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The days when employees had to be in the office to collaborate effectively are well and truly gone.
Now remote and hybrid working are commonplace, businesses are increasingly looking to cloud services to lower IT costs, improve productivity and increase security. One of the most promising solutions is “virtual desktop infrastructure” or VDI for short.
And one of the leading VDI providers is Azure Virtual Desktop.
But what exactly is it? And how does it work?
We explain Azure Virtual Desktop in simple terms, looking at key capabilities as well as the pros and cons of implementing this tech in your business.
What is Azure Virtual Desktop? A Brief Overview.
Let’s start with what a virtual desktop is…
A virtual desktop lets you access all your data, apps and documents from any device – as long as you’re connected to the internet.
The tech relies on cloud technology. Cloud providers (companies like Amazon, Google and Microsoft) have data centres around the world storing information. They’re very secure and host massive amounts of data – the data you access with a virtual desktop.
Think of it like your favourite streaming service.
With Netflix or Spotify (for instance), you don’t store all the TV shows, movies and songs on your device. Instead, you access whatever media you want, whenever you need it, through your account and an internet connection.
Well, Azure Virtual Desktop works in a similar way. Instead of storage and computing capabilities based on a physical device, you can access Windows resources (and all your personal files) wherever you are. You just need internet access and the Azure portal. That’s it!
What can you do with Azure Virtual Desktop?
Azure Virtual Desktop provides the full Windows desktop experience (just like the computer at your desk) through the cloud. You’ll get access to Microsoft 365 apps (things like Microsoft Word, Outlook, Excel and PowerPoint), no matter what device you’re on. This means you can access all your work apps, personal documents, emails and data in a secure environment.
Azure Virtual Desktop also lets multiple team members join a Windows session at once. This “pooled multi-session use” helps businesses save money as you don’t need to run as many virtual machines or physical operating systems. The Azure subscription is scalable and “pay per use”, so as many (or as few) people can use as many (or as few) services as needed!
With this flexible approach.
you can create individual app groups for different sets of users. A graphic design team (for example) will have different needs compared with finance or HR departments. If you’ve got staff working across multiple roles, this is simple too. You can assign users to multiple app groups, as and when needed.
For IT admins.
Azure Virtual Desktop lets you run and manage desktops through one unified experience – saving time and money. Instead of physically working on computers around the office, it’s easy to use built-in diagnostics and troubleshooting tools to understand configuration problems or common user errors.
Just some of the key capabilities are:
- Access a full desktop experience on any device you choose.
- Multiple team members can join Windows sessions at once.
- Scalable and “pay per use” subscriptions, giving extra flexibility.
- Create different app groups for different users and job roles.
- Run and manage virtual desktops through one unified experience.
- Built-in diagnostics and troubleshooting tools to understand errors.
To understand Azure Virtual Desktop and its key capabilities in more detail, Microsoft has a short introductory video and FAQ site. There are also plenty of tips and tricks as well as longer video guides for getting started.
Azure Virtual Desktop: Advantages.
- Hybrid working: Flexible working is the norm for today’s forward-looking businesses. With Azure Virtual Desktop, employees can access all their data and apps from absolutely anywhere. At home? Abroad? In a coffee shop? No problems. Everything’s accessible within a secure framework that minimises security risks.
- Use any device: Because Azure Virtual Desktop doesn’t depend on physical devices, you can use absolutely any device that suits you best (think mobile, tablets, laptops… whatever’s nearby) to gain access. Users connect to their Windows desktops either through an app or the Azure Virtual Desktop web client. This means it’s the same user experience no matter what device you’re on.
- Remote management: With “traditional” desktops, you have to manage updates, configurations and troubleshoot problems on each device. But with a virtual desktop, this is all done remotely through one unified system.
- No need for replacements: We all know how expensive and time-consuming updating IT infrastructure can be. But with Azure Virtual Desktop, you can wave goodbye to managing anything other than the virtual machines in your Azure subscription.
- Heightened security: Azure Virtual Desktop is highly secure. There are 160 Azure data centres in 60 countries around the world, meaning your work is always safe. What’s more, end users can’t change configurations, install or update apps without an admin login. This limits possibilities for viruses and errors – and the time and money spent on fixes.
- Cost-effective: Microsoft currently offers a 12-month free Azure trial, which is great for testing whether it’s right for your business. After this, there’s a pay-as-you-go model, so you’re not tied into lengthy contracts. Once businesses are on a paid plan, there’s a certain amount of free services (and you can also use existing, eligible licences). After that, you just pay for what you use. No wastage, no fuss.
- Flexibility and scalability: If your business grows, shrinks or adapts, you can create (or remove) virtual desktops within minutes as well as manage user groups simply and easily.
Azure Virtual Desktop: Disadvantages.
- IT management: To successfully implement and run Azure Virtual Desktop, you’ll need the help of skilled IT professionals. Although outsourcing is a sensible option for most companies, this could be a stumbling block for some small businesses.
- Ongoing costs: Compared with physical IT infrastructure, Azure Virtual Desktop can be very cost-effective. Even so, factor in deployment costs (both in terms of tech and human resources getting things set up) as well as the ongoing subscription and training staff to use it.
- Internet connection: If you’re using Azure Virtual Desktop, you’re dependent on an internet connection for full access to your data and apps. If your internet isn’t dependable, this could be a major issue.
- Operating speeds: If your business uses intensive applications (things like graphic design or video editing tools, for example), there’s the potential for delays and lags impacting work. If you’re trialling Azure, check your colleagues can perform their daily duties without any difficulties.
- Cyber-attacks: Large cloud-based providers can be targets for hackers. It’s unlikely, but if their operations go down, your IT capabilities go too. Of course, viruses and phishing attacks are a risk with physical devices (usually a far greater risk) – so whatever IT solutions you choose, security should be top of the agenda.