Microsoft's long-awaited Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) recently received its general worldwide release, one full year since it was first announced.
WVD is a remote desktop-as-a-service (Daas) that allows users to deploy and scale their Windows desktops and apps on Azure in minutes, the tech giant claimed, meaning that customers don't need to store their apps and data on their machines.
Instead, they will be "attached" to a virtual machine, freeing up storage on the machine, as well as making it easier for admin to manage and update the apps.
Partners are celebrating the general release of the product, with some hailing it as a "huge" move from the vendor.
Dan Scarfe, founder of Microsoft Azure partner New Signature UK, piloted the offering prior to its general availability and said the move from Microsoft "plugs a gap" in its own service offering which will entice more organisations to Azure.
"Some people will tell you that they don't need DaaS because they already have a device, so why not just run the software on the device itself, rather than paying for a server somewhere else to run that software?" he explained.
"And others will say ‘No, it makes a lot of sense to run all of our compute centrally and manage all of our data in one place, and the devices that people use should just be empty shells whose only job is to render these desktops that are being run in a server somewhere else.
"There are lots of different opinions, but it's certainly something that lots of enterprises do, and lots of enterprises will continue to do. And the fact that it's now kind of a first-party service built natively into Azure will obviously make it a lot more attractive to other organisations."
Margaret Totten, founder and CEO of Microsoft Gold partner Akari Solutions, called it a "game-changer" for partners.
"One of the things we're continuously trying to do as partners is to deliver better value to the customers to make sure that they get a realisation and the investment they need from technology," she said.
"All of these constant moves forward are things that help with that.
"From a partner perspective of a managed customer base, that this is a game-changer because it takes us to another level and allows us to deliver better solutions very quickly and easily for our customers.
"It cuts down on deployment and allows us to be far more reactive and allows the customers to get what they need from us in a better way."
About a decade ago, Microsoft tried to introduce RemoteApp, which was in a similar vein to WVD, but eventually scrapped it in 2016 in favour of outsourcing its virtualisation services to partner Citrix.
New Signature's Scarfe expressed curiosity about what WVD now means for the partnership between Microsoft and Citrix.
"Microsoft has now launched this Windows virtual desktop product. That means that you don't necessarily need something like [Citrix's offering] - I can now just consume this service directly from Azure," he mused.
"WVD is a version one product and it doesn't necessarily have all of the manageability and control that big enterprise might need. So there's still potentially a benefit of sitting Citrix over the top of WVD.
"Citrix also has some particular technology that makes the Teams experience better than the native Windows desktop. But there are scenarios now where you wouldn't need Citrix, you can just use WVD."
Totten, however, emphatically disagreed with this, stating that there is too much invested from both parties to want to discontinue the relationship they have developed.
"I do believe in some areas it will change, but you can still manage and orchestrate WVD within Citrix - It's not as though it blows Citrix out of the water and changes the way Citrix will work and it is still working on Microsoft," she stated.
"I actually think the partnership will just continue to grow; you can use systems on-prem and you could use the WVD in the cloud. I think because of those elements, and the fact they still work so closely together, I don't see it being a massive problem.
"We work really well with Citrix and Microsoft and from the conversations that we are having with our customers, I've not seen anyone come and say ‘this shouldn't have happened'. I think everyone sees it as a positive move."
Windows 7 reprieve
Despite the tech vendor doing it's very best to get customers to migrate to Windows 10 before the support for Windows 7 expires in January 2020, WVD offers some salvation to customers in that it offers free security updates for three years for those who virtualise their Windows 7 desktops.
This is a smart move from the vendor, which takes into consideration those customers struggling to migrate to Windows 10 because of legacy apps on their systems, according to Akari's Totten.
"What they're trying to do is ease that burden and say to customers, ‘You might not be ready to make the jump yet but we'll still let you do this'," she explained.
"But at the same time, they will still positively promote moving from seven to 10 and the benefit of that to the end user.
"We have to realise that not every customer can just change their environment at the drop of a hat and we have to help them do that.
"That's why partners and Microsoft exist - to create a better experience for the end user. We have to take what they need into consideration. It would be great to say ‘Let's move everybody to Windows 10, it'll happen tomorrow' but that's not realistic."
Scarfe agreed, stating that Microsoft pulled a similar move of offering free security updates when it tried to move people to Azure away from Server 2008 as it approached its end of life.
"It's a good idea because one of the biggest challenges of running these legacy operating systems is that they're all over the place and they're subject to attack; if you can put them all within a safe environment, then it's a lot easier to manage security risks," he explained.
Both Totten and Scarfe said that customer feedback from their piloting of WVD has been enthusiastic, and the latter envisions that its adoption will take off significantly now that it is widely available.
Totten added: "I think is something that customers and partners were both looking forward to coming and I think it was something everyone saw is inevitable.
"If you look at the plays that Microsoft has made in the last few years, everything has been moving towards a cloud-first world; it's moved towards better and more reactive solutions to the customers. It's something customers wanted and I think Microsoft have worked really hard to meet that demand."
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