World waits to see what it means.
Microsoft have almost always done virtual desktops, well, published desktops at any rate. So, why, since its announcement at last year’s Microsoft Ignite Conference, has Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) generated such interest? Last week, it was finally released as a public beta, so now we can validate whether WVD is aimed at small and medium businesses or can really compete in the Enterprise space.
Cloud desktop adoption is growing as organisations move more applications out of their datacentres and increase their consumption of SaaS, thus reducing the need to site resources locally. The attraction of the ability to deliver a disaster recovery platform without investing in ageing hardware is a compelling one. Similarly, the ability to deliver any virtualised desktop platform without paying for compute upfront removes a barrier to adoption. So far, VMware and Citrix’s Cloud desktop offerings have tried to remain platform agnostic, so can Microsoft make a success of an offering that limits you to only Azure? Here at four features that may convince you.
If you’re a Microsoft 365 E3/E5, Windows E3/E5 or M365 Business/F1 you are already licensed for it. You will, of course, still need to pay for your Azure VMs and any supporting solutions, but it removes the need for the additional cost of desktop virtualisation licensing.
- Windows 7 support
It should come as no surprise to any of you that Windows 7 goes EOL in January 2020. If you haven’t migrated all your desktops to Windows 10 and wish to remain supported, you are going to have to pay for that extended support unless you migrate those Windows 7 desktops to Azure. With WVD you will continue to receive security patches for the full three-year term, if needed, at no cost.
- Windows 10 multi-user support
Windows 10 multi-user is a feature of Azure, rather than WVD specifically, and will come with native Office 365 support. The expectation is that providing a session-based desktop on a client OS will give greater application compatibility, better GPU integration, and an improved user experience than you get with on a server OS. It also gives you an alternative solution for when support for Office 365 is dropped from Windows Server 2019.
- Office 365 support optimisation
Through Microsoft’s acquisition of FSLogix, WVD offers support for Office 365 in non-persistent desktops through their layering technology. This means you can deliver your desktops in the most cost-effective way while maintaining user experience and performance.
So, this is great, WVD will replace the need for additional licensing from Citrix and VMware? Well, don’t forget Microsoft has always delivered basic services in this area and other vendors have enhanced that functionality for people that needed it. So, is WVD any different? At present, Citrix can sell WVD (there’s a whole other discussion here…) and intend to offer Citrix DaaS as an enhancement but what that means isn’t clear. VMware have yet to make any announcement but continue to develop their own Azure offering to rival Horizon Cloud on AWS.
The Microsoft of today is all about agility. WVD is only at the public beta stage, over the coming weeks and months, we’ll see the product rapidly mature I’m sure. But, and it’s a big but, do you want to put everything into Azure? Every customer I talk to has a multi-cloud strategy. Even those that have gone heavily into Azure are transforming their applications to microservices and containers to simplify their portability. Perhaps Microsoft will look to use Azure Stack to extend their functionality to on-prem. They are unlikely, however, to ever allow you to run workloads in other Clouds. In the past Microsoft had little incentive to make massive investments in RDS because every Citrix or VMware license pulled through a Windows one. Now though, those investments are going to drive Azure consumption. Citrix and VMware both have mature virtualisation solutions that offer flexibility as well as wider desktop portfolios, but will it be enough to fight of this new competition?
If you are looking at a tactical desktop virtualisation project and/or you have decided that Azure is the platform for you, WVD needs to be considered. Let’s not forget that this solution hasn’t even been released yet, but Computacenter are certainly investing time to understand what it means for us and what it will mean for our customers.
Hands up who has departments that depend on Zoho Invoice, Eclipse Manager or Diagram Painte? Okay I’ve picked some of the more random business applications available in the Microsoft Store for Business, but I’ve not had to leave the home page to do so. Other than the Microsoft applications and a couple of offerings from Citrix there isn’t much there you’d recognise. Because of this the Windows App Store has not so far been a focus for enterprise organisations, but could that be changing?
Microsoft’s attempt to modernise how we install and deliver Windows applications has failed to impress. Continuum was meant to deliver universal applications to run across the entire Microsoft ecosystem, but as good an idea as it was, the developers never came and, so, neither did the apps. That led to the end of Windows phone, while doing nothing to improve the dearth of business content in the Microsoft Store. Terry Myerson, Vice President of Operating Systems at Microsoft in 2015 said “tool kits will allow developers to bring their code for iOS, Android, the Web, .NET, and Win32 to the Windows Store with minimal code modifications. Our goal is to make Windows 10 the most attractive development platform ever”. Apple and Google have their own app stores though and the benefits of moving away from ‘how we’d always done it’ weren’t compelling enough. Windows Desktop Bridge was the last initiative to invigorate the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) and so the Microsoft App Store. This time the focus was on migrating 32-bit MSI (so just Windows) packages to APPX (Universal) ones. However, to gain all the benefits of UWP additional development is required and that is a barrier to organisations adopting it. In 2017 Microsoft released the MSIX package format to replace MSI, APPV and APPX extensions and get around this problem. MSIX has all the features of UWP with more container security options and extra application customisations. To further aid the adoption of the new standard, Microsoft open sourced the entire project on GitHub. MSIX is still in its infancy and has only just gained support in Windows 10 1809. The current format does not support driver installation, Windows service installation or modification, kernel or Explorer modification. Having said that the promise is very much in line with the messaging around Modern Management and the continued consumerisation of the Windows desktop. The abstraction of applications from the OS increases the ease at which feature updates can be deployed and offers the self-service experience users now expect.
The previous lack of a cohesive application strategy has held back the promise of a Windows App Store resulting in the chicken and egg problem: if Microsoft can entice software developers to take up the MSIX format people will use the app store, if people use the app store software developers will develop apps for it. The concept is a seismic shift away from how we Windows applications are delivered. but then Windows 10 demands we consider applications in an entirely different way. As we change the way we manage Windows, so ISVs are having to change the way they develop software to keep up with the moving target that Microsoft is presenting. This ability to distribute software across the globe, through a store, with their latest supported versions immediately available to users as soon as they update Windows is hugely appealing for all concerned.
Whatever platforms and initiatives Microsoft invent they are completely beholden to the developer community and the behaviour of users. A consistent message will go a long way to helping them. The hope is obviously to replicate the consumer experience we take for granted with application update notifications. However, other platforms may not have 30 years of legacy applications to contend with. Business-critical, internally developed applications needing extensive user testing before release, will always be treated differently but ‘Evergreen’ is changing application testing. You aren’t going to test 3,000 apps every six months, so which ones do you really care about? Which will you test proactively and which reactively? The drive to modernise applications continues at pace but plenty of legacy remains that could be adapted to be delivered from a Windows App Store. For now though, we’ll have to wait and see what the uptake of MSIX is, both with the software vendors and internal packagers.
Based on the organisations I speak to, we’ve reached roughly a 50/50 split between SaaS and traditional ones. If we assume that the easy ones get transformed first we’re now into the long Microsoft tail of applications we still have to deploy out to colleagues. To do this we need new solutions and MSIX seems to enable this. Does MSIX spell the end of App-V? Probably. Does this mean the reality of a Business App Store is upon us? Possibly. The demand for, and expectation of, a Windows App Store is certainly there, we just need the applications. Of course, you could be one of the 16 people worldwide who use Zoho Invoice in which case you’re already living the dream.
With the imminent approach of the end of support of Windows XP (April 2014), questions on many customers’ minds include “can’t we just stay on Windows XP?” or” Can we just pay Microsoft some money to extend my support to mitigate my risks?” Both of these questions have been asked of me in the last two weeks. Having just had sight of the magnitude of costs involved for extending Windows XP support, let’s explore both of those questions and the extended support costs.
The move to Windows 7 or Windows 8 away from Window XP is an emotive decision for many customers. They can often feel forced to migrate and can struggle to identify the material benefit of migration. This is certainly true in terms of pure direct cost savings against the cost of transformation. But fiscal benefit is of course completely separate to improving the experience of users and the material improvements in functionality and supportability which Windows 7 or 8 bring. So are Microsoft unreasonable in wanting to move on and force their customer base to migrate?
Windows XP was released in September 2001 therefore By the time Windows XP becomes end of life (EOL), it will have been a supported product for 12.5 years. Usually Microsoft only support a product for 10 years, and they would argue (with some justification) that they’ve gone the extra mile with Windows XP support already. The main reason Microsoft remove support of a product though is because of the costs involved in having to support so many platforms and retrofit those platforms to accommodate new products and technologies.
Microsoft release new versions of products every 3 years, (a situation caused by EA agreements and software assurance rights) and so for Microsoft to have teams that support so many platforms (currently Windows XP, Vista, 7 & 8) it inevitably becomes commercially unviable. I also wonder (* Car Analogy Klaxon *) how many of us drive cars even 5 years old, never mind 12 years old? Yet we might consider running our business on software and technology that was developed over 10 years ago?
If you’re a customer considering staying on Windows XP, why move? Inevitably, the eco system around Windows XP platforms will close. Your organisation will be forced to change in time. Software vendors (for the same reasons as Microsoft), want to call time on older, legacy versions of their products too. Hardware vendors (and it’s already happening), will not provide drivers and downgrade rights to older versions of operating systems on newer equipment.
All that new equipment you were thinking of buying in the next year or so but downgrading to Windows XP probably won’t be able to run Windows XP. Also, it should considered that whilst it might be possible to sweat an asset for an indefinite period of time, (until it fails) at some point support and maintenance of really old equipment actually starts to cost your business more. Effectively you’ll be paying more for support, to stay still technologically, whilst your competition embrace modern workplace working practices.
So, you’re thinking about taking a custom support agreement (Microsoft jargon for extended support)? Well, if you’re an enterprise organisation, you’re going to be looking at 7 figures minimum per year, (and I’ve seen a customer that’s been offered 3 year extended support for an 8 figure sum). There will be also be additional costs for customers who request hotfixes and security patches as well.
All good things come to an end. Windows XP has served the business world well, but inevitably technology vendors improve and enhance their technologies based on feedback and requirements from their customers.
Whilst it might be possible to put off the inevitable for a short period, the reality is that moving from Windows XP must happen at some point in time. My recommendation to any customer would be start planning to migrate off Windows XP if you haven’t already and consider using that contingency/extended support fund you would have used to stay on Windows XP and get on with the business of migrating. Migrating any volume of users before the EOL date of Windows XP has to be better than none.
…..and finally, if you have to make a change, make it a good one. There are many benefits and opportunities available to your business in moving to a new platform, make sure you understand what they are and communicate them. Show your user community that this change is a positive one for the business.