No one can deny that, for years, Amazon Web Services has dominated the public cloud market. If you need a service in the cloud – storage, backup, compute, DevOps, you name it – AWS has a service for you. But, while Amazon Workspaces provides a baseline for VDI in the public cloud, I’ve neither seen nor heard a stampede of organizations rushing to put their desktop workloads in the cloud. Why is that?
The initial stigma against desktops in the public cloud
I’ll eventually get around to praising Microsoft Azure, but first let’s point a finger directly at Microsoft licensing. Historically, Microsoft licensing required you to host Windows Server operating systems in the public cloud. You were then well within your rights to assign public cloud instances running a Windows Server OS to a single user and pretend it’s their desktop. That solution wasn’t necessarily an easy sell.
And, as is typical with any new idea or technology, we try to wedge it into every work flow we possibly can. “Put your desktops in the cloud! All your desktops! Every last one!” But, truthfully, not every workload is meant to be in the cloud, and trying to use it as an all-or-none solution, often leads to none.
How the conversation has changed
As the public cloud has matured, so has our idea of how to use it. As depicted in a recent RightScale survey, organizations now consider the public cloud as part of their hybrid cloud initiative, and it helps that they now have more than one cloud to choose from.
How does this effect hosting desktops in the public cloud? Well, as we’ve learned more about where the public cloud excels, we’ve learned what desktop workloads make sense to live there. We’ve learned more about how our users want to work, what applications work well in public cloud environments, and even that a Windows Server OS can be made to look like a desktop OS.
We’ve changed the conversation from “put all my desktop in the cloud!” to “how do I best leverage the cloud to allow me to scale quickly and easily, save time and money, and keep my users happy and productive?”
Why Microsoft Azure?
Generally, any public cloud allows you to scale your environment faster than if you had to purchase actual hardware, and any public cloud charges you just for the compute you use. So, why does Microsoft Azure fit particularly well into our new conversation about hosting desktops?
First, not only is Azure gaining on AWS, it excels in places where AWS doesn’t. If you’re already a Microsoft shop, Azure provides continuity and integration with the tools and applications you already use. Beyond that, Azure is uniquely suited for certain user workflows.
One in particular is applications that require high-performance graphics. The Azure NC and NV based instances provide the power required by engineers, designers, and other users who run graphics-intense applications. These applications tend to be pricey, and installing them on a user’s private workstation leaves that license underutilized. You may consider installing these applications on a shared workstation in your data center, however, that leaves remote users without access.
By hosting graphics-intense applications in Azure, users benefit from anywhere access to a shared resource. Your organization benefits from lower costs, as you save money not only by sharing the resource, but by deallocating the instance when not in use to reduce hourly compute costs.
Then, there’s Windows 10. Late in 2016, Microsoft and Citrix unveiled plans for a solution that allows organizations to host Windows 10 in Azure, legally. The key is on the Microsoft side of the conversation, where there are plans to support Windows 10 Enterprise Current Branch for Business on Azure for qualified Microsoft Software Assurance/Enterprise Agreement customers. With the Windows desktop operating system license worked out, you can host Windows 10 on Azure and build a VDI environment using any tool you choose!
The public cloud is here to stay, and learning how to leverage it is in an organization’s best interest. DevOps, backups, file storage and the other typical uses for the cloud have a new neighbor. VDI in Azure may be the next big thing!