Windows 10 and VDI: Time to Rethink Your Desktop Strategy

A Highlight of First-Year Milestones and New Innovations on the Way

Rick Sabarese

Unlike versions past, Windows 10 is being touted for many things – from new mobile device management (MDM) and data protection features to helping enterprises better handle BYOD to across-the-board usability enhancements, including a major tweak to the Start menu and the addition of Cortana, Microsoft’s popular digital assistant.

Yet an underplayed, but equally compelling reason to consider this major operating system upgrade is the opportunity to recast the traditional enterprise desktop strategy with virtualization. While Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) or third-party hosting providers providing desktop virtualization services are certainly no stranger to the enterprise, Microsoft’s prior licensing schemes and long-standing network bandwidth deficiencies have prevented many IT shops from taking the plunge.

Today, however, serious advances in WAN optimization have put a lot of the latency and bandwidth issues to rest. More importantly, Windows 10 finally addresses some of the pesky user licensing hurdles, clearing a path for organizations to move forward with desktop virtualization – perhaps as the trigger for an enterprise OS refresh. The ability to roll out a uniform desktop – both operating system and applications – with a couple of mouse clicks frees IT from the headaches and manual labor of having to support multiple local Windows images and delivers a consistent experience to users across myriad device types.

Historically, Microsoft licensing terms, which are on a per-device basis, have been at odds with a desktop virtualization strategy, and often result in unexpected costs since employees routinely juggle multiple devices at work. With Windows 10, Microsoft has softened its enterprise licensing terms to support a more straightforward, per-user model – a sought-after change that promises to streamline licensing and help IT more accurately predict overall licensing costs.

While Windows 10 is a far more VDI-friendly environment for the enterprise, Microsoft still hasn’t loosened the terms for third-party providers to offer Windows Desktop-as-a-Service. Just like with earlier versions, third-party providers are still bound by the Microsoft Services Provider License Agreement (SPLA) and must use Windows Server-based licensing for the virtual desktop products, which can add to the cost for customers.

For enterprises considering Windows 10 as a springboard for VDI, experts recommend the following:

1. Take a crash course in Microsoft licensing.

Microsoft’s rules for running Windows on a virtual desktop are particularly hard to decipher, even with the changes made with Windows 10. IT needs to get up to speed on all of the options, potentially enlisting third-party specialists to help navigate the choices and home in on the best licensing plan.

2. Invest in Microsoft Software Assurance (SA).

This add-on license seems to be the key to unlocking virtualization. The license gives Windows desktop customers access to technical support and training vouchers, but the ticket for virtualization lies with home-use rights. Worth noting is that SA requires customers to pay a percentage of the license price upfront to ensure companies are eligible for future upgrades.

3. Avoid a big-bang deployment.

To prevent any kind of major service disruption, experts advise rolling out VDI in stages. That way, IT can gather the appropriate performance and resource metrics that will ensure success prior to full-scale deployment.

4. Don’t overlook security.

IT needs to be on top of implementing both strong endpoint security to discourage users from making changes at the local level as well as central security measures that establish restrictions based on roles and policies. Formalized training programs to acquaint users with these new security policies as well as with the other practices related to desktop virtualization will go a long way in ensuring deployment success.

Companies at a fork in the road with desktop virtualization may have found the right path with Windows 10.