What is Azure Virtual Desktop?

No doubt you will have heard of either Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) or Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) by now. But you might have the question. “What is Azure Virtual Desktop?”

This quick little blog will focus on answering that exact question.

Windows Virtual Desktop was the original name for Microsoft’s Azure Based VDI solution that came into heavy use with the events of the global COVID pandemic. Able to provide both full Desktop Sessions or Remote Application to end users.

Windows Virtual Desktop has recently had a rebrand and is now Azure Virtual Desktop. This change signifies Microsoft is positioning AVD in a strong position as one of the major Cloud based VDI platforms.

Due to the COVID pandemic more and more companies were looking for ways to move their user base to remote working, and as quickly as possible. Not like any other time in my lifetime company offices were shut practically overnight, but work didn’t stop.

In a large amount of cases AVD allowed companies to quickly deploy an entire VDI platform into their Azure Cloud subscription, and have users access this environment from anywhere. AVD was there when people needed remote access the most.

Being the natural evolution of Remote Desktop Services (RDS), AVD allows easy deployment and management from within the familiar Azure portal.

Companies have full control over their Session Hosts Virtual Machines, and can customize their deployments as they see fit, installing corporate applications and allowing access to on-premises application via one of the many Azure connectivity options (such as Site-to-Site VPN or Express Route)

Management

Being hosted in the Azure Public Cloud also enabled Microsoft to handle the infrastructure for the customer. Unlike old style RDS deployments, the customer is not be responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the various backend components of the platform.

The following AVD components are managed and maintained directly by Microsoft

  • Connection Broker
  • Gateway
  • Licensing
  • Web Access

This leaves the customer able to focus on the main administrative task such as

  • Deployment and management of Session Host Virtual Machines
  • Host Pool and Application management
  • Monitoring

Security

Being an Azure based environment WVD allows customer to leverage the existing Azure security including:

  • Multi-Factor Authentication (including conditional access policies)
  • Active Directory Federation Services Single Sign-On support
  • FIDO2 Password-less Authentication.

This allows customers to feel confident that their VDI environment is protected by the same security Microsoft applies to Office 365 and its other applications.

Ability to extend login capabilities using AD Federation Services allows customer to fully control the access to their VDI environment and ensure security meets internal policies.

Monitoring

AVD can also take advantage of the existing Azure based monitoring solutions. AVD will integrate directly with Azure Monitor and Log Analytics to allow full Platform and VM level monitoring.

This allows customers to manage AVD without having to rely on any third party solutions and keeps all management within one portal.

Licensing

Yet another advantage of AVD is the licencing model.

Most companies already have some form of Microsoft 365 presence and many already have Licensing in place that is able to be used for AVD.

If customers are using a Windows 10 Multi User OS then they do not need to purchase the any specific RDS User/Device Client Access Licenses.

Below is the current licensing model for AVD:

BYOL for Windows 10/Windows 7

  • Microsoft 365 E3/E5
  • Microsoft 365 A3/A5/Student use benefits
  • Microsoft 365 F3
  • Microsoft 365 Business Premium
  • Windows 10 Enterprise E3/E5
  • Windows 10 Education A3/A5
  • Windows 10 VDA per user

BYOL for Windows Server

  • Per-user/Per-device RDS CAL with Software Assurance (SA)

Per user access pricing for external users (for Windows 10 and 7 only)

  • Monthly fee per user (TBC) *

* The Per user access pricing is currently in promotion and access for external users will not be charged. This runs from 14th July until 31st December 2021. After this promotion period a monthly charge for each user will be billed.

Access from Anywhere

When it comes to connectivity AVD has native clients for PC, Mac OS, iOS, Android, and also a full featured HTML 5 Web Interface.

This enables customer to work from practically anywhere.

With the sharp rise in Agile working, this allows users the flexibility to connect from home, office or even a coffee shop if needed.

Teams Integration

One of the most important breakthroughs with AVD however, is the Teams AV Optimization. The Teams client is now capable of Audio/Video offloading.

Using the WebRTC technology, Teams running on AVD is able to offload the data transfer for Audio and Video to the local machine.

This eliminates extra network hops and facilitates far greater quality audio and video than previously possible on a VDI environment.

Overview

Hopefully this has given you an idea of what AVD is, and how it can be used.

It is a powerful VDI environment, and being hosted within the Azure Public cloud brings with it so many additional features that would normally be behind additional licenses or charges.

The ability to easily extend the AVD environment into On-Premises using a Azure Virtual Network Gateway (or Express Route) is fantastic. Also, the licensing model means many companies will be able to benefit from AVD without any additional licenses.

The product is growing and evolving regularly with new features frequently being added. There is much more to come from AVD in the future and I for one look forward to it.

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