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VDI on Azure

Azure Remote Desktop Services and WVD: Which is Right for You?

What is Azure Remote Desktop Services?

Azure Remote Desktop Services (RDS) is a VDI solution on Azure, which provides secure access to virtualized applications and desktops. RDS lets end users access their applications and desktops remotely on the cloud, via mobile and desktop devices.

RDS is a legacy service, which is being replaced by the newer Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) technology, also offered on Azure. In this article we explain how RDS works, the difference between RDS and WVD, and how to decide if you should make the move.

In this article, you will learn:

 How Azure Remote Desktop Services Works

RDS offers several deployment options, including Windows Server 2016 for on-premises deployment, Microsoft Azure for cloud deployment, and other partner solutions.

Depending on your environment and configuration, you can configure an RDS solution with one or both of the following:

  • Session-based virtualization—uses the computing power of a Windows Server instance to provide a cost-effective multi-session environment for user workloads. However users need to work in an unfamiliar Windows Server UI.
  • VDI—uses a Windows client to provide high performance, application compatibility, and a familiar Windows desktop environment. 

Virtualized environments can be published to users in one of two models:

  • Desktop—provides users with a complete desktop environment, letting them install and manage a wide variety of applications. It is ideal for users who use the remote desktop as a primary workstation, or for services like thin clients.
  • RemoteApps—specifies a single application that is hosted in a virtual machine, but runs on the user's desktop as a local application. The application has its own taskbar items, which can be resized and moved between monitors. Ideal for deploying and managing mission-critical applications in a secure remote environment, while allowing users to work on and customize the application from their desktop. 

Azure RDS Components

IT departments can implement remote desktop services using various Windows Server instances that perform different roles:

  • Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH)—the primary unit for hosting Windows desktops and applications. RDSH includes a session-based sharing feature that allows multiple users to access Windows Server desktops and applications simultaneously.
  • Other infrastructure components—Remote Desktop (RD) Gateway, Remote Desktop Licensing, Remote Desktop Web Access, and Remote Desktop Connection Broker, all deployed using Windows Server instances.
  • Remote desktop clients—RDS supports Windows, Apple macOS, Apple iOS, Android, and HTML5.

How Does RDS Compare to the Newer Azure Technology, Windows Virtual Desktop?

RDS is nearing its end of life, and Microsoft has launched a new desktop virtualization technology, Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD). Let’s see the key differences between the legacy service and the new service.


The main obstacle faced by older Microsoft desktop virtualization technologies, including RDS, was licensing complexity.

When using RDS, operators need to license the server operating system (for example, Windows Server 2016 or 2019), the RDS feature of the operating system, and a version of Microsoft Office (which is typically part of the desktop deployment).

The problem is that the server operating system is licensed per core, while RDS Client Access License (CAL) is a per-user license, and Office is provided via Office 365 subscriptions. Organizations found it was complex and expensive to integrate all these components and maintain them over time.

WVD fixes this problem. There is no need for an operating system, RDS, or Office license. Virtual desktops running Windows 10 on Office Cloud only require a separate subscription to Microsoft 365 (Business Edition, E3, E5, A3, etc.) or Windows 10 Enterprise Edition. Everything else is built in. WVD becomes a free add-on to your existing Office 365 membership, resulting in significant savings in licensing costs.

Related content: read our guide to Azure VDI pricing

Desktop Operating System

RDS requires that service providers use the Windows Server operating system to take advantage of multi-user functionality. This reduces the cost per user of the infrastructure, but it also forces all users to use a server operating system with a so-called "Windows 10 desktop environment". It is not exactly the same as a Windows 10 desktop users are familiar with. This leads to application compatibility and user experience issues.

Microsoft has now released Windows 10 multisession, a new operating system designed specifically for WVD. This allows many users to use virtual machines or groups of virtual machines to conduct virtual desktop sessions on the popular Windows 10 operating system. In this way, you can improve the end-user experience while maintaining a multi-session model with the same cost per user.

Control Plane

When using RDS, the operator not only runs and manages desktop virtual machines, but also infrastructure components such as the Remote Desktop Gateway, Web Access and License servers. These components enable users to connect, determine where their virtual desktop is located, and place it on the required VM. This requires additional server infrastructure and ongoing management (monitoring, patching, and so on).

WVD does not require management of infrastructure components. Microsoft is responsible for WVD as a managed service hosted on Azure. All users install a reverse connection agent, avoiding the need to open firewall ports. As soon as a user connects to the system, they connect to the control plane, undergo authentication, and are immediately routed to the desktop they are eligible for. This reduces the significant cost of hardware and maintenance for the legacy infrastructure components.

User Profiles

User profiles are a major problem in RDS. Technologies such as User Profile Disk (UPD) and Roaming Profiles led to a poor user experience, due to limitations such no support for Outlook search capabilities, OneDrive On-Demand files, and other features in different Microsoft products. These issues prevented many users from adopting virtual desktops.

WVD eliminates user profile issues to a great extent. Microsoft purchased a technology called FSLogix Profile Container that addresses these limitations and enables native features of Windows 10, Office, and OneDrive to run natively in a multi-user virtual desktop environment.

WVD vs. RDS: How to Choose

There are several factors to consider when deciding whether to move from RDS to WVD.

For many, RDS technology has evolved over time and is known and tested. RDS is not perfect, but it works well because it can be used as a hosted desktop solution and replace other, high cost technologies such as Citrix.

You can continue to use RDS in Azure for the following reasons:

  • More control—RDS is an easy-to-understand, market-proven solution
  • Full ownership—RDS allows you to retain ownership of your desktop virtual machine (virtual machine) and the control plane
  • Applications built for RDS—if you built applications to work with multisession RDS, they will not be compatible with WVD, which is based on the new Windows 10 Enterprise multisession.

Conversely, WVD may be more attractive for the following reasons:

  • Fully managed—no need to manage infrastructure, WVD is a managed service fully managed and controlled by Azure.
  • Better user experience—a new and updated native desktop operating system with an authentic Windows 10 experience.
  • New user profile technology—based on FSLogix, which improves profile stability, allowing you to maintain the presence of user bookmarks, shortcuts, and the Windows Start menu.
  • Search indexing—WVD supports OneDrive search on virtualized desktops. 

NetApp Virtual Desktop Service for Azure

If you need a virtual desktop solution on Microsoft Azure, NetApp provides the Virtual Desktop Service (VDS), a global control plane for virtual desktop management that functions as an extension of the cloud. Virtual Desktop Service addresses the challenges and inefficiencies facing most organizations when managing legacy virtual desktop solutions, including:

  • High costs involved in manually configuring individual workspaces
  • Lack of agility when provisioning resources and applying policy changes across large numbers of workspaces
  • Complexity of managing the VDI stack across users, applications and devices
  • Difficult to scale workloads across a multicloud environment to accommodate growth in virtual desktop users

NetApp VDS solves these challenges by automatically provisioning, deploying, managing, and optimizing virtual desktops in any cloud environment. It extends your cloud capabilities by delivering a global control plane to manage virtual desktops through all phases of the desktop lifecycle.

Virtual Desktop Service supports Remote Desktop Services (RDS) on major public cloud environments including Microsoft Azure, as well as on-premise environments, with native support for Microsoft's Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) solution.

In addition, NetApp’s intelligent Global File Cache creates a software fabric that caches “active data” sets in distributed offices globally. As a result, business users are guaranteed transparent data access and optimal performance on a global scale.

Global File Cache deploys transparently on a Microsoft Windows Server instance, meaning that enterprises can consolidate local storage and embed services like Microsoft Active Directory, DNS/DHCP, DNS, DFS Namespaces, and SCCM software distribution in their unified IT infrastructure.

Learn more about NetApp Virtual Desktop Service

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