Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) vs. traditional RDS or VDI

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Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) vs. traditional RDS or VDI

I want to talk about Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) as the successor to on-prem deployments of Remote Desktop Services (RDS), and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).

Many small and mid-sized businesses are already familiar with using Remote Desktop or similar (e.g. Citrix, VMware View, etc.). Usually this type of service was enabled to provide “remote access” to apps hosted on local server infrastructure.

Like VPN, I would argue that Remote Desktop, VDI, WVD, and all similar variations on this idea are becoming legacy solutions to a legacy problem. 

But before we go there…

Dismantling the VDI myth

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure was supposed to be a magic bullet a few years back. You know—cheaper and easier to run and maintain, giving endless uninterrupted productivity and magical benefits to your end-users.

The theory was that you could shed costs, save deployment time, standardize the application experience and cut end user devices out of the picture entirely. Everything of importance would live in a central datacenter somewhere on secure servers behind a firewall. You could then pick up whatever device you want to connect to the remote desktop experience. Who cares if those endpoints are in your inventory, kept up to date, protected, or whatever? Who cares if they are riddled with infections even? 

Of course, this was all bogus.

For the companies that took the bait and went down this path, however, they soon found out that none of the promises of VDI turned out to be true. To maintain proper security, it turns out, you absolutely have to worry about the endpoints—even dumb terminals. So now you’re managing endpoints AND virtual desktops. Congratulations.

But wouldn’t thin clients at least be cheaper than full desktops? Sure—but all of that savings was quickly consumed in infrastructure and labor, which was required to build out more complex virtual server environments and then maintain them moving forward.

In the end, VDI did not help to shed any costs at all, and in fact these systems were often even more expensive to implement and more complicated to support. Not to mention, it is rare to see a VDI deployment that was designed correctly in the beginning–which leads to performance and overall stability issues down the road.

In summary, every company I have ever rescued from VDI and put back onto a regular workstation-class laptop or desktop system has thanked me, “This is sooo much better—sooo much… snappier! I didn’t even realize how bad it was…”—This is a regular comment I would hear as we restored order to former chaos, simply by putting people back on a good workstation-class desktop or laptop computer.

Where Windows Virtual Desktop can be a hero

That having been said, when you are tied to traditional Windows-based applications that need to be centrally managed and delivered remotely, presenting a Remote Desktop or Remote App is arguably still the best thing we’ve got (certainly better than VPN), and WVD promises to make that delivery much quicker and easier for us, and with a good end user experience to boot.

As we have learned, in the SMB especially, nobody can really afford to do VDI correctly. To make it a great end-user experience requires some really bad-ass hardware and highly specialized engineering on the back-end. Most IT generalists attempt to implement it on typical server hardware, and that’s more than likely just not going to cut it.

Assuming you get the right hardware then you also need to implement it properly, with various server roles and infrastructure pieces all dialed in just right: firewalls, virtual hosts, brokers, gateways, certificates, and so forth.

WVD, which presents a Remote Desktop experience on Windows 10, is an attractive solution because all of that complex stuff is handled for you. It should (in theory) democratize what has historically only been accessible to Enterprise organizations with a big budget. So for that, I thank Microsoft.

Other benefits of WVD over traditional deployments include:

  • Do not have to manage perimeter security (handled by MSFT)
  • Presents a real Windows 10 desktop (not Windows Server)–can do individual or multi-session desktops
  • Access from any device, even via web browsers
  • Optimized experience for Office 365 apps
    • Access to data in Office 365 = super fast!
  • And more

But you know what? In the SMB market, I still rarely recommend implementing a remote desktop or VDI-like solution–whether using WVD on Azure or any other such system.

Why? Stay tuned for my next post to hear the punchline.

Comments (4)

  • Greg Reply

    Nice post, can’t wait!!!

    November 19, 2019 at 12:41 pm
  • Oleg Reply

    On my last job, probably 7 years ago we have tried RDS pilot with thin clients on 10 users and both feedback and administration pains didn’t prove it worth it. On my current job we have a complex VDI with thousands of contractors who constantly wine about performance, missing apps, want to do development and spin up databases inside of it, when it was designed just to check email and create a document or spreadsheet.. WVD looks nice on paper, but there are still the same worries about performance, which should be better, but still not the same as on real hardware, and security of endpoints.

    November 19, 2019 at 11:59 pm
    • Alex Reply

      Yes, in short the only reason I would use it is if you have an application that is difficult to centrally manage and distribute any other way. This is limited to legacy LOB apps that are Windows desktop apps specifically. If you can replace your apps with something more modern, do it. One of the more remarkable things from Ignite keynotes was that Windows OS was barely mentioned. Remove dependency on Windows, it’s a good thing. Even MS’ own products are designed this way now–available on any device in the app store, or on the web. No need for desktop apps unless you really want them. In that world, who needs a VDI??

      November 20, 2019 at 12:49 am
  • Chris Claessens Reply

    Interesting view Alex! (as always :-))

    November 20, 2019 at 4:44 am

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