Microsoft Azure Virtual Desktop is reshaping the way that IT managers think about budgeting for and managing the constant refresh cycles of traditional hardware and software purchases. Our Microsoft Practice at Melillo is focused on helping you realize the benefits of your Microsoft experience – getting everything that you paid for when you licensed your Microsoft products. Increasingly, we are working with customers who are looking for greater flexibility in their overall computing experience. They are leaning heavily into several as-a-service models and away from a traditional on-premises model. That’s where Microsoft’s virtual desktop has proven to be a terrific benefit to our IT clients and their internal customers (not to mention the in-house folks responsible for budgeting).
Let’s take a step back for a moment. As employees across every industry were sent to work remotely during the pandemic, IT managers struggled to provide them with the tools they needed to work effectively. Many organizations cobbled together remote working setups using bring-you-own-device (BYOD) or some form of corporate-assigned compute hardware and a combination of cloud-based and remote-control software. However, a true cloud-first experience requires a different strategy – not one that attempts to access on-premises resources through a series of remote access gateways, but one that truly shifts traditional workloads to virtual and cloud-first computing resources.
What is Azure Virtual Desktop?
Azure virtual desktop is a Microsoft Azure-based offering that allows organizations to securely provision windows desktops (or servers) and applications to their end-users. Microsoft takes the guess work out of managing complex front-end services like web access, remote access gateways and connection brokers, since this part of the service is maintained and controlled by them. Of course, Azure virtual desktop offers many of the benefits that you expect, including a subscription model, consistent infrastructure – compute, storage, networking, and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) – across regions, and security via Microsoft’s Cyber Defense Operations Center. But there are also several additional benefits that make Azure virtual desktop both admin- and wallet-friendly.
Intelligent Decision-making for Infrastructure Architecture and Utilization
The shift from traditional capital expenditures (capex) to operational expenditures (opex) that the virtual consumption model brings has been well documented. However, the real power of using a platform like Azure virtual desktop is the ability to make intelligent decisions about how you want your enterprise architecture to be structured. You gain the ability to get in front of your utilization in a way that most makes sense for your business.
For example, if you run a seasonal business requiring greater compute hardware during certain peak periods, traditionally you would rent or purchase the necessary hardware and license the software to meet those needs and then return or store the hardware for the next large season. At that point, you may need to refresh the software images and even upgrade the hardware if it is out-of-date. If those compute and storage resources are in an on-premises data center, you can add additional utility expenses for power and cooling as well. Planning, budgeting, and managing for peaks and valleys takes away valuable resources that could be applied toward better performing tools and technologies.
Improved Resource Management
We have helped customers use Azure virtual desktop to better manage their resource requirements. Plus, they can now see monthly exactly what their organizations’ utilization and costs are and how they are positively or negatively impacting profitability.
For example, if you were traditionally setting aside a $150,000 per year to purchase and maintain hardware, backups, and software licenses, we can take that workload, optimize it, and migrate it to Azure virtual desktop. This becomes cost-effective as you find that you’re not running the system 24/7, because only some of your staff are in the office 9 AM to 5 PM, or your outsourced development team is working in a different time zone than your in-house team.
In those cases, you might only need to spin up a small number of virtual machines (VMs) for eight hours a day. We can get as granular as you are willing to get to optimize your systems and make sure that you’re applying your IT budget as effectively as possible. This type of opex-aligned spend helps you avoid large upfront financial commitments and deployment projects, match capacity to specific operational needs, align your IT hardware, software and services with changing business requirements and it enables you to assess accurate departmental cross-charge and cost of goods sold (COGS) alignment.
Greater Overall Agility and Automation
With the cloud comes greater agility; you’re not waiting for hardware to be purchased, shipped, and deployed – no need for traditional rack, stack, and cabling when you don’t have to support an on-premises data center. You will still have hardware requirements for users, but your requirements are much lighter when you can quickly spin up a VM in the MS Azure cloud to meet your specific needs.
For example, consider what would happen if your organization acquired a company and your IT team needed to on-board 250 new employees. You may not be able to repurpose their existing hardware and you would certainly need to reimage their desktops, provide access to company compute resources and so on. And you would have to wait for any new hardware to arrive, be assigned and deployed.
Azure virtual desktop brings you a much more agile and automated method for this type of deployment using APIs, and JSON templates for quickly assigning, deploying, and securing the resources that your new users require – delivering infrastructure as code and the ability to quickly create a persistent environment. In addition, you get documented repeatability, enabling you to quickly deploy or redeploy resources as needed. All of this can exist on a device with reduced requirements and capabilities since the actual compute hardware and software is spun up on demand in the MS Azure cloud.
An interesting capability with Azure virtual desktop is that you get on-demand scalability. You can provision and enable exactly the tools each employee needs when they need them – including those users who at times have greater hardware requirements. Consider an engineer who uses a CAD/CAM workstation during parts of her week. At other times, she may need only to access Microsoft Office 365 tools like Excel and PowerPoint. Rather than wasting the capabilities of her powerful workstation, using Azure virtual desktop you can spin up a VM with access to a powerful graphics processing unit (GPU) when she needs to build a CAD and provide her with another VM with lesser capabilities for basic office functions – freeing up cycles for another user to access the VM/GPU combination and saving the cost of purchasing multiple workstations.
Many Ways to Win with Azure Virtual Desktop
Finally, most companies aren’t going to abandon their on-premises data centers or desktops completely. And with Azure virtual desktop, they don’t have to because it isn’t an all or nothing platform. Our customers have found that the platform provides many ways to win – including building a true hybrid enterprise environment that encompasses on-premises and cloud-native environments.