- While Microsoft has improved Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) at scale, IT administrators still should look at the caveats of the environment.
- WVD doesn’t offer an auto-scaling feature, but it provides a set of scripts with similar abilities to ensure customers are operating a cost-efficient framework.
- WVD still lacks the required capabilities to deliver real-time monitoring of the ecosystem and customer analytics.
Recently, Microsoft has made a couple of notable improvements to Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) management and added additional features with the general availability of the Azure Resource Manager. Still, the service lacks certain management aspects that are completely missing, or that require special effort on the part of administrators.
Moving ahead, Microsoft has begun offering support for multi-tenant Windows 10 with the requisite licensing rights for WVD. This makes the toolkit an attractive offering for consumers who are shifting their IT infrastructure and applications to Microsoft Azure as the chief cloud platform.
To run workloads on WVD management, users need to use Azure cloud computing. As such, those who want to leverage WVD have to move from their existing IT infrastructure to an Azure-based toolset (except for a small set of users).
IT admins should look into the existing capabilities of WVD management and keep a close watch on what’s still missing from the WVD environment before considering it a perfect substitute for VMware- or Citrix-based virtual desktops.
Let’s have a look at the present limitations and drawbacks of WVD.
Appropriate Auto-scaling Techniques
As WVD is a cloud-based service, managing auto-scaling and provisioning should be one of its core competencies. Azure virtual machines (VM) are billed per second, so toning down a notch after hours or scaling up when necessary should be among the core feature stock, like Citrix and VMware have.
However, Microsoft doesn’t yet provide these capabilities within the WVD service. It does offer a set of scripts that operate as Azure automation runbooks, and these scripts offer a couple of identical capabilities that make sure users are running a cost-effective infrastructure. Still, autoscaling using these scripts is more complex, and requires more setup, than a native autoscaling feature.
It’s worth noting that Microsoft is rolling out another capability – Start VM on Connect – which automatically initiates a VM when a user is logging into the session. At present, however, this feature is now available for Pooled Host Pools.
WVD doesn’t provide a straightforward way to manage application or image updates as VMware and Citrix do. The IT department can utilize features in Azure to deliver some equivalent competencies, but this is not a core part of the WVD offering. Rather, they need to bank on a combo of VM Scale Sets, Azure Resource Manager (ARM) templates, and other community-centric tools.
This might not bother users too much within smaller and static environments. But, for larger ecosystems or ecosystems wherein the IT experts have to manage numerous applications and updates, this is one of the aspects they will miss the most if they switch to WVD from VMware or Citrix.
Alternatively, IT experts can utilize Azure Image Builder to develop VM-driven images with a command-line interface and configuration files. But, this doesn’t deliver the exact simplified method as VMware and Citrix do. Admins should look for a DevOps-driven method to deal with image management for WVD ecosystems. Still, Microsoft is steering toward the right path regarding image management.
At its heart, WVD is an Azure-native service with regards to the data plane. This implies all end-user traffic to a WVD application or desktop goes through Azure Platform as a Service (PaaS) offerings. Also, it means the remote desktop protocol (RDP) traffic will be redirected to the current location of the data components.
Microsoft has been stretching the fundamental WVD aspects – data and control plane – to several regions worldwide. This implies traffic streams will be fine-tuned for multiple geographies. By default, WVD is still stuck to reverse Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) WebSocket-driven connections, which restrict data transfer to only use TCP. This also impacts end-user experience with regards to intense workloads such as video and audio and GPU-native apps.
Having said that, Microsoft has launched a new feature – RDP Shortpath – which is only available in the Remote Desktop client at present. RDP Shortpath enables sessions to utilize transport as per the user datagram protocol (UDP) instead. But for this to function, the user needs to create a direct link to the back-end server, which is mostly UDP-driven VPN connections or ExpressRoute connections. This implies WVD can offer equivalent end-user experiences, like the other protocols. Further, Microsoft has provided Teams audio and video offloading to ensure better conference experiences.
From a management standpoint, not much has changed over the recent past. That said, Microsoft did make the considerable change of pushing out an ARM-based version of WVD in 2020, as mentioned earlier. This implies WVD users have a plethora of options to create management processes in an automated way.
Also, it means users have more choices to deliver monitoring capabilities on WVD-driven ecosystems, where there are loads of standardization services in Azure, including Azure Monitor. WVD users can, for instance, utilize log data and performance parameters to deliver dashboards on the existing ecosystem.
But, WVD still doesn’t have the exact capabilities to offer real-time tracking of the ecosystem as Azure Monitor data can suffer a delay up to 15-20 minutes before the data flashes on the dashboards. It also lacks real-time customer analytics. Experts hope that Microsoft will build an agent extension to offer real-time insights into the user sessions and condition of the environment, but this is not available at present.
Those who are aware of the VMware Horizon Help Desk or the Citrix Director utility tool will also realize the absence of appropriate helpdesk tools available. As of now, Microsoft is offering PowerShell cmdlets, which deliver some functionality to control sessions. Also, Microsoft is developing a new management user interface (UI), which the IT crew has to install as an add-on. Besides, the IT experts must bank on third-party vendors to deliver UI competencies.
WVD is still not a complete replacement for Citrix and VMware, particularly with its existing feature stack and core competencies. While Microsoft may view WVD as a self-powered offering in the flourishing service catalog in Azure, Citrix and VMware see their services as part of a larger environment.
For WVD to thrive at length, it has to fit into Microsoft’s environment, and Microsoft has worked proactively to accomplish this with little signs of slowing down.
Considering Microsoft’s rulebook for WVD, it seems the tech giant still wants to focus on the partner environment, instead of developing everything as a first-party service or feature. However, Microsoft has included a few new (promising) capabilities, and WVD users have reasons to be excited about what Microsoft has up its sleeves going forward.