Azure Virtual Desktop - Everything You Need To Know

Updated: June 22nd, 2023

On 25th of June 1998, at the launch of Windows 98, Bill Gates claimed:

“The PC and the internet are going to be fundamental. They’re not there yet, but we’re certainly on course to do that and it will be just like the automobile.”

He wasn’t wrong. Just as the invention of the ‘horseless carriage’ transformed the way we lived forever, so did the invention of the PC and the internet. It has allowed the development of virtual online spaces that can facilitate pretty much every aspect of everyday life. From socialising and shopping to healthcare and business, there are a variety of virtual online spaces that allow us to connect with the world.

21 years later, in September 2019, Microsoft launched Windows Virtual Desktop (now known as Azure Virtual Desktop). Unintentional as it may be, this timing couldn’t have been more perfect with the pandemic hitting six months later, which forced many of us to adapt to home working. Hosted desktops provided a new virtual space which allowed workers to safely access business data and effectively collaborate from anywhere. Essentially, workers could securely take the office home with them.  Although many of us can safely return to the office, a large majority of workers are calling out for a more hybrid approach to working after seeing the benefits working from home can provide. Azure Virtual Desktop is an incredibly valuable platform that can help to enable a successful hybrid working model.

At Elite, we are a firm believer that work is what you do, not where you do it, with many of our team working throughout the UK and effectively collaborating regardless of distance. We truly know the value of hosted desktops, not just for our clients, but for our own team too. They have allowed us to not only stay productive and connected during the pandemic, but to successfully plan how to implement hybrid working within the business.

So, without further ado, if you want to know how the Azure Virtual Desktop can enable your workforce to work from the office, home or just about anywhere – securely and productively – keep on reading!

What is a Cloud-Hosted Desktop?

As the name suggests, a cloud-hosted desktop is a virtual desktop that is hosted within the cloud. But what does it actually do? In a nutshell, it is exactly the same as a traditional desktop, in terms of visuals, functionalities and applications. However, the difference is that the data being accessed on a traditional desktop will be stored within the physical device, such as a laptop. In comparison, with a hosted desktop, the device used to access it is simply a vessel to display the images of the data being accessed and the data is stored in a secure data centre. Essentially all the data used with a hosted desktop is accessed via the internet rather than stored on the device’s hard drive. Once logged in to the hosted desktop, it is used in exactly the same way as you would use a traditional desktop.

How do cloud-hosted desktops benefit business?

With a hosted desktop solution, employees can access the same desktop and therefore the same data, functions and applications they would access in the office. This can allow workers to be seamlessly productive, both in the office and at home. Furthermore, one of the biggest issues that can prohibit a company from implementing hybrid working is security. From workers storing data on local drives to data being vulnerable due to poorly protected internet connections, there are a lot of pitfalls if data isn’t properly managed when working remotely. Implementing a hosted desktop means data isn’t stored locally on one specific device. If the worst should happen and a worker loses their device or it’s stolen, the data can simply be wiped, prohibiting access to your information. Also, if there was a major catastrophe and your data was lost from a device, it doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. It will be backed up automatically within the cloud. Finally, hosted desktop solutions are scalable, meaning they can easily grow with your business. Need to add more people onto the subscription? Easily done! Running out of storage space? You can buy some more or change your contract to suit your needs. Overall, cloud-hosted desktops are a simple solution with bags of potential for your business. From streamlining its processes to allowing your employees to have more flexibility without compromising productivity or security – this is a cloud with many silver linings!

How does Azure Virtual Desktop Work?

Now we’ve looked at cloud-hosted desktops, in general, let’s get down to the specifics. With the power of Microsoft Azure, Azure Virtual Desktop can be set up in minutes and run on:

  • Windows
  • Mac
  • IOS
  • Android
  • Any device that possesses a HTML5 web client

This powerful cloud-hosted desktop allows users to access the Windows 10 desktop from any device and in any location, which is ideal for facilitating remote work and BYOD (bring-your-own-device).  Microsoft 365 is optimised for Azure Virtual Desktop, keeping you productive and connected wherever you do business. Azure Virtual Desktop provides simplified deployment and end-to-end management alongside your other Microsoft Azure Services, all in one place within the Microsoft Azure portal. There’s no need to panic if you run into technical issues, as the new Diagnostics service is capable of troubleshooting errors to get your team back on track.  You won’t have to worry about finding a solution with larger capabilities as your company grows, as the Azure Virtual Desktop is a fully scalable solution that can easily grow with your business.

Of course, it’s all very well saying that this solution can be rolled out to every member of your team, but what about the cost of all those licences? Azure Virtual Desktop’s new multi-session capabilities allows you to run multiple sessions whilst utilising existing licences and the same deployment, making it very cost effective and you will only pay for what you use.

Hosted Desktops vs Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)

Now, we’ll assume you’re here because you’re investigating your options in order to provide your team with the best possible remote working solutions. If so, you will probably have seen the words ‘Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)’ floating around during your research. Surely the ‘virtual’ in Azure Virtual Desktop means that it is a ‘VDI’, right? Well, yes and no. In order to answer this question properly we need to learn what a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure is.

The basic principle with VDI is taking the desktop operating from a local computer and placing it in a shared hosting environment like a cloud hosting data centre. Sounds similar to a hosted desktop at this point doesn’t it? However, the key difference is, where a 3rd party data centre is responsible for hosting a hosted desktop, VDI’s are managed in-house by your dedicated IT/Tech team. When it comes to hosted desktops vs VDI, there is no overall winner, it all depends on your business, your IT capabilities and what you actually need for your team. If you want to retain total control over your IT solutions and you have the capabilities and people in place to do so, then a VDI may be the way to go. However, the management of this VDI, especially within a large enterprise is going to place significant strain on your IT/Tech team. Whereas with a hosted desktop, you’re taking advantage of Desktop as a Service (DaaS) and whilst this does take quite a lot of control away from you, there is far less of an initial investment and less responsibility, as the solution will be run and managed by experienced professionals. Furthermore, when it comes to important factors such as accessibility and security, hosted desktops are more of an accessible option to businesses who don’t have the capability to build VDI and can offer a higher level of security.

So where does Azure Virtual Desktop fit in? Essentially, you’re getting the best of both worlds. You can integrate your VDI into a managed service within the cloud as part of your Azure Virtual Desktop Solution. You can pick whichever Azure virtual machine is best for your team and your business. Your subscription is under your control and you can take control of your desktop apps and policies, whilst leaving the rest of the management duties, such as diagnostics and the running of the infrastructure to Azure.

What are the benefits of Azure Virtual Desktop with Azure?

In order to truly understand the benefits of the Azure Virtual Desktop, it’s worthwhile for us to briefly explore the powerhouse that runs this service, which is, as we’ve already mentioned, Microsoft Azure. The powerful cloud platform is described by Microsoft as:

“More than 200 products and cloud services designed to help you bring new solutions to life – to solve today’s challenges and create the future.”

You may think this sounds a little dramatic, but it is absolutely true! Azure is capable of providing Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (Iaas) options with a range of tools and applications at your disposal. It allows users to build, run and manage applications across multiple clouds, on-premises and at the edge. Essentially, if your business has a need for a particular solution, whether it be to improve security, streamline a process or implement flexible working, you can achieve it with Azure.

Given the capabilities of Azure, there are a lot of intuitive and powerful features with Azure Virtual Desktop. The entire premise of Microsoft Azure is built upon customisation in order to create solutions that are tailored to a business’s needs. With Azure Virtual Desktop and Azure, you can customise the image for specific production workloads and provide individual ownership to users through personal (persistent) desktops. Unlike RDS (Remote Desktop Services), you don’t have to be responsible for the management of the infrastructure. You can simply take ownership of the virtual machines within your subscription and let Azure take care of the rest.

The Microsoft Azure portal allows you to manage your Azure subscription and the services included using a graphic interface. Within the portal you can create, organise and manage everything within your Azure subscription, from simple website applications to deployment of advanced cloud software and applications. You can create and share personalised dashboards so you can have a focused view of the most important resources in your subscription. Like other resources and applications within your Azure subscription, you can manage your Azure Virtual Desktop within the portal, for simple deployment, monitoring and management. Unlike Remote Desktop Services, you are only responsible for managing the virtual machines within your subscription rather than the virtual infrastructure itself.

What is a persistent desktop?

A persistent desktop is a full-size virtual machine copy of a traditional PC. Just as a user would log on to a PC and be met with the same applications and hardware each time they logged on, the same can be said for a persistent desktop. Users have the capability to save files, change settings and customise their setup within the virtual machine.

What are the requirements for Azure Virtual Desktop?

Obviously, a key requirement for running Azure Virtual Desktop is possessing the appropriate licences for the desktop and apps you need. In terms of infrastructure, you’re going to need the following:

  • An Azure Active Directory – Microsoft’s cloud-based ID and access management service allows your employees to sign in and access resources, both externally within Microsoft 365 and Azure and internally such as apps within your corporate network and any apps developed by you.
  • A windows server AD in sync with Azure Active Directory
  • An Azure subscription, which is parented to the same Azure AD tenant, that contains a virtual network that either contains or is connected to the Windows Server Active Directory or Azure AD DS instance

Users must be sourced from the same Active Directory that is connected to Azure AD, as Azure Virtual Desktop doesn’t support B2B or MSA accounts. Furthermore, the UPN you use to subscribe to Azure Virtual Desktop must exist in the Active Directory domain that the VM is connected to. Finally, the Azure Virtual Machines that you create for the Azure Virtual Desktop must be standard domain-joined or Hybrid AD-joined, as virtual machines cannot be Azure AD-joined. As Azure Virtual Desktop follows the Microsoft Lifecycle Policy, it only supports the following x64 operating system (OS) images:

  • Windows 10 Enterprise multi-session
  • Windows 10 Enterprise
  • Windows 7 Enterprise
  • Windows Server 2019
  • Windows Server 2016
  • Windows Server 2012 R2

Get more out of Azure Virtual Desktop with Elite.

Our research has shown that businesses who have deployed Elite’s Hosted Desktop have experienced an increase between 10% and 25% in staff productivity. With Microsoft 365 and email included as standard and the ability to host all of your business applications, including Sage Accounts, Payroll and HR Systems, your business and its team really can work from anywhere with Elite’s Azure Virtual Desktop. You’ll have access to our dedicated technical consultants and fully certified engineers, who will provide your business with the same comprehensive support you would experience from an in-house team. Updates and security are managed by our team to keep your business productive and secure. All of your Microsoft software licences are included and we are able to analyse a breakdown of your cloud system usage and optimise it so you don’t pay for infrastructure you neither use or need – we can even suspend services during periods where you don’t need them. The Elite Azure Virtual Desktop is a true pay-as-you-go solution, that ensures you receive all the features you need whilst providing unbeatable support, so your business can be profitable and productive from anywhere.

Elite Group is one of the UK’s leading unified communication providers, supplying reliable and professional IT and telecoms services to organisations seeking Business Mobile, Cloud, Networking, Connectivity, and Telephony solutions. 

For more information on how Elite Group can power your unified communication solutions,  call us or request a quote today.