The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced many companies to send employees to remote work. The transfer of work to the home took place even in organizations where such a model of work has not existed so far. It was certainly a big challenge for IT departments that had to provide efficient infrastructure, ensure security and full technical support. And the Azure Virtual Desktop was the solution to all these problems.
Azure Virtual Desktop is a desktop and application virtualization solution that runs in the cloud. Regardless of the device they’re on, it allows users to use the remote desktop environment or specific remote apps from anywhere they are as long as they have access to the Internet connection. Whilst not in a physical office environment, their experience will be exactly the same – the applications are live-streamed from the server with immediate effect and no installation required!
What are the benefits of Azure Virtual Desktop?
You don’t have to be an IT specialist to see the benefits of such a solution. First of all, it’s security. Users can only access resources that the administrator makes available to them. Employees are not installing any applications on their workstations, so no unauthorized access is possible. It is secured by conditional access/MFA. Moreover, sensitive data is never sent out of the company’s control. AVD is also easily scalable with the Azure auto-scaling feature. It automatically adds session hosts in heavy workloads or reduces the number of servers if not in use. When creating an AVD solution, we can also choose the Load Balancer – the number of users per server. All this resulting in minimizing the organizations’ costs.
In the past, Remote Desktop Services were complex and expensive to set up and manage. As the result, they were unavailable to most SMBs. AVD changes that with the entire backend and session hosts being provided from Microsoft’s side. The organization only needs to create pools of servers and configure them to their needs. This makes it a cost-effective solution that is relatively easy to deploy, configure, and scale.
But there’s more
The way AVD stores users’ profiles is also very interesting. When using a local computer, the system creates a local profile where all user settings are available. In the case of AVD, the users do not have an assigned server to which they will connect during a given session. However, Microsoft provides the FSLogix solution that stores the users’ profiles. When the employees connect to AVD for the first time, FSLogix creates profiles for them on the given network resource. They are stored in the form of a virtual disk in VHDX format. Thanks to this solution, no matter what server the users connect to, FSLogix will load their profiles and they will have access to all their settings.
Automation and Golden Images
To fully automate the AVD environment, organizations can use dedicated DevOps tools, such as Azure DevOps Pipelines. It will automate the process of creating new servers, the so-called Golden Image. What are they? Images containing corporate applications and target settings. The administrators use them to create servers (session hosts) to which employees of the organization connect. They also use them as “master images” to build servers that they can later version and update.
Building an Azure DevOps environment, while having many benefits, also requires a lot of effort. It requires automating the pipelines that will update the image, and then creating new servers from the image and redeploying them. However, there is also a possibility of using SCCM (System Center Configuration Manager) to personalize images, if SCCM is used in the organization.
There’s always a risk
The key to a successful implementation of the AVD solution is planning. The organization needs to plan the environment. They have to check what applications do they use. Then, verify the minimum resources on which these applications can function without problems. Who will be the users and whether they need a full desktop experience, or remote app access will be enough? The organization can carry out its own tests. They can build a prove of concept environment and install applications, connect to servers and check how they behave. Companies can also create a pilot group of users. They will test whether the applications they had installed on their desktop will work equally well on the remote desktop.
It is also worth remembering that the quality of network connections is very important as well. With slow connectivity, the AVD solution will not work efficiently. This is especially true for applications that use databases on the backend. In this case, the network traffic must be properly configured and secured so that the connection between the application installed on the Azure server is correctly established with the on-premises database in the data center.
If organizations decide to implement AVD too rashly, it can result in solution inefficiency, long application latency, and the need to increase resources. All this, leading to a rapid increase in costs – up to 250%!
And what are the costs of Azure Virtual Desktop?
Azure provides a calculator that estimates the cost of implementing an AVD solution for a specific number of users under a specific workload. It also automatically calculates the number of servers needed. When calculating the cost of moving the Virtual Desktop from Citrix to AVD for one of NATEK’s customers, the producer of graphic and medical imaging solutions, we estimated the average cost for 1,000 users and 30 servers at medium/heavy workload to be in the range of approx. $15-20,000/month. In the case of this client, the entire AVD solution turned out to be comparable to the cost of Citrix licenses alone.
Of course, the costs for each business may vary depending on the size and workload of the environment. In some cases, AVD may even turn out to be unprofitable. Especially, when a large number of users in the organization are using high computing power. Simulations are also more complex and difficult to estimate when it comes to switching from existing solutions such as Citrix.
Organizations must also take into account that, in addition to the license fees themselves, there is also the cost per user. For users who have E3 licenses, there are no additional licensing costs, but there are still costs of using the infrastructure itself – server maintenance, storage accounts for saving profiles (FSLogix) and data transmission (whether the data will be sent within one region or between regions). Microsoft provides accurate costing for both storage and network accounts.
Is Azure Virtual Desktop a solution for everyone?
AVD has no upper limit to scalability – organizations can add as many servers as they want. Virtually any company from any industry – no matter if it is a corporation with extensive infrastructure or a small business wanting to use the service in the cloud model – can benefit from it. But most of all, it is the perfect solution for distributed companies, where users work from several locations and need a secure remote work tool. When most of the employees work from the company’s premises, the AVD solution does not make sense. This is also a solution built for one organization. It would be rather difficult to build an AVD for outsiders. They could connect from their own hardware but still must have accounts in the organization itself.
AVD can clearly bring your company a lot of benefits during remote work. But the COVID-19 outbreak is going to stop at one point and companies will be finally coming back to offices. Can the organizations still benefit from Virtual Desktops during stationary work? With the growing trend to resign from renting office space by companies and the increased interest in BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), AVD solution can greatly minimize the costs.
Judging by the growing interest of NATEK customers in these solutions, we can see that they, too, see the advantages of AVD. But if you are still hesitating about your Citrix environment and what AVD offers, we are happy to help you to make that decision. Schedule your appointment here for tailor-made solutions:
We wrote this article in cooperation with Emil Jasiński, NATEK Cloud Specialist, who provides comprehensive care in the field of Azure and uses Azure products to improve existing processes for NATEK clients.