What is Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD)?

Azure Virtual desktop takes hybrid working to a whole new level by accessing your ‘desktop’ from anywhere on any device. With your computer running from the cloud, it removes the risk of hardware failure, reduces the need to upgrade hardware regularly and removes the cost of managing server hardware. You’ll never have to be stuck to an office desk again.

What is Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD)?

How does AVD work?

How can we help set up AVD?

How Much does it cost?

How can Azure Virtual Desktop benefit my business?

FAQs

 

What is Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD)?

Picture the scene: laptop powers up, you’re logged on and with all the enthusiasm a Monday morning can offer, you’re opening Word, Outlook, Sage etc and you’re off and running.

It’s a familiar scenario. When the desktop PC first came along, we tended to run applications on our physical PCs and we stored the data there on its own hard drive. When networking gained traction and file servers became viable for SMEs, we moved to saving our data on a central server instead. Perhaps in time, we moved to what’s known as a virtual desktop (typically Microsoft’s Terminal Services or “RDS” platform) and we used our PC to hop onto that instead, again storing the data on a file server.

Our “desktop” came from the computer that was in our office, whether the laptop on our desktop, or that terminal server in the back room. Everything we needed was either on that PC, or the server – but the main point was that it was all physically located in our office. While the PC can be easily replaced, that server holds the core of our business, it’s where the business lives. Of course, that core requires physical hardware to be procured, installed, powered, secured, backed-up and maintained and this all means a lot of expensive hardware sitting in a room noisily humming away incurring cost, whether anyone is using it or not. It means hardware rebuilds or refreshes when kit gets old and starts performing poorly. And it means replacement (and outage!) when it breaks down. We all know the drill – it’s just how it’s been done all these years, even though it causes us considerable pain at times.

Simplified, it looked a lot like this, and unfortunately, the cost, build and support of it was your responsibility:

Enter “Azure Virtual Desktop” or AVD. AVD is what’s known as “Desktop as a Service”, in that the desktop that you use for your daily operations comes to you from the cloud, it’s not actually on your PC – your PC is acting as little more than a conduit. All the number-crunching, the storage, etc is happening in Azure, and you’re just seeing the results on your screen. The servers that used to be running up the cost 24×7 in your back room are in the cloud alongside it, on highly-available, scalable, high-performance hardware.

With AVD, we build and configure that desktop in Azure per your requirements, with your critical Line of business apps installed and ready to go – Office, Teams, Zoom, Sage, you name it! All your data is in Azure either on native services such as Azure File Shares, SQL-as-a-service, or traditional virtual servers. Microsoft manage all the gateways and brokers to reach AVD, so it amounts to not much more than building the image and providing a pool for your team to connect to. Then, it looks more like this, and while we’re still responsible for the configuration of our assets in the datacentre as to our needs, the management of the underlying hardware and the method to securely access them is all on Microsoft.

How does AVD work?

Take the two most typical works models; Mike uses a desktop PC with all his apps installed on the computer, he saves his data on a file server located in the office or perhaps to his OneDrive. Sarah uses a laptop and connects to a remote desktop that has all her apps installed. Her data is still saved on a file server.

With AVD, we move the applications and data to the cloud, which allows Mike and Sarah to connect from anywhere and enjoy high-performance computing. The devices used by Mike and Sarah are able to connect to AVD thanks to a small piece of software installed on each of their devices or even via their web browser. Thanks to this connection, no other applications need to be installed on their devices and no VPN or secure tunnel is required. Microsoft securely handle all the connections into AVD, removing the headache of configuring firewalls to your centralised server and removing the target of any would be hacker.

All we have to do is build the AVD ‘image’ or ‘images’ to suit your business. Each image holds the appropriate software needed. We then configure Azure to provide enough instances of that image to satisfy the demand. We do this by defining ‘pools’ of machines. For instance, we might define a pool that contains 5 machines, with 10 users able to work comfortably on each machine. This means we can support a peak of 50 simultaneous users, all using the applications setup within that ‘image’. Because AVD is so flexible, if workload or the number of users increases, it’s as simple as pressing a button to add another machine to the pool. Conversely, we can easily remove a machine from the pool to save money if we don’t have as many users. You only pay the cost of the machines running, resulting in significant savings and allowing you to spin up machines on demand. Imagine the costs and effort needed to add physical capacity to the servers in your office in the same way, not least the fact that the office hardware would need to match peak demand even when the office is empty, such as on a Saturday night!

The system is quick, robust, scalable and secure! 

How can we help you set up AVD?

At Dynamic Edge, we have bespoke toolsets that will help us analyse what you really use and need. I’m sure we’ve all seen instances where there’s old software that was long-ago replaced, but the server is still sitting there gathering dust. AVD isn’t about “lifting and shifting” your existing setup to the cloud, and indeed, that would be the worst way to go about it – it’s about building a customised solution where your necessary apps are in a shiny new AVD environment. Also, moving to AVD is a great time to think about how you do business – for example, perhaps it would be more efficient to take data from a file server and move it into Teams or Sharepoint instead. Or store archive data in low-cost “cold” storage to reduce costs even further.

We’ll analyse which applications are in use, and those that are no longer needed. We will then build you a secure, highly-available, high-performance AVD platform that runs the latest Windows 10 technology, with Azure services in the background.

How much does it cost?

Azure services work on a consumption-based model – the more you consume, the more you pay. With AVD, the typical items that end up on your bill are the compute resource (for your virtual servers), the disk space they consume, and network traffic out of Azure to your devices, that sort of thing. There is also a per-user license requirement, and typically this is M365 Business Premium. The more systems you need during working hours, the more it’ll cost, but recall that out of hours, we can power down systems that aren’t in use and save a considerable amount. Even in the working day, we can power-up-on-demand, for example, during school holidays, you might only utilise a fraction of the system if many of your colleagues are on leave at the same time. With a traditional model, you’d have all your kit powered on all the time.

Projects we’ve successfully implemented have ranged from under £200/month for a small 5 person single-office deployment, to around £1500 for a 50 user multi site organisation.

Also, with AVD, the specification of the PC/laptop becomes less of an issue. We’ve all been through that upgrade cycle where the PC is old and slow and needs replaced – with AVD, even a low-spec PC will enjoy the same performance as a high-spec one; all the hard work is done in the cloud and the PC ends up being little more than a terminal. In fact, a full PC isn’t even necessary – you can connect to AVD from a Raspberry Pi, a pocket-sized computer for less than £100!

How can Azure Virtal Desktop benefit my business?

You may wonder – How do I determine if my business will benefit from an Azure Virtual Desktop solution? If all your staff have work laptops and you can secure and manage their access to the information and applications they need, using a virtual desktop may not be necessary for you. However, for many companies, their specific needs are best managed with a virtual desktop. If any of the following apply to you, it’s worth considering AVD.

Your staff need to work remotely

Your team need to be able to work from home, when travelling, on customer sites or in the office and have the same user experience wherever they are. You need to manage and secure access to company data and applications.

Simple security management

When you have contractors or part time staff that need access to information, security can become a concern. Azure Virtual Desktop makes it easy for you to provide controlled and secure access to your data and applicationsAdditionally, your full-time employees can use their home PC to connect to their work virtual desktop. This keeps all your corporate data secure.

You only have an occasional need for PCs

Don’t waste resources on setting up several physical PC’s if all your employees don’t need a dedicated one. Azure Virtual Desktop makes it possible to deploy virtual PCs when you need them. As your needs change, you can add or remove virtual desktops to meet the needs of your workforce.

You need different types of PCs for different people/teams in the business

You can deploy different virtual desktops to different user groups. This way, users are only able to access the apps and information they need to do their work. They won’t see information that they don’t need, and you can give them the computing power that they need for their work.

AVD brings a great deal of benefit over the traditional models we’re all used to. To compare:

Apps on PC, data on File Server

Apps on Terminal Server, Data on File Server

AVD

Accessibility / Security Needs line of sight to server – WfH impossible without a VPN. VPN needs to be open to all, this is a security risk. High latency in accessing data in the office from home WfH means firewall rules created to allow people to connect from anywhere. This is a risk as it leaves services open to hack attempts. No latency accessing data from TS Securely maintained from within Azure – no firewall rules open at all, the gateway is managed by MS. Nothing to secure! WfH is as easy as WfO. No latency in accessing data from AVD
Hardware and Scaling PC must be up to the task of running the apps, and must have acceptable speed to data sources. Servers need power, cooling etc. Servers need upgraded with more disk space over time, PCs need upgraded/rebuilt PC spec less critical, but terminal server needs to be able to cope with peak load. Needs power, cooling, backup etc in addition to your data servers. More demand = more servers required, could create issues, lack of space, power etc All in Azure. They worry about the cooling and provisioning. Increasing capacity as simple as pushing a button. PC spec not critical, all work done remotely. Low-cost PCs are usable, and even phones and tablets
Licensing Windows license for PC Windows license for PC, Client Access License to connect to terminal server, windows server license M365 license for user – not device. Licensing for AVD/servers is included in the cost consumption model
Disaster Recovery If PC contains data that wasn’t backed up… you’re out of luck! Replacement PC needs to have all software installed and configured before given to end user. Could take days Lost data could be restored from backups. Significant amounts could take considerable time if on-prem link is slow. Catastrophic hardware failure could take days to replace, then you have restore time on top of that Quick restores from backups as all data in Azure. Brand new AVD host pool can be re-provisioned in minutes from the image and you’re back where you were. Hardware failure in Azure will immediately fail over to another node, no waiting for replacement. Data can be replicated across datacentres if required
Management Requires MSP toolset for access, and proven software delivery/update mechanisms (or manual install) to all endpoints Typically, a manual install to all terminal servers Software is installed into AVD image once, and pool is refreshed from the new image. Some software can be pushed to AVD immediately
Minimum to provide Physical kit in office:
  • Domain controller(s)
  • File Server(s)
  • PCs and Laptops
Physical kit in office:
  • Domain controller(s)
  • File Server(s)
  • Terminal Servers
  • PCs and Laptops
Physical kit in office:
  • PCs and Laptops
  • In Azure:
    • Domain controller(s)*
    • Host(s) in AVD pool
    • Azure File Storage
Data Security Lost or stolen device? Hope it was encrypted, or anything that’s on it is up for grabs. The risk is in having ports open to office to allow remote access (eg WfH) A mix between physical security and network security keeps your data secure here. The risk is in having ports open to allow workers remote access (eg WfH) No ports to open – no point of network presence to attack. Data is all stored within Azure. MFA available. Disk encryption available in Azure. Role Based Access Control.
Time/cost to deploy Buy servers, build servers, configure firewall to allow remote access to file shares for WfH, configure PCs all adds up to days and weeks very quickly Buy servers, build servers, configure firewall to allow remote access to RDS for WfH, configure PCs all adds up to days and weeks very quickly Via our automated processes, we have successfully implemented PoC AVD in an afternoon for one client, albeit with a very simple image (Office installed, nothing else). Azure costs incurred were only a few pounds.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it more expensive long-term than self-hosting?

This is always a difficult question to answer as every client has different requirements and configurations. If you had no existing kit, then procuring hardware for servers, network equipment, racks and such would have a very high startup cost. And again – you need to ensure you buy enough to cope with immediate and future capacity. Should those requirements increase, it could end up with more hardware being required if you didn’t “go large” at the time. If your hardware is already there of course, you’re just paying for the maintenance, support and such. But you’re also dealing with any hardware failures or breakages. You need to provide adequate power and cooling, and these add up quickly. Also, physical security should be factored in. If you rent space in a 3rd party’s datacentre, we could quickly compare those costs against expected for AVD equivalent. Costs can also be gathered to estimate your power usage on existing kit. But bear in mind – it’s not always about the bottom line; it’s about your business, and what it takes to get back to operational status should the worst happen. With AVD, and the highly-available solutions they offer, there’s a lot less risk than having that single 8yr old dusty server sitting noisily in the corner!

I work on large files – can AVD cope with that?

Absolutely! Azure File Storage can be provisioned on many different performance levels, and the highest – Premium – will likely give greater performance than the shared-storage that your on-premise server is likely using. Most server hardware we find out in the field are still using traditional hard disk drives, but Premium uses the super-fast solid-state drives, with greater throughput and lower latency.

What is the bare minimum my staff need to reach AVD?

A PC, of largely any specification (Windows 10, Mac). It needs no software bar a small, free, client. Other devices such as iPads and tablets can also access, via a web browser. You can take a new machine out of the box and be on AVD within minutes, and all the software your business needs is already there. All they need is a way to access the internet. Even relatively low-speed home broadband will suffice, and you could even connect your laptop via mobile phone hotspot if out in the wild. You’ll enjoy the same performance as if you were in the office! You could even use your home/personal PC.

I’m a graphical designer, my apps require accelerated graphics – can AVD do that?

Yes! While the standard/commodity units that AVD provides are available, if you have a need for higher-specification kit for the likes of AutoCAD or Photoshop, you can still use AVD. These machines cost more in compute terms however, and this is something we would assess on a case-by-case basis. By moving that workload to the cloud of course, you do remove that dependency on having a high-spec PC on the desk. You can use AutoCAD on your cheap laptop, while the cloud does all the heavy lifting. Performance in this instance is akin to having a high-power local PC – some users have even ran video games on AVD!

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