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The introduction of multi-user Windows 10 could bridge the gap between session-based and dedicated desktops while delivering the benefits of Remote Desktop Session Host.
Windows Virtual Desktop is Microsoft's desktop as a service (DaaS) offering that supports both session-based and dedicated virtual desktops. Windows Virtual Desktop, now in public preview, provides a multi-user version of the Windows 10 Enterprise OS. Windows 10 supports simultaneous user connections, just like the Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH) role in Windows Server.
Introducing Windows Virtual Desktop
Windows Virtual Desktop runs on Azure, which provides the compute and storage resources necessary to maintain the virtual machines (VMs) that host the desktops. The service supports both desktop and application virtualization and provides features such as diagnostics, connection brokering, advanced networking and gateway services.
Windows Virtual Desktop also offers out-of-the-box integration with Microsoft 365's management and security infrastructure. Additionally, the Windows Virtual Desktop management console is compatible with other Azure services and includes a set of APIs to integrate with third-party tools and services.
In the dedicated model of Windows Virtual Desktop, each VM runs Windows 10 or Windows 7 and only supports a single user connection session at a time. All VM resources are dedicated to a single desktop, eliminating the resource contention that can occur with session-based desktops. As a result, the dedicated model also requires more resources to implement and maintain, leaving DaaS customers to pick up the tab.
Session-based desktops can better use resources and reduce operational costs. Windows Virtual Desktop offers two types of session-based desktops: Windows Server RDSH and multi-user Windows 10 Enterprise. Prior to Windows Virtual Desktop, session-based desktops were limited primarily to RDSH. In this model, the VM runs Windows Server RDSH, which supports simultaneous desktop sessions, with each user connecting to an individual session.
Although the RDSH approach can lead to better resource usage and simpler management, it can also result in resource contention because multiple desktops share the same compute resources. In addition, RDSH desktops are not true client desktops and cannot support all applications, such as Edge, Cortana or Office 365 ProPlus. With RDSH, users are not getting an authentic Windows client desktop but one that's made to look and feel like the real thing.
Introducing multi-user Windows 10
Multi-user Windows 10 promises to address many of the limitations of RDSH desktops by offering a desktop experience that works like a locally installed version of Windows 10. To facilitate desktop delivery, Microsoft has optimized the new Windows 10 to take advantage of server hardware, achieve cloud scalability and support session-based delivery. This setup makes it possible to realize the cost-savings typically associated with RDSH desktops.
Multi-user Windows 10 and Windows Virtual Desktop support a range of Win32 and Universal Windows Platform applications, many of which cannot run on RDSH desktops. The Windows 10 desktops support Edge, Cortana, the Microsoft Store, Office 365 ProPlus and many others. The OS includes optimizations that specifically target Office 365 ProPlus.
Multi-user Windows 10 follows the Semi-Annual Channel release structure to receive regular updates. Microsoft optimized components such as Windows Defender and Windows Desktop Search for multi-user Windows 10 to help minimize their effects on CPU performance. Existing management tools and configurations are compatible with multi-user Windows 10, enabling IT professionals to use tools such as Microsoft Intune and System Center Configuration Manager.
Despite its advantages, multi-user Windows 10 has yet to be proven in full-scale production. Questions remain around whether it will be able to perform as well as RDSH desktops or use resources as efficiently. Plus, multisession Windows 10 still doesn't address the resource contention that comes with a session-based setup.
The future of VDI with multi-user Windows 10
Under the current model, multi-user Windows 10 is available only on Windows Virtual Desktop, which is limited to Azure. Microsoft has no plans to release a multisession version of Windows 10 Enterprise.
Microsoft plans to offer Windows Virtual Desktop for free to Microsoft 365 Enterprise customers, as well as Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows 10 Education customers. As a result, third-party DaaS providers must stick with RDSH desktops or dedicated desktops, which come with their own challenges. If multi-user Windows 10 takes off, those DaaS providers could be at a distinct disadvantage.
Windows Virtual Desktop offers some opportunities to providers that want to incorporate the service into broader offerings, however. For example, Citrix plans to offer a service that incorporates its own management, monitoring and HDX technologies into an integrated DaaS product that's hosted on the Azure platform and uses Windows Virtual Desktop.
There's been a great deal of speculation about whether Windows Server will continue to support session-based desktops. If RDSH disappears, third-party DaaS providers could face an even greater challenge.