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Windows Virtual Desktop forces VDI market to adapt or risk failure

In this Q&A with a company that helped developed Windows Virtual Desktop, dig into how it will affect the VDI market and the road that Microsoft took to develop the service.

Vendors should be wary of their new competition in Windows Virtual Desktop, as key features could make the service a standout in the VDI market.

Windows Virtual Desktop is Microsoft's desktop as a service offering that runs on Azure and provides a multi-user version of Windows 10 Enterprise OS -- a long-awaited feature that could be a significant differentiator in the VDI market.

Nerdio, an IT services provider in Chicago, has been involved with Microsoft's development of Windows Virtual Desktop from the start, said Vadim Vladimirskiy, the company's CEO. In 2017, Microsoft invited Nerdio -- which helps managed services providers to migrate and run workloads in Microsoft Azure -- to be a part of the limited preview.

Since its inception, Windows Virtual Desktop went through a variety of changes to improve the service. For example, a cached mode in Outlook will make it easier for users to quickly access email and calendars.

Here, Vladimirskiy discusses Microsoft's journey to Windows Virtual Desktop and explains why VDI market players such as Citrix will evolve in the face of this new technology.

How does Windows Virtual Desktop affect the VDI market?

Vadim Vladimirskiy: It's going to have a pretty significant impact -- probably positive for some and maybe not so much for others. Providers that are offering their own version of desktop virtualization -- especially when they're doing it in their own data centers and their own infrastructure -- are going to have a tough time competing with Microsoft. Windows Virtual Desktop is an Azure-only offering, so all of the technological improvements that they've introduced, like Windows 10 multi-session is only available in Azure. If you're a provider and you're competing with Microsoft's own servers, and you don't have access to that operating system and you are forced to use the traditional single-user OS, the cost structure is going to be nowhere near what you can achieve with Windows Virtual Desktop.

It will be tough for some to continue doing what they're doing. They'll need to evolve into either taking the practice off of their own infrastructure and migrating it to doing it in Azure to get all the benefits of Windows Virtual Desktop, or they'll need to get more vertically focused and add lots of value-added services and managed services on top of just the hosting of desktops. It will be tough for someone to start a business today that's just about hosting desktops on their own infrastructure.

How does Windows Virtual Desktop affect existing vendors in the VDI market such as Citrix?

Vadim VladimirskiyVadim Vladimirskiy

Vladimirskiy: Citrix is kind of unique in the service provider space, because over the last few years, it evolved more into kind of a pure software company. Their virtual desktop offering, even prior to Windows Virtual Desktop -- what they call Citrix Cloud -- has been Azure-based already. To Citrix, Windows Virtual Desktop is actually bringing in better cost structure in terms of licensing for their customers, because they're authorized to use Windows Virtual Desktop to get some licensing benefits.

I think Citrix will still capture the top end of the market -- for example, the large enterprises who have been with Citrix for a long time that have Citrix Receiver installed across their end-user devices that need NetScaler. All of that advanced functionality that Citrix brings is still going to be relevant; I'm not sure that Windows Virtual Desktop natively overcomes those challenges.

Over the years, Microsoft is always trying to catch up to Citrix's functionality. With every release, Citrix needs to out-invent what Microsoft is doing to have a relevant value proposition for the enterprise space.

How did Microsoft's products evolve into Windows Virtual Desktop?

Vladimirskiy: It started with Windows NT 4.0 Terminal Server, which was not [initially] a multi-user operating system. Microsoft actually licensed a piece of code from Citrix, which sort of formed that initial Citrix-Microsoft alliance that exists strongly today. Microsoft licensed something from Citrix called MultiWin in order to make Windows Server NT 4.0 capable of doing Terminal Services, and Microsoft released a special version of that product called Windows Server NT Terminal Server Edition. From there, things started evolving and became more popular.

Microsoft has never been behind the desktop virtualization industry.

[Multi-user] has always been for server-based computing and really limited in scope. At least from Microsoft's point of view, it was never front and center in their marketing. It was just a feature that was available on Windows.

Initially Windows Virtual Desktop was meant to be a set of web apps that would replace traditional Remote Desktop Services. Anybody could just install them as Azure web apps and run them themselves. Eventually Microsoft said, 'Let's just take these web apps and build our own platform as a service offering out of those. Instead of making them available to others to run, let's run them ourselves, and make them available with no additional charge for anyone who's licensed for Windows Enterprise.'

How did the multi-user operating system become more of a focus?

Vladimirskiy: I think that all changed … when Azure RemoteApp came out in 2014. In 2016, Microsoft decided to discontinue it, but got a lot of market feedback that a service like this in Azure is really wanted and desired, which kind of took Microsoft back to the drawing board and come up with this Windows Virtual Desktop concept.

What's really revolutionary about Windows Virtual Desktop is not only all the technical components, [but also] that it allows you to use Windows 10 and have profiles that work really well. [It's revolutionary] that Microsoft is making Windows Virtual Desktop a front-and-center and very legitimized model for delivering applications and desktops to users.

If you look even a year back, and certainly longer, Microsoft has never been behind the desktop virtualization industry. [The VDI market] always had to work around Microsoft, rather than work with Microsoft. I'm super excited about the fact that Microsoft is now fully behind it, they're marketing it, and they're talking about it.

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