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Determining the true cost of any business technology is critical to successfully deploying it, and Windows Virtual Desktop with Microsoft Azure is no exception.
Microsoft's Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) offering is still relatively new to the market compared to other desktop-as-a-service offerings, so the licensing models have evolved in recent times. Most notably, Microsoft made WVD an Azure-native citizen, which has simplified the licensing and pricing model.
Despite the simplification, there are still a few considerations that factor into WVD total cost of ownership (TCO) that are easy to overlook. The basic elements of TCO include licensing, control plane and management, and workload infrastructure.
While Microsoft publishes pricing for the Azure-based components, organizations can take advantage of special pricing, such as Azure Reserved VM Instances and Azure Hybrid Benefit. Further, some organizations may negotiate discounts from Microsoft for licensing, consulting and other services.
No matter how organizations proceed, pay-as-you-go pricing will always be the most expensive option. WVD can be based on multisession Windows 10, single-session Windows 7 or Windows 10, or Windows Server. Multisession Windows 10 is the most common and economical way to deploy WVD. Technically, organizations can use just virtualized applications with WVD, but virtual desktops are the more streamlined option. Lastly, the use of pooled desktops, meaning nonpersistent virtual desktops, is generally preferable to persistent desktops. In most scenarios, WVD deployments are typically based on multisession Windows 10 pooled desktops.
Microsoft's Windows Virtual Desktop offering is a strong option for many organizations -- but the licensing, deployment and management can get very confusing. IT admins should learn the details of how WVD works, how to account for licensing and TCO, and how to ensure users have a positive UX.
How does licensing work for WVD on Azure?
If organizations already have an eligible Windows 10 or Microsoft 365 per-user license, WVD licensing is free. Specifically, the following per-user licenses provide eligibility:
- Microsoft 365 E3/E5
- Microsoft 365 A3/A5/Student Use Benefits
- Microsoft 365 F3
- Microsoft 365 Business Premium
- Windows 10 Enterprise E3/E5
- Windows 10 Education A3/A5
- Windows 10 VDA per user
Most organizations that would consider WVD already have one of these licenses; so, for purposes of this discussion, the cost totals ignore this licensing component.
How to calculate WVD pricing
In addition to licensing, several setup variables affect WVD pricing: virtual machines and storage, user profile storage, data disk -- for personal desktop only -- and networking. Azure VM and storage costs account for the largest portion of WVD cost. It includes the instance, CPU, RAM, and disk tier and type.
The number of named users, usage hours per month and reserved discounts factor into WVD pricing as well. While there is no minimum regarding the number of WVD users, the WVD pricing calculator requires at least 100 users for budgetary pricing, which serves as the first example. By default, the sample scenarios and pricing calculator are conservative regarding the total usage hours. Be sure to calculate the total usage hours for all users as well as VM type and disk size.
WVD pricing example scenarios
A list of licensing costs and estimates isn't always helpful without real-world examples to evaluate. By exploring two case studies of WVD licensing with both conservative and more realistic allocations, potential WVD customers can understand the TCO of this offering better.
This example scenario assumes that licensing entitlements apply to a group of 100 engineers that require graphical, personal -- meaning, 1:1 permanent -- virtual workstations. The default calculation estimates $32,301 per month for pay-as-you-go WVD pricing based on 125 usage hours with conservative VM instances and disk size.
Realistically, these engineers need to access WVD more than 1.25 hours per month and require beefier VMs with more storage than is allocated by the default scenario. As such, a more accurate WVD pricing estimate for this group should be based on a three-year reserved commitment to allow access 24 hours a day with doubled costs for VM instances and disk size to ensure adequate resources. Analysis of user and application requirements may indicate that even more resources are necessary. Adjusted WVD pricing estimations for 100 engineers are shown below in Table 1.
Users may also require additional services, such as extensive support, network connectivity and bandwidth, or hosting in alternative Azure regions. If an organization implements Microsoft's FSLogix management for user profile storage, it will incur additional costs for housing this data. Naturally, the costs depend on the size of the user profiles. Organizations that require additional applications for the virtual desktops should add the cost for databases, file servers and other resources to the estimates.
The next example examines a 1,000-person call center operation with users that have light resource requirements. This case assumes that licensing is a non-issue. In this scenario, users access pooled virtual desktops -- see Table 2 below.
In this scenario, the conservative estimate assumes six users per virtual CPU (vCPU), which is not reasonable from a UX perspective. Resource estimates have been quadrupled to be more realistic, but VM instance allocation may still be too low.
Evaluating WVD cost as a customer
Business leaders should make decisions about WVD licensing based on cost and UX. The two scenarios presented above show that WVD makes sense for task-based workers who do not have complex computing requirements.
WVD pricing and options can be confusing. Some organizations rely on managed service providers to help with WVD deployments. Numerous MSPs offer static per-user WVD pricing that includes management, maintenance and technical support. These providers cater to small businesses that do not have the technical expertise to implement native WVD.