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Desktop Virtualization is a fascinating topic, and it’s one that we take a lot of pride in here at Microsoft. Stretching back to 1989, we collaborated with Citrix to develop what eventually became its own industry category: Virtualized desktops.

In recent years, the need for Desktop Virtualization (DV) grew out of the needs of a workforce that was increasingly globally distributed, often mobile, and always demanding access to corporate resources. DV proactively addresses the need for centralized corporate resources (for both security and reduced management complexity), and this has had a huge impact on a number of industries, like healthcare, finance, and education. Mobility and DV have both grown to be huge assets to industries that need security, portability, and scale.

DV allowed this workforce (and the IT teams that supported them) to securely access desktops and apps from anywhere with an internet connection. In fact, a lot of today’s architecture grew out of these early DV deployments because the centralized control of desktops and apps showed organizations the value and practicality of streamlining (and virtualizing) their storage, deployment, and management. For this reason, DV came to also play a big role in business continuity and disaster recovery.

In this post, I’ll highlight some of the unique and salient features in Windows Server 2012 R2 that benefit anyone looking to setup an on-prem DV solution.

Why DV Works for You

The key benefits of DV are really straightforward. The big four are:

  • First, DV enables users to access the apps, corporate data, and desktops they need on a variety of devices. The importance and use of DV has accelerated pretty dramatically over the past couple of years as organizations are delivering Windows apps to their user’s mobile devices. This trend will definitely continue.
  • Second, DV can keep apps and data secure when those corporate resources are hosted entirely in the datacenter – thus they can never be “left” on the device. This was one of the original use cases of DV, and continues to be an important use today and tomorrow.
  • Third, some apps simply run better in a DV scenario, e.g. applications that make frequent calls to the backend database are going to perform better if the app and data are close together. Also, because IT has complete control over the configuration of the desktops and apps, IT can ensure that both the OS and the apps are optimized. Management also becomes easier because centralized management makes software and patching much simpler.
  • Fourth, with DV you can make the most of your existing hardware investments by converting your PCs/laptops to thin clients that you then access remotely.

Desktop Virtualization and the Cloud

Back in May, I wrote about how I’d been having a lot of discussions with analysts about the future of desktop virtualization and how it relates to Desktop as a Service (DaaS). The point that consistently made a big impact was how the cloud could enable a much wider variety of customers and industries to take advantage of a virtualized desktop solution.

A cloud-based desktop virtualization solution (aka DaaS) enables customers to reap all the benefits of DV without a dedicated on-prem infrastructure. In addition to this big benefit, customers can rapidly respond to changing business needs by scaling capacity up or down without a large capital expense or complex technical procedure. There are already a lot of partners using our DV technology to deliver best-in-class DaaS, and in May we launched Microsoft Azure RemoteApp (more on this in the next post!).

We are also continuing our work with Citrix to enable Azure-based DaaS solutions. This is an area of continued, serious investment for Microsoft and we’ve set aside a small army of engineering resources to ensure Azure-based DaaS is best in class. There are already over 2,600 Service Providers delivering 350,000 joint Microsoft-Citrix DaaS desktops around the globe, and we are committed to extending this model. Take the time to read the post about our collaboration with Citrix on the future of DaaS offerings.

Our DV vision is simple: Enable customers to deliver mission critical desktop apps to their users, wherever those users are, and whatever devices they are using, in a protected and manageable way. To that end, Microsoft’s technologies enable customers to deliver all their on-prem workloads from the cloud, as well as in hybrid configurations. We believe customers get maximum value from our solutions when they are able to choose how they want to deliver those solutions (in this case virtual desktops) in order to best suit their business requirements and end users.

We believe in providing that choice to our customers and partners.

Unique On-premises DV Functionality

Throughout the development of our DV solution, we’ve focused on how to make this offering not just powerful, but so feature-rich that it was a really compelling solution.

We have spent a lot of time looking to make the deployment and use of our DV solution simple and efficient, and I believe really sets Microsoft apart. With Windows Server 2012 R2 you can quickly and easily deploy a VDI infrastructure in 5-6 easy clicks via a wizard-based setup tool. This VDI management is incredibly simple because of its unified management console and the regular intelligent patching updates for every virtualized desktop.

These elements combine to deliver a desktop experience that feels local – no matter what type of DV is being used or the type of network. The enhanced features in RemoteFX ensure a consistently rich user experience (on either session- or VM-based VDI) even when running over a low-bandwidth high-latency network such as WAN.

At the end of the day (or even the beginning of the day), the thing that really sets us apart from other DV solutions is that we provide a simple, flexible solution to customers where they can leverage the existing talents of their staff – and do it at a bargain price.

Optimizing the DV’s UX for Both IT Pros and End Users

We have invested a lot of time developing DV functionality and UX that makes a big difference in the lives of the people using it and the IT Pros administering it.

For the IT Pros, the DV solution we’ve built makes a big difference right out of the box (spoiler alert: It does not come in an actual box). The VDI Quick Start feature enables you to be up and running with just a few clicks. The setup is fast, intuitive, and choosing a deployment option is simply a matter of checking a box. The deployments are all optimized for their specific environment, so you won’t need any additional tools or resources to start using our DV immediately.

Once you are up and running, administration is simple – meaning you can get to your next project instead of having to fine tune this one. The RDS admin console has been simplified so that you have options for user management, session management, and VM management front and center. That same console also allows you to publish Remote Apps to VMs or session desktops, as well as mange user permissions.

One of the biggest benefits, in my opinion, is the unified management that cuts across so many Microsoft products today. Rather than creating a separate management console for virtualized desktops, with System Center you can extend everything you know about managing physical desktops to the world of virtual ones. System Center comes with built in DV management capabilities, all possible from the main console – no flipping back and forth required. System Center is so flexible with DV that it can be used to manage the server infrastructure that hosts VDI, including infrastructures other than Microsoft.

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For the end users of virtualized desktops – the people who will never personally see all the features I just listed – there are some big benefits. First, RemoteFX virtualizes a physical GPU and offers a virtualized GPU to each individual VM. The result is a very high quality desktop experience that can support graphically intensive applications in the data center. RemoteFX also offers a software GPU, which can operate without requiring a physical GPU on the server by encoding and decoding media using CPU. This means audio and video is nearly as crisp and high fidelity as PC playback.

Over the weekend, I was at Seattle Children’s Hospital visiting with my niece and her newborn daughter, and, while we were in her room talking, I told the nurses about the technology behind the devices they were using (the rooms all had Wyse thin-client devices with the desktop being remoted). Yes, I am really a geek, I know. It was so funny (and rewarding) to watch the nurses react to the fact that the desktop they were using was actually running in a datacenter – they had no idea, and that’s how it’s supposed to be!

End users also benefit from USB redirection, fully functional multi-touch, and single sign on. One last feature that’s particular interesting is, WAN acceleration. This feature is supported by RemoteFX’s ability to intelligently select the right codec to ensure that the best possible experience is delivered no matter the bandwidth or latency. In this scenario, if the user is accessing a site with a combination of audio, video and text elements, RemoteFX will assign the highest priority to the video, then audio and lastly text, so that the user gest the best experience possible for that website.

A big part of any DV discussion is the role of Azure Remote App and how it is now taking on many of the traditional on-prem workloads and offering them as a cloud service. Azure RemoteApp is a solution we previewed earlier this year at TechEd North America, and it brings the scale and power of Azure to application delivery. So far, it’s been fascinating to see how organizations are using this service (currently in free preview) to address their need for more mobility and to accelerate their move to the cloud.

This is a big opportunity for organizations to introduce hybrid functionality into the way they manage their workloads, and I’ll be writing a lot more about Azure Remote App in the next post.

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To learn more about DV, check out this post from the RDS team blog, as well as this piece from my What’s New in 2012 R2 series.

To see more DV in action, check out this video from the Master of Mobility video series: