Everything You Need to Know about Azure Virtual Desktop

The use of virtualised desktops has shot sky-high. In the scramble to maintain business continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic, large numbers of UK businesses accelerated their plans to develop modern workplaces and many are now deploying virtualised desktops as a way to facilitate secure remote working.

Those businesses that haven’t yet considered virtualised desktops, probably soon will. According to Mordor Intelligence, the desktop virtualisation market is likely to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 10.6% between 2021 and 2026.

Virtualised desktop technology has been around for many years. Yet, when Microsoft launched its new virtualised desktop platform, Azure Virtual Desktop, in September 2019, it disrupted the market.

With cost-effective pricing, simplified management and soon-to-be-released new features, Azure Virtual Desktop is gaining ground as an alternative to Citrix and VMware and seizing market share.

If you’re wondering what Azure Virtual Desktop is, how it’s evolving and why you should use it, this blog will tell you virtually everything you need to know.

What is Azure Virtual Desktop?

In the simplest terms, Azure Virtual Desktop is Microsoft’s approach to facilitating remote working for large numbers of employees.

It enables people to access their personalised desktops and have a familiar desktop experience whether they’re working in the office at a desktop PC, from a client site using company-owned laptop, or from home using their own device.

In common with all virtualised desktop solutions, Azure Virtual Desktop makes it easier for organisations to ensure all employees are using the same versions of applications, have access to the right applications to do their jobs and can work securely from anywhere.

Azure Virtual Desktop is a completely cloud-based service, hosted solely in Microsoft Azure. It therefore doesn’t need a high investment in hardware and other on-premise equipment.

Having evolved from Microsoft’s previous Remote Desktop solution, Azure Virtual Desktop can be configured to run both Windows 10 and Windows 7 Enterprise, which makes it a viable solution for a wide range of businesses. Using Azure Virtual Desktop improves business scalability, as new desktops can be provisioned quickly and easily on demand.

When Azure Virtual Desktop was first released, Microsoft made funding available to public sector organisations to help them get up and running. This time-limited offer was promoted heavily to the NHS, local government and higher education institutions in the UK in 2020, to help them address the challenges of remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Consequently, there’s now a high rate of adoption for Azure Virtual Desktop in the public sector in the UK.

How is Azure Virtual Desktop Evolving?

Microsoft is constantly introducing new features and making improvements to Azure Virtual Desktop. In January 2021 it delivered enhancements that improve the Azure portal experience for users.

Microsoft is also poised to launch a new cloud management platform, to simplify the management of virtualised desktops in the cloud. Certainly, Microsoft appears to be investing heavily in the development of Azure Virtual Desktop, which is good news for organisations that have deployed it or are planning to do so.

One of the most significant new developments that Microsoft is introducing is a new method of delivering virtualised applications. At present, Azure Virtual Desktop utilises integrating the applications directly into the desktop image and providing access based on Application Groups.

Microsoft has now introduced MSIX app attach, which was released for preview in December 2020. MSIX app attach will eventually completely replace the way applications are integrated and significantly simplify the process of delivering applications using Azure Virtual Desktop.

It works by containerising the applications so that they can be streamed quickly, easily and securely to virtualised desktops.

Organisations that use MSIX app attach instead of traditional methods will face far fewer compatibility issues and be able to deliver much cleaner desktop images.

What Are the Advantages of Using Azure Virtual Desktop?

If you’re considering a virtualised desktop deployment or re-evaluating your current virtualised desktop infrastructure, you may be wondering how Microsoft differs from its main competitors in this field: Citrix and VMware.

Here are just a few of the competitive advantages of Azure Virtual Desktop.

  1. Cost-effective Licensing Model

Firstly, organisations that already have Microsoft Office 365 E3 or above can use Azure Virtual Desktop without any additional licensing costs; they just pay for their Azure cloud computing costs, based on consumption. If, one month, they have high numbers of people working remotely and then, the following month, the usage falls, the costs will fall too.

  1. Simple to Provision & Manage

In comparison to Citrix and VMware, Azure Virtual Desktop is relatively straight-forward to set up and then manage – and the new cloud management platform that’s coming soon will make this even easier.

Many organisations with experienced IT teams can provision virtualised desktops in-house without third-party support, specialist training or product-specific certifications.

  1. Ready-made for the Cloud

For organisations that are already pursuing or planning a cloud-based or hybrid computing strategy, Azure Virtual Desktop is a neat fit. It runs entirely in the Azure cloud, meaning that it has no requirement for additional capital IT investments.

IT teams that are already familiar with Azure will find it easier to start using Azure Virtual Desktop in Azure, than to learn an entirely new technology.

  1. Advanced Security Built in

Because Azure Virtual Desktop runs in Azure it benefits from all of the security features of the Azure platform – and all of the security enhancements that Microsoft is continually releasing for Azure.

Security features include the Azure Security Centre, a unified security management system, the Azure Sentinel security information and event manager (SIEM) platform, and Microsoft Defender advanced threat protection, as well as the Azure Firewall.

  1. Future-proofed Technology

The enhancements to Azure Virtual Desktop that have already been announced clearly demonstrate Microsoft’s commitment to continuing to develop and improve this platform for the future.

What’s more, the flexibility of the cloud platform means organisations can easily increase or decrease their numbers of virtual machines, the amount of RAM and hard disk storage on demand as their business needs change in the future.

Citrix relies on the soon-to-be-unsupported App-V as an application delivery mechanism, and it’s yet to be seen what Citrix will do about this.

What Challenges Might You Face with Azure Virtual Desktop?

While many organisations have the required IT skills in-house to set up Azure Virtual Desktop, the process isn’t without its challenges. Setting up the platform itself isn’t complicated, but preparing desktop images and delivering apps can be.

Preparing Desktop Images

The process of preparing the desktop images to deliver to virtualised machines can be incredibly time-consuming. IT teams need to be able to use Microsoft Sysprep to prepare each Azure installation and capture a customised image.

Having to complete this complex process every time there’s an operating system update or upgrade can cause significant disruption to users and also delay critical security updates to infrastructure.

Delivering Applications

Undoubtedly, the most complex aspect of setting up and managing virtualised desktops is delivering the applications. It’s also the most critical aspect too, as any downtime or usability issues with applications can negatively impact employee productivity and business performance.

Microsoft’s new MSIX app attach environment will significantly reduce these risks, making it far easier for organisations to virtualise their applications and avoid incompatibility issues.

Imaging delays and app incompatibility issues can put entire deployments at risk. That’s why Camwood’s Azure Virtual Desktop services address these potential problems head-on. We don’t just set up the platform for our clients; we take responsibility for managing images and integrating business apps too.

Each project starts with a comprehensive virtual desktop readiness assessment, that reduces risks by ensuring the project team has all the information needed about the current desktop environment and business needs.

The team then manages all aspects of the migration, including the images and the apps, making the transition seamless.

Most importantly, Camwood provides ongoing management for its customers, helping them to keep their Azure Virtual Desktop environments up-to-date, secure and optimised at all times.

You may now know virtually everything you need to know about Azure Virtual Desktop, but it will be reassuring to have experts on hand, just in case you don’t.

Interested? Find out more about Camwood’s Azure Virtual Desktop services.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR - Daniel Williams
Daniel Williams is the Head of Technology at Camwood.
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