When would I recommend Windows Virtual Desktop to a customer?

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When would I recommend Windows Virtual Desktop to a customer?

Call me crazy: I don’t see the value in a Remote Desktop or Virtual Desktop experience for its own sake. The purpose of this kind of solution is to provide centralized management and remote access to specifically Windows-based applications.

In short: Remove your dependency on Windows, and you’ve removed the need for your virtual desktop along with it.

To illustrate this point further: I had a customer recently who came in for a white boarding session. We drew up a list of all the various services running in their data center, and we started replacing them with equivalents in Microsoft 365 and other cloud services. It went something like this:

Notice how everything has some cloud equivalent now…

Then my customer says to me: “That just leaves our Remote Desktop servers—how do we replace that? Should we look at this Windows Virtual Desktop stuff?

And I said, “Well… your RDS servers existed to provide remote access to your apps… which are now in the cloud… so what else do you have to provide remote access to, that we haven’t already solved here? Do you have another Windows-based app that I don’t know about?

It was like watching a light bulb go off: “Good point, Alex!” 

When you go all-in on cloud-first, mobile-first, then you’re always remote—you have the same amount of access from anywhere and on any device–Windows, Mac, iOS, Android–Linux or Chromebook even! So what is the purpose of a hosted Windows desktop at that point?

To be fair, if we had ended up with an app that they could not relocate to a more modern SaaS offering, we may have considered hosting infrastructure at Azure, and using WVD as a front-end to that—but only as a bridge until they could find an alternative down the road—only until they were able to remove their dependency on those specifically Windows-based apps.

WVD and Licensing

Some people are confused by the licensing (shocker). Isn’t Microsoft 365 supposed to include WVD? Well, not exactly. It does include rights to the Windows 10 OS that is running on Windows Virtual Desktop, but it doesn’t include any of the other associated run-time costs in Azure.

For example, as of today at least, WVD requires you to use Azure AD DS or a traditional pair of AD Domain Controllers that you bring to the table, and this will have a minimum cost of just over $100 (USD) per month in the Azure cloud. That’s before you deploy any virtual desktops or any additional database or application servers–if you are hosting one of those legacy apps in your virtual network, for example.

The total cost varies widely (it’s not per user but rather per consumed compute, storage, etc.). When you have multiple users connecting in daily, this stuff can add up fast. The more users you have, the more VM’s, or the larger the VMs, and the more compute/storage requirements you will need. This could be hundreds to thousands of dollars per month, depending on your needs and usage.

The geezer tax

In my opinion, SMB’s should be looking to shed costs and leverage SaaS as much as possible before looking at Remote Desktop or WVD. When small companies attempt to host LOB apps, either in their own datacenter or in a rented datacenter such as Azure, it tends to get expensive and introduce additional support complexities–and for what? Just so they can continue to use clunky old desktop software that they’ve been on for the last 20 years?

Look, it’s no secret that the former glory days of the Windows desktop are slowly fading away. Even Microsoft’s own flagship 365 apps are built to be platform agnostic–a move they had to make in order to stay relevant. Sure, you can still use them on the traditional Windows Desktop if you want to…. but you also don’t have to.

Case in point, I actually prefer working in the web versions of many of the Microsoft applications now anyway–especially Outlook. Note: I did not feel this way even 2 years ago; but its getting hard to ignore how good some of the apps have been on the mobile platforms and the web UI alike!

But…the Windows desktop!!!

OK, Boomer.

Look, no start-up company out there is trying to buy their way into an expensive infrastructure like that, so why should you? Are you just paying a geezer tax on that legacy, Windows-based app?

Therefore, when it comes to your aging Line of Business applications, it is certainly worth looking at what else is out there in the marketplace—is there anything more modern or web-based that might replace your legacy stuff? Consider investing your spend there to modernize first—after all, you’ll probably be forced down that path eventually anyway, so why not spend the money up front–get it behind you now–and accelerate your business toward digital transformation.

Cost versus value

Always remember that there are only two possible categories for any given technology spend:

  1. Cost-driven spend
  2. Value-driven spend

Windows Virtual Desktop does not belong to the latter, contrary to what the marketing engine will tell you—it’s just cost—just like RDS or any other IT-delivered service whose job it is to present something you actually care about, such as an application.  So why not invest more money into driving value for your organization? Why not modernize your applications and invest in your employees (e.g. training)?

But of course, it may take time to “drop and shop,” as they say, and migrate to something new. Or even to learn something new. Digital transformation takes time. If you are stuck in the middle and you don’t want to invest heavily for another hardware refresh, looking toward Azure and solutions like WVD could be an okay bridge into modernity.

A fair warning though: you probably won’t feel like you’re saving any money–because the spend in Azure adds up fast–but it will at least be easier to deploy and maintain than having hardware on-prem, and that’s worth something.

If you do find yourself in this boat and want a step-by-step for deploying WVD–I don’t have one–but there are well documented procedures out there, like this one from PolicyPak.

Personally, I would still view the WVD solution as a temporary extension on the lifespan of those legacy apps. As such, to me it represents little more than the old way of doing things–simply relocated to the cloud. And I don’t mean to suggest there is no value in making this move, either, since the cloud can provide you with ease of deployment, SLA’s, redundancy, resiliency and physical security controls that you just cannot replicate in the SMB on-premises.

But all of that stuff is not the same thing as the value that drives businesses forward in terms of true digital transformation. It’s not the same as automating your business processes and saving your employees hours out of their work week. For that, you look to the applications, and not the infrastructure.

That’s my opinion piece this week. Take it or leave it.

Comments (5)

  • gary smith Reply

    One word – Legacy.

    November 21, 2019 at 10:58 am
    • JK Reply

      Preach sister.

      It’s all well and good to say, “get rid of your legacy apps!”. Try telling that to the customer. No, really.

      And when you sell them a modest on-prem server that can do everything for ~$10K, amortize that over 5 years while leveraging a 3-year lease with a $1 buyout.

      Now try to do the equivalent in Azure with IaaS.

      That ol’ on-prem server starts to look pretty pretty ok to me and my customers.

      February 26, 2020 at 11:45 am
      • Alex Reply

        Right–IaaS is usually a poor value prop for the SMB. But on the other hand, transforming to cloud-first, mobile-first can pay your business back dividends forever forward… so there is that. You have to be the advocate for change. I do talk to customers about this all the time. And yeah, a lot of time they aren’t ready. But some of them get it, and some of them will make the jump.

        February 26, 2020 at 11:48 am
  • Jacob R Reply

    We are actually debating right now whether to only use Azure AD and Intune for our endpoints or a hybrid with an on-prem server that we do not have doing anything at the moment. Also, we are finally going to purchase company issued Android phones and debating whether to use Intune or or Verizon’s on MDM software.
    Also, an IT company is hosting our QUickbooks on the server which we access with Remote Desktop. I was thinking of transferring the VM to our on-prem server. We dont access Quickbooks that much because we switched to Netsuite but we will still need Quickbooks for a long time. Do you think the cost would be low to have Quickbooks on Azure if it is not accessed that much?

    Do you think Azure AD and Intune alone is mature enough to totally replace on-prem AD and Group Policy? We are not very strict on our policies.

    November 21, 2019 at 1:27 pm
    • Alex Reply

      The choice between MDM with Verizon vs. Intune is easy–Intune all the way. So many more benefits to centralizing that and tying to AAD, not to mention the app-level management features that you can use, and Conditional access. A lot of companies that are keeping Quickbooks for reference do so on a workstation that is backed up. Now if you have no other features or software that you host on-premises, why not get rid of the AD entirely? It is very much legacy tech now at 20 years old–not designed for a cloud-based infrastructure, whereas AAD and Intune is designed exactly for the modern architecture that is cloud-based. The only thing that GPO did well that Intune doesn’t, I have found, is printers. You can either just go with direct printing, workstation to printer, or use a 3rd party service like Printix. Everything else is probably even better with Intune, honestly, since you can actually see the results of which devices had trouble applying policies vs. those that took the settings just fine–that alone makes it a way better choice. The only reason you keep any traditional AD around is if you have a legacy app that relies on Windows Server OS, and you have nowhere else to put that app. But if it’s just Quickbooks and nobody transacts in it anymore, maybe just looks something up once in a blue moon–standalone workstation for that, why not?

      November 22, 2019 at 11:59 am

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