Everything You Need to Know About Windows Virtual Desktop

Virtualization is one of the ultimate buzz words in enterprise technology. The IT experts speak of it with a light in their eyes and enthusiasm. Every sales pitch mentions it at some point, and in all fairness, virtualization is a large topic with many exciting applications.

The simple truth is that enterprise operations require at least some level of virtualization, and taking control of your virtual destiny is extremely important. It’s also a changing landscape. Microsoft has introduced the Windows Virtual Desktop, and it’s the biggest change to the game since the PC. Maybe.


Virtual Desktops

Currently, collaboration on Windows machines can be tricky. Sharing data and applications is not a uniform process, and for many businesses (small to enterprise), the most efficient way to achieve this is through virtual desktops run by a local server. Windows Server RD is the modern way to set up the server, and it manages sharing, log-ins and distribution. Essentially, the local server holds all of the information and does the majority of the processing. Any endpoint device on the network can then access the server to share resources.

Without that local server, Windows 10 functions as a single-session desktop. That means that one user can only access their stuff on one device. This should not be confused with the use of a Microsoft account. Through it, a user can migrate settings to other devices, but raw data and applications are not shared.


Windows Virtual Desktop

The new Windows Virtual Desktop rethinks the server experience from the ground up. It is a multi-session Windows 10 experience (more on this in a minute). It moves the entire virtual desktop to the cloud via Microsoft Azure. This comes with many implications.

First, Microsoft is now offering to do all of the hosting on their own equipment. A cloud-based virtual desktop that is hosted on Microsoft servers comes with some serious benefits. The hardware cost of running virtual machines drops precipitously. Also, Microsoft-maintained software is going to stay up to date and state of the art at all times.

Running everything through Azure also changes the game. For many users, this makes migration fairly painless, but businesses that have invested in Azure alternatives may be discouraged from embracing the new virtual desktop.


Single Session vs Multi Session

It can’t be overstated that this is a multi-session Windows 10 experience. That means that server-based collaboration is no longer dependent on a server operating system. The traditional use of Server RD goes away completely with the new virtual desktop. This means that any Windows 10 user can theoretically access all of their data and applications on any device. It also removes collaborative limitations. All of the tricks and challenges of funneling information through a central login server disappear. Windows virtual desktop makes it easier for multi-session work to exist outside of a single, physical network. This truly unifies the multi-session experience.



For end users, the experience with Windows Virtual Desktop will only be a moderate improvement at first. Most of the ease of access is a boon to IT departments. Licensing is where the biggest changes will be seen and felt.

With Server RD, you currently need a server license and a Windows 10 license for each endpoint device. There are bundles and packages to get around this, but licensing is messy at best. Windows Virtual Desktop is unifying the licensing experience too. Each user needs a Windows 10 Enterprise license. That single license covers the physical license, virtual access and any other bundled offers (like Office 365). With one license, a user has unlimited access to their virtual desktop, anywhere they go.

That said, the unified license is a mixed bag of pros and cons. Microsoft is using this change to introduce subscription operating systems. Instead of purchasing a permanent license, they want Enterprise to run like office 365. You pay a periodic fee and they handle the rest. For some companies this will prove cheaper and easier. For others, it’s a new source of headaches.


The Long Term

Windows Virtual Desktop is still in the trial era. It’s expected to be fully available by the end of 2019. It represents a huge opportunity for many small businesses. Larger enterprise operations will have more to consider before taking the leap. What matters most at this juncture is understanding Microsoft’s goals. They may not push Virtual Desktop from the outset, but they have made their intentions clear. They want all incarnations of Windows to run on a periodic subscription basis. They’ll pack that subscription with enticing goodies, but every IT department will have to anticipate this trend and make long-term decisions about embracing or avoiding these subscriptions soon.

About the Author: Nancy Peckham

Nancy began her career in telecommunications in 1983 as an account executive with Republic Telecom, a regional long distance carrier. She was named district sales manager for the Wisconsin region in 1987 when Republic Telecom was acquired by Mid American Communications. She recognized a need for independent, objective telecommunications consulting which led her founding Valicom. Since its launch in 1991, Valicom has been a leader in providing telecom expense management solutions and serves enterprise and mid-market clients in a variety of industries and verticals across the U.S. Nancy earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, founded and served as president of the Telecommunications Professionals of Wisconsin (TPW) from 1989-1992, and was executive vice president on the board of directors of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants (STC). Nancy is also a founding member and executive council chair of the Independent Telecommunications Expense Management Association (i-TEM).