Getting Started with Azure Virtual Desktop: Understanding Azure Virtual Desktop


Last month, Microsoft announced that its new Azure-based service for Windows 10 virtualized desktops had reached public preview. Originally announced at its Ignite conference in September 2018, it had been expected that Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) would reach public preview by the beginning of 2019. But after a short delay, the service is finally available for testing and expected to reach general availability in Q3 2019.

Update 2022 – Note that this service is now called Azure Virtual Desktop.

Other companies, like Amazon, offer Windows virtualized desktop services in the cloud but one of the key differentiators with Microsoft’s service is that you can use a multiuser version of Windows 10 instead of Windows Server Remote Desktop Services with the Desktop Experience installed. While the Desktop Experience in Windows Server provides something like the Windows 10 desktop, there are some features missing, like Edge and the Microsoft Store. Microsoft is also including optimization technology it purchased from FSLogic to optimize Office 365 ProPlus performance for users in virtual machines. Organizations can also use WVD with Windows 7, including free Extended Security Updates, while planning Windows 10 migrations or use Windows Server Remote Desktop Services (RDS).

Windows Virtual Desktop Prerequisites

Windows Virtual Desktop is a cloud service and the new multiuser SKU of Windows 10 is only available in Azure. But despite the ‘cloudiness’ of WVD, you won’t be able to spin it up without some supporting infrastructure. Remember that WVD is currently in preview, so the requirements listed below may change by the time it reaches general availability.

If you plan to use Windows 10, you’ll need one of the following licenses: Microsoft E3, E5, A3, A5, Business, Windows E3, E5, A3, A5. Organizations that opt for Windows Server instead can use their existing RDS Client Access Licenses (CALs) with Software Assurance. There are several other key requirements:

  • Azure subscription
  • Azure Active Directory (AAD)
  • Windows Server Active Directory synchronized with AAD
  • An Azure virtual network that contains or is connected to Windows Server Active Directory

Any virtual machines (VMs) that you create in Azure must be standard or hybrid joined to your Windows Server Active Directory domain. The VMs cannot be Azure AD-joined. While most organizations will already have Windows Server Active Directory running on-premise, you could use WVD with Windows Server Active Directory running in the Azure cloud. It’s also worth noting that during preview, only the following regions support WVD: Canada Central, Central US, East US, East US 2, North Central US, South Central US, and West US.

Before you can create a host pool in the Azure management portal, you need to create a Windows Virtual Desktop tenant. There are several steps to this process:

  1. Give Azure Active Directory permissions to the Windows Virtual Desktop enterprise app.
  2. Assign an AAD user the Windows Virtual Desktop TenantCreator application role.
  3. Create a Windows Virtual Desktop tenant.

In the next part of this series, I’ll show you how to create a Windows Virtual Desktop tenant.

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