As the name suggests, Azure Virtual Desktop, initially launched in September 2019 as Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD), is a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solution that runs in Azure, Microsoft's public cloud. You can use AVD to deploy virtualized applications and desktops over the Internet or in combination with a private VPN connection, across different client operating systems – not only Windows but also macOS, iOS, Android and HTML5 web browsers are supported. On the server side, you can make use of the Windows Server operating system, starting from the 2012 version. The AVD environment can also be managed in combination with Microsoft Endpoint Manager. In addition, Microsoft guarantees support for Windows 7 until 2023 through Azure Virtual Desktop.
"Another unique feature of Azure Virtual Desktop is that it also allows you to offer Windows 10 or Windows 11 Enterprise multi-session," says Thomas De Witte, Technical Consultant at Inetum-Realdolmen. "In other words, you can have several people working simultaneously on a single virtual machine. This allows you to guarantee them a modern user experience with the look and feel of Windows 10 or 11.
This was impossible with Microsoft's classic Terminal Server or Remote Desktop Services." An additional benefit is that the total cost of your solution drops considerably without compromising on the user experience.
New: Windows 365
This summer, Microsoft introduced a new, alternative solution for virtual desktops in the cloud: Windows 365. In cloud terms, this is a true SaaS or, to be 100% correct, DaaS (Desktop as a Service) solution.
Specifically, this means that with Windows 365 you can offer a fully equipped Windows 10 or Windows 11 desktop to your end users. However, you are limited to these two operating systems. In addition, Microsoft is responsible for managing the back-end infrastructure and platform components required to deliver that desktop. With AVD this is no different, since both solutions are built on the same platform.
In the case of AVD, however, you are still responsible for the compute part, i.e. the Azure VMs on which the end users will ultimately work.
AVD: focus on flexibility and cost optimization
"In this respect, Azure Virtual Desktop clearly differs from classic solutions such as Citrix and Remote Desktop Services," De Witte explains. "Microsoft manages all infrastructure components in the back-end of the AVD solution, such as the Remote Desktop Connection Broker, Gateway and License server. This means that IT administrators can concentrate more on the operating system and the application part.
Also, the scalability and automation capabilities within Azure make AVD a very powerful solution for quick scaling and adaptation to the needs of the business.
Both Windows 365 and AVD feature integration with Azure AD (Active Directory). "As a result, in both cases you get a lot of extra features to secure your virtual desktop environment. For example, you can very easily activate multi-factor authentication. You can also monitor exactly where your users are accessing the environment from."
Windows 365: focus on ease of use
While Windows 365 is built on the same infrastructure as Azure Virtual Desktop and both solutions therefore use exactly the same back-end components, there is still a substantial difference for the customer. "With AVD you get direct admin access to the virtual machines, but that is not the case with Windows 365," explains De Witte. "This solution is managed entirely via Microsoft Endpoint Manager, including deploying the virtual machines."
In a nutshell: If you consider cost optimization important and need a more flexible solution for deploying applications, you are better off with Azure Virtual Desktop. On the other hand, if you are aiming for minimal management, have already started working with Microsoft Endpoint Manager and don't care about the extra cost, you are probably better off with Windows 365, says De Witte. "In Azure, you pay for your usage, which means the time your AVD virtual machine is actually running in Microsoft's data center. In Windows 365, you pay a fixed amount every month for the use of your virtual desktop. It doesn't matter how long or how intensively you use it.
With Windows 365 you are limited to Published Desktops and each end user gets their own desktop, which of course increases the cost. With AVD you can have multiple users working on the same VM, and you can offer Remote apps in addition to Published Desktops."
Business versus Enterprise
Under Windows 365, you have the choice between a Business version for SMEs (up to 300 users) and an Enterprise version for larger enterprises. There are different hardware combinations to choose from within these two versions. The more processor power, memory and disk space you choose, the more expensive the monthly subscription package becomes. The main difference between Business and Enterprise lies in the integration with an existing company environment. The Business version cannot be linked to an existing network or Active Directory domain, but the Enterprise version can. With the Enterprise version you also get access to custom images, which allows you to create a "golden" image and use it as the basis for deploying the Windows 365 desktops. The latter is also possible with AVD.