primary tasks Microsoft had to face at the start of the pandemic was to provide a “near-desktop” experience for millions of people suddenly working from home. They implemented new technology to enable fast access to user profiles via a recently purchased company called FSLogix. At sign-in, a user profile container is dynamically attached to the computing environment. The user profile is immediately available and appears on the system exactly like a typical native user profile. (In English: your desktop, files, and favorites are all there, just the way you expect.)
The one drawback to deploying all this cloud-based functionality is, the smaller the business, the higher the monthly cost per person. That’s because to use WVD, you need an Azure server — and that cost is the same whether you have two people in your office or ten. However, the monthly cost for a two-person office could be $200 per person, while at a ten-person office, that cost could go down to $50 per person. Note these figures are examples, and actual prices require careful calculation.
There is a vast educational factor involved in implementing this new technology stack. Previously, I would go to the Dell web site, configure a server with minimal specifications and have it shipped to my office for about $1,000. I would then use my Windows Server licenses (courtesy of my Microsoft partnership) to load up a base system. I’d create virtual versions of the servers and desktops to develop various end-user scenarios, implement the appropriate security settings, and thoroughly learn how things worked before deploying any of them at any client site.
Microsoft will let me do something similar with Azure and WVD. Still, it requires using their facilities to spin up the environment, build the desktops, create the simulated users, and test how everything hangs together. I am already in contact with a leading vendor that is willing to assist building the requisite cloud structures in this new format and help me price and deploy environments to clients. I would much rather work with a Sherpa to climb a mountain like this than do it on my own.
Over time, I envision many small business owners who want to keep their staff working from home will switch to using WVD to provide Windows desktops in those remote locations.