Using the cloud as a basis for desktop virtualization is hardly a new idea. However, it is one that, for obvious reasons, has attracted a great deal of attention among CIOs and CTOs who are facing massive demand to provide resources for remote workers. These resources must not overtax on-premises networks but must still provide an experience that allows users to be just as productive as they are at their desks. Microsoft has recently upped its offerings to meet this requirement with the Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) service. But WVD by itself may not be enough to meet the needs of many large enterprise customers. Organizations exploring WVD do not need to look outside Azure services, but they do need to consider the broader Azure service offerings to get the most from WVD. Below are three ways to use Azure to get the most from WVD.
1 -- Look After the Availability of the Profile Container
Any successful WVD implementation must look after User Profiles. There are two reasons why managing profiles are essential for any virtual desktop solution. The first is the need to secure user data. In an ideal world, users would use tools like SharePoint Online or a centrally managed corporate file share to store all data. In reality, the majority of users store most of their files, which are needed for productivity and may contain critical business data, in their local document folders or, worse, on their desktops. This situation does not change when moving to a remote desktop solution. However, it does add more risk. In a remote desktop solution, these profile containers must be stored separately from the OS images. This way, a user can connect to any virtual desktop image and find their profile. WVD saves remote profiles on a file share that is accessible to WVD. You must protect this remote profile data to prevent data loss, whether by losing your file store, through file corruption or deletion. And this is not just for a single user, but for all users sharing the WVD environment.
Remote profile containers store files as well as user-specific metadata. Users expect not only to find their files but also mapped drives, browser favorites, and settings for applications to persist between logins. Therefore, protecting the metadata in the profile is just as crucial as protecting the actual files.
Some storage options give you built-in redundancy to protect data against underlying hardware failure, but do not protect profiles against accidental deletion or file corruption. Nor do they provide a quick restore process for corrupted files. To get the appropriate level of protection against loss, you will need to configure, test, and maintain services like Azure Backup.
Another way to gain this level of protection is to deploy Azure NetApp Files. Azure NetApp Files is a Microsoft-native file service that provides enterprise-grade data protection to guard against data loss and speed recovery. With built-in Snapshot technology, you can instantly back up your profile container and quickly restore the data in case of a loss. So, your profiles are protected against accidental or malicious deletion.
On top of being able to protect the data, Azure NetApp Files has built-in high availability for every volume you create. This means you can trust that your profile data will be there when you expect it to be. Microsoft even protects you with a 99.99% SLA and guarantees it, so you no longer need to worry about your profile container going away for no clear reason.
2 -- Limit the Impact to User Experience
Remote profiles present another potential challenge to any successful WVD implementation – load performance. When any user logs in to Windows, the OS does not show the desktop until their profile is loaded. I mentioned earlier that users expect remote desktop technology like WVD to behave just like a local desktop. This behaviour includes login speed. Slow login times are one of the most common causes of user dissatisfaction in a virtual desktop solution. Again, you can remediate this issue using other native Azure services. In this case, the technology required is FSLogix.
FSLogix creates a VHDx file with the user’s profile information. When the user logs in, FSLogix helps WVD mount the profile as a second drive. This process means that WVD does not need to copy user data and metadata to the local session. Instead, the profile data remains on the file share but is served to the user as if it were a local resource. FSLogix also optimizes file IO between the VM host and the remote profile store, improving performance. FSLogix provides a profile container for the user files; it also adds an Office container that redirects office-related data and metadata (like the Outlook.OST file) to the remote share. It includes the Application Masking feature that provides access to applications, fonts, and printers as if they were installed locally. This container obscures the remote profile location from the applications, allowing those applications that would typically not work with remote profiles to continue to function. All these features serve to make the remote profile transparent to the end-user.
The advantages of FSLogix are even stronger when you combine it with Azure NetApp Files. I’ve already discussed how Azure NetApp Files’ built-in Snapshot copies and recovery functionality can help protect profile data. Placing the FSLogix VHDx on Azure NetApp Files extends this protection to the profile partition. However, file protection is not the only advantage of combining both services. Azure NetApp Files also provides increased access speed to its shares, accelerating both login times and the loading of FSLogix partition files. In testing, one of our partners found that combining FSLogix with Azure NetApp Files produced a 29% decrease in login time.
3 -- Simplifying Deployment with Azure Native Services
The final improvement to WVD provided by other Azure native services has less to do with users and more to do with administration. You need to make sure that when you move from an on-premises solution to a virtual desktop solution, you simplify the deployment. This simplicity is particularly important when moving large numbers of desktops to a WVD solution. Simplifying implementations includes things like leveraging existing SMB support and the native NTFS access control list (ACLS) to bring legacy applications into the Cloud. By leveraging Azure NetApp Files, you can maintain your ACLS in the Azure storage and take advantage of the simplified management and security features.
Most importantly, because both Azure NetApp Files and FSLogix are native Azure services, they are provided under your existing agreement (such as Enterprise Agreement or Cloud Solution Provider agreement). There are no other third-party licenses required and, therefore, no additional cost. Also, Microsoft will provide end-to-end support for the full WVD/FSLogix/Azure NetApp Files solution, which is invaluable if you plan to adopt a WVD solution enterprise-wide and are looking to mitigate risk with Premier support.
As you can see, while WVD by itself is only the core of your virtual desktop solution, Microsoft Azure includes the correct native services to satisfy all users.