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FAQ: Windows 10 virtual desktops

Whether or not to virtualize Windows 10 desktops is a big choice. Built-in features, such as Microsoft User Experience Virtualization and App-V, make it easier.

Once an organization elects to take the Windows 10 plunge, there are a few other decisions to make -- one of which is how to deliver the OS to users.

IT can go through the traditional upgrade process and install Windows 10 on users' physical devices throughout the organization, or it can buy all new PCs. Another option is to turn to Windows 10 virtual desktops. The crux of the physical vs. virtual debate comes down to understanding users, use cases and where each approach is the best fit.

What are the benefits of virtualizing Windows 10?

Virtual desktops can make life a lot easier for IT professionals. First of all, delivering the right resources to users is much simpler with desktop virtualization. Instead of having to install Windows 10 and the applications users need on each physical device, IT can build a Windows 10 image with everything a user or group of users needs and deliver it in one fell swoop.

When VDI shops migrate, they can essentially swap the old OS out for Windows 10 right away. If anything does go wrong, IT pros can roll users back to the previous OS without much fuss so users can keep working while they resolve the issue.

Similarly, once IT finishes the migration, it can prevent Windows 10's automatic updates from getting in the way of user productivity by setting the OS to update at night or other times when users are not working. Yes, IT can do this with physical desktops, too, but to receive the updates, the physical devices must be powered on and connected to the corporate network, which is difficult to guarantee because users likely shut down their devices or take them home at the end of the day. With Windows 10 virtual desktops, no such problem exists because the desktops live in the data center, not on the devices.

Patching Windows 10 is much simpler with virtualization.

Patching Windows 10 is also much simpler with virtualization. Because IT pros can support multiple Windows 10 images at a time, they can use one image to test patches before they put them into production. As a result, IT can identify and resolve issues before they ever affect users.

Windows 10 also has Microsoft User Experience Virtualization (UE-V) built in, which makes virtual desktops even easier to work with. UE-V enables users to seamlessly transition from one device to the next while maintaining their OS and application settings.

Are there specific hardware requirements?

Windows 10 is built to use graphics processing units (GPUs). If an organization does not have GPU acceleration capabilities, the Windows 10 virtual desktops will have to consume CPUs instead, which can grind performance to a halt.

IT can turn to virtual GPUs (vGPUs), which run in the data center rather than on the users' devices, to resolve the problem. Nvidia offers physical graphics processing cards, such as the M60, as well as software options, such as Nvidia GRID Virtual PC, to add GPU power to Windows 10 virtual desktops. Intel's Graphics Virtualization Technology and Advanced Micro Devices' MxGPU are other vGPU options.

How does licensing work with Windows 10 virtual desktops?

IT has two main licensing options with Windows 10 virtual desktops, both of which are through Microsoft's Volume Licensing Program. The first Windows 10 licensing option is Microsoft Software Assurance (SA), which provides virtual access to Windows 10. The other option is Windows Virtual Desktop Access (VDA), which is for organizations that do not have SA.

The other major decision is whether to take a per-device or per-user approach to licensing. With per-device licensing, more than one user can work with a device, and each user can access four instances of Windows 10. When not on company property, users can access their Windows 10 virtual desktops on an unlicensed personal device thanks to Roaming Use Rights.

With per-user licensing, users can also access up to four different Windows instances on any device they choose. If an organization uses SA, then the user must have a designated primary work device. VDA has no such device restrictions.

Next Steps

What to expect from Windows 10 virtual desktops

The benefits of virtualizing Windows 10

Key questions to ask before upgrading to Windows 10

This was last published in October 2017

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