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How to handle Windows 10 virtual desktops

Don't expect the transition to Windows 10 VDI to be a breeze. Admins have to plan the upgrade process and deal with any problems around app compatibility, virtual desktop images and VM density.

As more organizations abandon Windows 7 and 8, IT administrators must consider how they will deliver and manage Windows 10 virtual desktops.

The first thing IT pros often think about when faced with an operating system (OS) migration is whether the new OS might break anything. Like any new OS, IT will run into some applications that simply do not run properly on Windows 10. Sometimes administrators can massage these apps into working, but it's likely an organization will have to upgrade or replace a few applications.

At first it's easy to dismiss the issue of application compatibility, because VDI deployments typically use virtualized applications, which run on a remote server independently from the client OS. Many app virtualization products isolate virtual applications to reduce compatibility issues, but whether those apps work in Windows 10 depends heavily on the application itself, the features of the app virtualization product and how it sequences the application.

App compatibility isn't the only thing admins have to worry about. Microsoft's deadline for free Windows 10 upgrades might rush an organization's OS migration planning. Admins also have to worry about bugs in Microsoft's System Preparation (Sysprep) tool for new installations, as well as issues with virtual machine (VM) density when using Windows 10 virtual desktops.

How a Windows 10 upgrade affects VDI

Windows 10 will force many organizations into an OS migration faster than they planned. Many organizations prefer to wait it out and make sure the new OS version is proven stable and reliable, so it’s a risk to fast-track the upgrade process.

The Sysprep process may not work exactly how admins expect.

Windows 10 is a bit of a different animal by Microsoft's own design. Microsoft is offering free OS upgrade licenses, as long as the existing Windows OS meets certain criteria. The catch is that the free upgrade offer expires a year after the initial Windows 10 release, which was in July 2015. Although an organization can opt not to upgrade, Microsoft indicated Windows 10 will be its last desktop OS for the foreseeable future.

Licensing also affects Windows 10 VDI. Microsoft listened to its customers and brought per user licensing to Windows 10 virtual desktops. This simple change will have a dramatic effect on the cost of Windows virtual desktops because organizations no longer have to purchase a license for every device an employee wants to use. Instead, an organization can simply license its users.

Common problems with Windows 10 VDI

Microsoft has used Sysprep for decades to deliver virtual desktop images. Although Sysprep is included with Windows 10, many administrators report serious bugs that prevent Sysprep from generalizing the OS for new installations. Running Sysprep often results in administrators receiving the infamous "Sysprep was not able to validate your Windows installation" error.

There are different things that can cause a Sysprep malfunction, but the error is most often associated with applying updates to Windows Store apps. That doesn't mean admins can't use Sysprep to generalize Windows 10, but the process may not work exactly how admins expect.

Finally, some administrators report using default Windows 10 instances in their VDI deployments causes VM density to decrease. As such, most organizations that run Windows 10 virtual desktops tune the OS so it consumes fewer resources. An administrator might, for example, disable the Indexing service and remove Windows Defender.

Even though Microsoft has gone out of its way to make Windows 10 upgrades as easy as possible, the process is not simple for VDI shops. It is critical for organizations to perform extensive testing prior to committing to Windows 10 virtual desktops.

Next Steps

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