Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) is available as a tech preview for a few months now, and remains a hot topic within the EUC community. The reception of WVD was overwhelming and many experts are excited about this new solution.That said, there are a lot of unknowns about its future and how it will impact Citrix in the desktop virtualization field. Let’s find out what it is and what it means for Citrix!

Let’s recap: What is Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD)?

There’s a lot of talk about WVD as of late, some of which are now misleading after we’ve learned more about its scope in recent weeks. Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop is an out-of-the-box and automated Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) cloud control plane hosted in Azure. WVD replaces the awful Azure RemoteApp (ARA) and is based on the never released RDmi. (So you could call it RDmi 2.0, but WVD sounds much better, right?) Compared to ARA, Windows Virtual Desktop is built natively for the cloud to virtualize and deliver business applications and desktops.

WVD infrastructure comprises the following:

  • Web interface: RDweb (rdweb.wvd.microsoft.com)
  • Gateway
  • Broker (rdbroker.wvd.microsoft.com)
  • And also Diagnostics & Licensing

All components are distributed and provided as a service in Azure, and leverage the benefits of the cloud platform such as load balancing, geolocation, etc. There’s no need to deploy and maintain any on-premises infrastructure, and everything is managed by Microsoft and delivered for FREE to F1, 365 E3, and E5 customers.

I repeat: customers will not pay for WVD infrastructure. They will pay for the compute of the virtual machines, network, and storage, but the infrastructure components are essentially free.

See the connection flow below:

  • User launches RDclient or connect to RDweb, which connects to Azure AD
  • User signs in, and Azure AD returns token
  • RDclient presents token to RDweb, RDbroker queries DB to determine resources authorized for user
  • User selects resource
  • RDbroker send RDP file (name of the gateway, UID tenants, etc)
  • RDclient connects to RDgateway
  • RDbroker orchestrates reverse connection from VM agent to RDgateway

Microsoft WVD is not an innovation by itself, as many vendors (including Citrix) are already delivering the same thing. The real change is that It’s the first solution that allows multi-session with Windows 10.

Windows 10 Enterprise Virtual Desktops (EVD)

At the same time as WVD, Microsoft released a preview of Windows 10 Enterprise for Virtual Desktops or EVD (multi-user) which is part of its Windows-As-a-Service (WaaS) strategy. This is the only Windows client version that supports multiple users at the same time and it is only available on Microsoft Azure (at least for now).

While Microsoft WVD can only be delivered by Microsoft itself, Windows 10 EVD can be delivered by any solution, including Citrix Workspace. The only rule is that the virtual machines where Windows 10 Enterprise Virtual Desktop is installed must be hosted on Microsoft Azure.

Up until now, the only way to do multi-user was to deploy Windows Server with RDSH installed and enable Desktop Experience to make it look like Windows client OS. While server and desktop operating systems are very similar, there are been issues with having desktop apps working on server OS.

The goal of Microsoft is to simultaneously move RDSH customers from Windows Server to Windows 10 and cash in with Azure. A major difference in the implementation is that RDSH is implemented in the kernel of server OS, but is only running in user-mode for the new multi-user Windows 10.

WVD is also the only way to get extended support for Windows 7 for three more years after 2020, but again, only on Azure.

To summarize, Windows Virtual Desktop supports the following operating systems:

  • Windows Server 2012 R2, 2016, 2019
  • Windows 10 VDI
  • Windows 7 (Azure only after 2020)
  • Windows 10 EVD (new Multi-User in Azure only)

Templates (without optimizations) can be found in the Azure marketplace for W10 EVD with and without Office 365 Pro Plus and 2016 and more will be added soon.  Regarding profiles, Fslogix profile containers with Azure Files will be the only supported profile management allowed with Windows Virtual Desktops. For applications, MSIX AppAttach will be the way to go.

WVD supports virtual desktops and virtual apps over the RDP protocol. An agent needs to be installed on the virtual machines to communicate with the WVD infrastructure.
Note: Reverse communication from the virtual machines to the broker for registration (over the internet) with a registration key.

Right now, all administration tasks are either done in PowerShell or within the Azure UI. Microsoft is working on a dedicated WVD management portal.

By now you probably understand that the goal of Microsoft is to bring more compute to Azure and increase its recurring revenue.

Most of us in the community believe that Microsoft cannot keep Windows 10 EVD (multi-user) an Azure exclusively, and that to succeed with WVD, Microsoft will have to make it available on-premises. Microsoft has hinted multiple times that this could happen, but at this time the official statement is that Windows 10 EVD is Azure only.

What does WVD mean for Citrix?

Back in 2016, Microsoft deprecated Azure Remote App and directed customers to purchase Citrix XenDesktop/XenApp Essentials via Azure Marketplace. These offerings were slightly different versions of XenApp and XenDesktop Service, and allowed users to access Windows 10 Enterprise virtual desktops on Azure for $12/user per month (Azure compute not included). This move left the door open for Citrix to be even more dominant in the Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) space, although they never really took off.

Today, Microsoft is actually following in the footsteps of Citrix by building its own control plane hosted in Azure. Both companies understand that building and maintaining VDI infrastructure on-premises is a lot of work, as its requires a lot of components. And that changes everything.

So what are WVD and Windows 10 EVD going to change for Citrix?

Probably not much. The first thing that is happening right now in preview is that Citrix added Windows 10 EVD (multi-user) to its supported operating system. Customers are able to create multi-user catalogs and delivery groups with that new OS on Azure from the Citrix Cloud control plane. This will most likely even be available from the Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops hosted on-premises in a near future.

Note: at this time you need to configure the machine catalog for Server OS but we can assume that in the future, the new option for Multi-user Desktop OS will appear here.

You can now download the Citrix and Windows Virtual Desktop Public Preview Guide for step-by-step instructions on configuring Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops service with the new multi-session Windows 10 entitlement of Windows Virtual Desktop Public Preview.

By doing this, Windows 10 EVD desktops will be aggregated in Citrix Workspace the same way as other resources.

Unfortunately because Microsoft licensing, you can only test Windows 10 EVD in Azure as you are not be allowed to do the same on-premises.

Regarding Windows Virtual Desktop, it is built as an alternative to Citrix and could compete with Citrix Cloud Virtual Apps and Desktop Service at some point. It may not be a viable competitor for a while, though, as most of the features are only available in PowerShell CLI, and because Microsoft is struggling with the performances of Windows 10 multi-user. Citrix with HDX has a far better protocol than RDP. However, RDP is good enough for 95% of the use cases and it is expected for protocols to become less relevant in the future as the capabilities gap between them is quickly shrinking.

So, is Microsoft really competing with Citrix now?

At this stage, not really, Citrix Cloud control plane is still far ahead in terms of user interface and features, and Citrix has much more experience in desktop virtualization than anyone else. But let’s face it, some customers do not need advanced features, and Windows Virtual Desktop could be a great fit for them.

As mentioned earlier, Microsoft is building WVD with a global architecture mindset. They are creating all WVD components in a distributed way even if for now the control plane is only available in East US-2 in the preview phase. That could a great advantage over Citrix Cloud where it is still not straightforward when you have workloads in multiple regions. The load balancing is configured at the control plane level.

Depending on how successful WVD is, Microsoft could decide to invest even more in this solution to bring advanced features to the table and even remove the artificial cloud-only limitation. This could be a real threat to Citrix desktops and apps virtualization business in the long run.

Citrix Managed Desktops Service

We discussed earlier that Citrix will aggregate Windows 10 EVD (multi-user) in Citrix Workspace via CVAD. But that’s not the only way Citrix plans to integrate the new multi-user OS.
Citrix announced Citrix Managed Desktops (CMD) Service on March 20, 2019, their upcoming full end-to-end DaaS offering. They mistakenly marketed CMD Service as an extension of Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) which is inaccurate and confusing. Let’s see why!

The first thing to keep in mind is that Citrix cannot leverage Microsoft WVD infrastructure for the CMD Service. Why? Because it is by design, WVD infrastructure can only be used by Microsoft and they have not announced anything to allow partners to leverage it.

The reality is that we don’t know much about this new offering. Back in March 2019, Citrix only talked briefly about it by mentioning that it’d be a full end-to-end DaaS solution that would allow users to easily deploy Microsoft operating systems including Windows 10 EVD (multi-user) on Azure from the Citrix Cloud control plane. This solution will include Citrix signature HDX desktop virtualization protocol (instead of RDP for WVD) to provide a high-performance user experience.

On top of that, Citrix will become a Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider and bill customers directly for this services, including the cost of cloud services, software licenses, and Azure compute needed to securely deliver Windows 10 on-demand. And that’s pretty much it. The unknown at this time is if Citrix will build something new for its DaaS offering or just do the integration within Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops (CVAD) Service.

One thing for sure is that CMD Service is not an integration of WVD (even if it is marketed as such), but more an advanced and turnkey replacement provided by Citrix.

Wrap up

It is an exciting time for VDI and RDSH right now. Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop is the most anticipated VDI solution in years. The fact that Microsoft is really pushing and believing in WVD is a good thing for the industry, as it will incentivize others to keep innovating. And who knows? maybe this will help increase the percentage of desktops virtualized in organizations (currently between 4 and 8%). Microsoft and Citrix are still partners, and customers can take advantages of WVD as a standalone solution if that meets their needs. If they need advanced features such as SaaS apps, hybrid workloads or seamless access to user data, then they can look to different solutions from partners such as Citrix Workspace. The next step for WVD is to go GA between September 2019 and the end of the year, and for Citrix to release CMD Service around the same time.