If you attended Dell Technologies World in May in Las Vegas, you’ll remember a unique moment during that event when Michael Dell, Pat Gelsinger, and Satya Nadella all joined each other on stage to describe some of the new ways their companies are working together to deliver end user computing tech to their customers. While Dell and VMware make total sense, anyone who’s followed the EUC industry over the years will remember it as a significant moment for Microsoft. Microsoft recognizing app and desktop virtualization as a viable strategy for end user computing? And it’s not just Citrix? I talked to more than a few attendees who agreed it was a big moment.

Fast-forward to last week, and the journey for Microsoft to embrace desktop and app virtualization continues:

On September 30, Microsoft announced general availability of a new service known as Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD).

Available in preview since March, WVD is comprised of two fundamental things:

  • OS licensing entitlements. Enterprises using WVD get a license to run an OS on Azure, such as multisession Windows 10, Windows 10 Enterprise, Windows Server, and Windows 7.
  • A connection broker. A cloud-native remote desktop connection broker enables enterprises to stream virtualized desktops and apps from Azure.

What’s Different About WVD?

Now before you say “not another desktop virtualization solution!” it’s worth noting that WVD comes with some unique features that address some frequent virtualization challenges (i.e., implementation, management, and user experience). Some notable features that are available now include:

  • Windows 10 multisession. WVD is the only solution that enables access to a full Windows 10 desktop in a session-hosted manner, meaning multiple users can log into the same session. Historically, session-hosted solutions are considered more cost-effective than dedicated VDI environments, but they haven’t had the full capabilities of a full Windows 10 OS. This is available now.
  • O365 integration. Microsoft’s acquisition of FSLogix improves support for O365 applications running in the environment. FSLogix can enable file shares to exist separate from the apps and OS, which reduces storage costs. This is available now.
  • Licensing. Licenses for WVD are included as part of E3 and E5 licenses, meaning enterprises can more easily take advantage of virtualization without having to pay extra licensing fees.

Features currently under development but that will prove valuable for WVD customers include:

  • Teams support. While not GA yet, WVD support for A/V redirection for Teams is under development. Using a protocol called WebRTC, this capability will enable direct communication between devices for Teams calls, improving the user experience.
  • App mounting. An upcoming feature called AppAttach, which is still under development, will enable apps to exist separate from the OS. Microsoft claims this capability will significantly improve manageability because admins will be able to dynamically “mount” apps to an OS quickly without having to build a custom image for each.

Is WVD A Sure Bet?

Before you go all in on WVD, it’s important to note that Microsoft is later to the game than others when it comes to cloud-hosted desktops and apps. In fact, we’ve been tracking the move to cloud desktops for at least five years (read our most recent report here), and products such as Amazon WorkSpaces have been on the market since 2014. While WVD is generally available globally today and customers can host user VMs wherever they want, management plane instances are only available in the US and EU, though Microsoft intends on expanding this quickly and has some nifty tools for analyzing end user experience the further VMs exist from the management plane. It’s also worth noting that customers still need to bring their own images, including apps, security patches, and other software, in order to use WVD.

It’s also worth noting that there’s at least 20 other cloud desktop players (see our recent “Now Tech: Cloud Desktops, Q4 2019” report) that will both compete with and build atop WVD. Some, such as Amazon WorkSpaces and Nutanix, will compete directly with the brokering service of WVD, while others, such as Citrix, CloudJumper, and VMware, will layer on additional capabilities on top of the OS entitlement, such as management, automation, security, etc. Our just-released Now Tech on this space details these vendors and loosely divides them into three categories:

  • Cloud-native solutions.
  • Proprietary hybrid solutions.
  • Specialty solutions.

So The Big Question Still Remains: What Should You Do?

My two cents: Whether WVD will work for you or not all has to do with your reliance on virtualization and your current Microsoft investment. In other words:

  • If you use very little virtualization currently but you still have some legacy Windows apps you need to support (and you’ve got an E3 or E5 license), it’s worth experimenting now, especially for single app virtualization or legacy Win 7 support.
  • If you’re an existing on-prem virtualization customer, WVD can supplement your investment for key use cases. Think seasonal workforces, specific roles or departments with similar computing environments, contractors, or globally distributed workforces.
  • If you’re currently using a cloud desktop solution and you have unique management, regulatory, or security needs, wait and see how Microsoft develops over the next year. Solutions like AWS WorkSpaces, Dizzion, Nutanix, Workspot, and others have a head start on WVD, and while Microsoft’s roadmap is extensive, you’ll likely find gaps.

So what do you think? Are you interested in Windows Virtual Desktop?
Contact me on Twitter at @FORRahewitt and let me know your thoughts!