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Windows Virtual Desktop is generally available

Microsoft released Windows Virtual Desktop to the general public, which is likely to have significant effects on the VDI market. Learn why, and what the service offers.

Today Microsoft released its desktop-as-a-service offering, Windows Virtual Desktop, to the general public, after just over six months of technical preview.

Microsoft first announced Windows Virtual Desktop in September 2018, and the offering entered public preview in March this year. The service runs on Azure and provides a multiuser version of Windows 10, a feature that sets it apart from other managed desktops. Organizations probably won't immediately deploy Windows Virtual Desktop, but will begin looking at ways to replace existing VDI infrastructure, said Mark Bowker, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass.

"If somebody decides that they don't want to invest any further in the hardware, they may see Windows Virtual Desktop as a viable option for providing that same level of experience to the desktop without being responsible for the infrastructure," he said.

An eventual replacement for VDI?

The service is free to Microsoft customers with a Windows 10 Enterprise license, but organizations must still pay Azure subscription costs. Managed desktops such as Windows Virtual Desktop could eventually replace traditional on-premises VDI, especially as capabilities such as network connectivity improve, Bowker said.

Mark Bowker, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy GroupMark Bowker

The ability to reap the benefits of on-premises VDI without the hassle of setting it up will appeal to many organizations, said Rich Gibbons, a licensing analyst at the ITAM Review, an IT services company in the U.K.

"Every year was going to be the year of VDI, but it never really happened," he said.

The ease of use and responsiveness of Windows Virtual Desktop is another big draw for organizations.

"I did not feel the difference of using Windows on my laptop versus Windows 10 as Windows Virtual Desktop," said Bruno Lecoq, CISO at BeMo, a managed services provider. "It is very user-friendly."

Other use cases for Windows Virtual Desktop include significant fluctuations in user activity and disaster recovery. Accounting, finance and legal firms will likely show interest in Windows Virtual Desktop, Lecoq said.

"The main draw for them is that they have access to the latest Windows and Office 365 features in a fully managed and secure way, without the expenses of additional IT infrastructure," he said.

Windows Virtual Desktop integrations, features

Microsoft's partnerships and integrations with other companies such as Samsung and Citrix make Windows Virtual Desktop an appealing virtual desktop delivery method. Microsoft and Samsung are working to optimize Samsung DeX for Windows Virtual Desktop, which enables IT to provide a Windows experience on Android Samsung devices.

Microsoft has poised Windows Virtual Desktop to work alongside rather than against VDI providers such as Citrix and VMware. Both Citrix and VMware, for example, will offer ways to extend Windows Virtual Desktop through Citrix Workspace and VMware Horizon products, respectively.

"While there's some overlap, Windows Virtual Desktop is a means to consume a workspace or Windows 10, and Citrix and VMware are ways to manage, secure and protect those workspaces, with Windows Virtual Desktop being one of those options," Bowker said.

Every year was going to be the year of VDI, but it never really happened.
Rich GibbonsLicensing analyst, ITAM Review

Windows Virtual Desktop does offer some management capabilities, but only for its own images. Enterprise organizations will likely continue to use VMware and Citrix for deeper management, Bowker said.

Microsoft is likely to add more features as the offering matures, Gibbons said.

"Microsoft is very good at releasing products that are about 60% feature complete," he said. "Over time, [Microsoft] adds features, and then 18 months later, it's a killer product."

Another option for Windows 10 migrations

Microsoft also announced the ability to use Windows Virtual Desktop to virtualize Windows 7 desktops with Extended Security Updates (ESUs) until January 2023, which gives IT a free option to support legacy apps as part of a Windows 10 migration.

"It shows that Microsoft is happy to not earn the money from selling ESUs on premises if it means getting more people into Azure where they'll be paying for those cloud costs," Gibbons said. "It's a clever way of getting more customers into the cloud."

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