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InfoQ Homepage News Windows Virtual Desktop Public Preview on Azure: Q&A with Microsoft's Scott Manchester

Windows Virtual Desktop Public Preview on Azure: Q&A with Microsoft's Scott Manchester

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Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) entered public preview on Azure. It's an Azure service that allows Windows desktop and apps to be deployed and scaled easily. Most of the components necessary to be able to achieve this are managed in the cloud.

As explained in the overview, users and admins can create a full desktop virtualization environment in their respective Azure subscription without having to spin up any additional servers.

As a first step, you grant the necessary permissions for querying the Azure Active Directory (AAD) for administrative and end-user tasks via the Windows Virtual Desktop consent page. Thereafter, using the Azure market place, you can create host pools, which are collections of identical virtual machines hosted in the respective users tenant environment. Then you can create app groups using Windows Virtual Desktop PowerShell module. The final step is to create role assignments.

The remote apps and desktops are now available remotely via the Windows Virtual Desktop web client and other clients.

Most of the infrastructure related tasks are managed by Microsoft in the cloud and some of these aspects, such as load balancing, can be configured via PowerShell commands.

The basic architecture diagram is as follows: 

WVD Architecture

InfoQ caught up with Scott Manchester, group program manager at Microsoft for Windows Virtual Desktop, regarding the public preview on Azure announcement.

InfoQ: Developers who have spun up windows in the cloud are familiar with Remote Desktop Services (RDS) to connect to the VM. Using that as a starting point, can you explain some of the challenges for managing this at scale?

Scott Manchester: WVD greatly simplifies the management overhead of a virtualization deployment. All of the infrastructure is managed by Microsoft and we provide the tools to enable an IT admin to easily deploy and manage Remote Apps and Desktops.

InfoQ: What about other technologies in this space, like RemoteApp (for instance) which has shaped the architecture of WVD?

Manchester: Our customers typically have mixed environments and deploy both Apps and Desktops. With Windows Virtual Desktops, we are providing a unified approach to doing both – in the cloud. For our On-Premises customers who use RemoteApp as part of RDS deployments, this provides an optimized migration path to the cloud.

In the cloud, our earlier offering called Azure Remote App (ARA) only offered apps and it obscured the actual VMs from the customer. WVD is an entirely new approach that fills most of the technology gaps of ARA and brings a whole new experience with a no-compromise Windows Client multi-session OS.

InfoQ: How is Office 365 app usage streamlined (if any) on WVD? Can you talk about the acquisition of FSLogix and its role as part of the WVD public preview and architecture?

Manchester: FSLogix provides most of the enhancements of the Office experience with WVD by allowing user and app data to be dynamically mounted when a user logs into a non-persistent VM. The Office team has also made a number of enhancements to provide a better experience with virtualized environments (per user install of OneDrive, optimizations in the Outlook hydration process, Calendar hydrates after email and time of cache can be adjusted).

InfoQ: Most developers and architects avoid discussing licensing and costs. Can you provide a quick primer on what might be needed to getting started and any comments on costs?

Manchester: See the documents we published on this - WVD is the most cost effective solution as the management is provided via a number of entitlements and with the new Windows 10, multi-user no Remote Desktop Session Client Access License (RDS-CAL) is required.

InfoQ: Currently, printing on local printers and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) which is an essential requirement is cumbersome. What’s the plan to alleviate this?

Manchester: We have not introduced any new printing features, but we have partnered with ThinPrint to provide extended printing features with WVD. WVD Auth is based on AAD so all AAD policies can be applied such as MFA and CA.

InfoQ: Does the announcement in anyway concern Linux users or administrators? Is this purely a windows play for now? If so, can you comment if Linux desktops and servers are going to be part of the roadmap?

Manchester: We are developing a Linux client, but no announcement about Linux host support.

InfoQ: Currently this service is available only on Azure. Any plans to make this available in other environments, such as customer's on-premises? Can you also talk about the shorter-term and longer-term roadmap including the 3rd party ecosystem?

Manchester: Nothing to announce on native support for WVD for hybrid. Our partnership with Citrix enables customers to leverage Citrix Cloud to deploy and manage on-prem and Azure resources.

In summary, WVD sometimes referred to as Desktop as a Service (DaaS), primarily alleviates the burden of having to scale and manage Windows desktops.

More detailed information on WVD including enabling AAD tenants is available in docs. A video of the announcement goes into some of the technical details. The pricing and licensing details is available in the pricing and licensing page. Finally, WVD could be a service to use to continue to transition out of Windows 7, since it offers free Extended Security Updates for an extended period.

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