Azure Virtual Desktop vs RDS – Six Key Things to Know!

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With the roll-out of Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) two years ago, which is a hosted desktop as a service, the common question that keeps coming is the difference between Azure Remote Desktop Session Hosts (RDS) vs AVD and which one to choose. Here we will take you through the broad technicalities, how AVD relates to RDS, the benefits, cost-effectiveness and user preferences for opting one against the other.

Azure Virtual Desktop

Azure Virtual Desktop is a cloud platform service, a set of Microsoft technologies running in Microsoft Azure for virtualizing desktops and apps. AVD is not a virtual desktop that you can buy from Microsoft. Rather, it is a set of technologies used to build virtual desktops for customers and end-users. Along with simplified virtual desktop management, AVD offers multi-session Windows 10, optimizations for Office 365 and support for RDS environments if required.

Remote Desktop Services (RDS)

Remote Desktop Services (RDS) is a virtualization service where the Windows software along with the entire desktop of the computer running RDS are accessible to any remote client machine supporting Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). Thereby providing secure, mobile and remote desktop access to users and also to run applications and desktops.

AVD vs RDS Convergences, The Differences

1. The Operating System

The basic difference between RDS and AVD is, RDS is based on a server operating system (OS), AVD comes with a desktop OS that is, multi-user Windows 10.

AVD is both platform and infrastructure services (PaaS and Iaas). Here the host is a virtual machine (VM), and the rest of the service is PaaS. With much fewer machines to care for, AVD is an easier environment than RDS for the service providers. RDS is a DaaS service, and the end-user chooses the server type, storage, security groups, and more.

2. The Management

In AVD, the entire infrastructure is managed by Microsoft (PaaS); whereas in RDS, the infrastructure is created and maintained by (you) the service provider. In an AVD scenario, the operating system installation, up-grading, patching of the OS, network configuration everything is managed by Microsoft. (Makes life easy!)

Whereas, with RDS, (you) the service provider need to build one or more Windows Server VMs, install and configure. It then boils down to additional Azure infrastructure plus expenses to support the management control plane. More management overhead = more cost to your business!

3. Multi-User Windows 10

Windows 10 Multi-session is only available with Azure Virtual Desktop and not on RDS, or any other VDI Solution, including Citrix & Vmware, or any other cloud provider. Instead of one VM per user to achieve a full windows 10 experience for each user (not economical for any business), users can now share a VM running Windows 10 Enterprise, and gain the full experience.

RDS allows users to work from a shared VM, but the OS still needs to be Windows Server 2016, 2019 or 2022, which if you didn’t know doesn’t support M365 Apps! Yep that’s right, Windows Server 2022 does NOT support M365 Apps!

4. Supports

AVD supports Windows Server VMs as Session Hosts.

Those who want to transform gradually to AVD this is a benefit. Because RDS Session hosts are supported in AVD. As a result, users or service providers can enjoy the AVD benefits that are not present in the RDS environment (for example, the availability of AVD infrastructure, auto-scaling, and more.

5. Resource Optimization & Load Balancing

AVD offers to scale and load balancing by way of ‘breadth’ and ‘depth’ mode. The breadth mode offers user distribution among the host pools for the best performance. The depth mode enables one server to be used first before allocating the next.

Even a combination of the two is possible at periods as per the need. All these help in cost saving.

6. Azure Virtual Desktop & RDS Licensing

Lets start with the rules that Microsoft have broken for this service, that you cannot get away with anywhere else. For the AVD Session Hosts, you do not need to license the OS, you are charged at the Linux Compute rate in Azure. With RDS, each user will require a Remote Desktop Services Client Access License (RDS CAL), for AVD, this is not a requirement, and lastly you are creating a multi-session VM based on the Windows 10 OS, something you cannot compliantly do anywhere else.

If you have a need to run a traditional RDS Server Environment under AVD, the license requirement is just an RDS CAL with SA through Volume Licensing or an RDS CAL via CSP Server Subscriptions.

AVD is an M365 licensing entitlement, and bearing in mind that most organisations are already subscribed to a 365 Subscription, it will either already be included in what they are already paying for, or it will be a small increase in licensing costs to obtain the entitlement to run AVD. The hero SKU is M365 Business Premium.

So…. RDS or AVD, What to Choose?

There is no fixed answer to this, as it would depend on many factors, needs, and preferences. However…. Many people will opt for AVD over legacy RDS for various reasons:

- AVD is the latest, newest technology
- Profile management through FSLogix
- Managed as a PaaS offering, leaving a lot of overhead to Microsoft
- Supports OneDrive, indexed search in pooled desktops
- It builds a recurring public cloud revenue stream
- Less management overhead

If you’ve not already explored Azure Virtual Desktop, then its probably time you at least looked into it, as Cloud delivered desktops are here to stay, and the introduction of Windows 365 shows that, and its best to be on the train, than to be standing on the platform watching the ‘new technology’ train disappear into the distance!
Want to find out more? Get in touch with one of our Microsoft Trusted Advisors.