Azure Virtual Desktop

The unsung hero of digital transformation in 2021

This article is part of our 'Future of cloud computing' series.  Click here  to learn more about cloud computing, and how it's transforming the modern workplace.

What is Azure Virtual Desktop?

Azure Virtual Desktop is Microsoft’s desktop and app virtualisation service that runs on their public cloud.

If any part of that sentence doesn’t make sense to you, we recommend starting with our online guide to desktop virtualisation here. 

If it does, great! Here’s a quick snapshot of what you can do with Azure Virtual Desktop:

  • 📌Connect to, and manage your cloud-based applications and desktops (including Windows 10, Windows 7 and Windows Server) from any device or browser.
  • ⚡ Set up a multi-session Windows 10 deployment for a scalable Windows 10 desktop
  • 🔒 Create Windows 7 virtual desktops using Microsoft’s free Extended Security Updates
  • 🖥️ Bring your existing Remote Desktop Services and Windows Server desktops and apps to any computer

What makes Azure Virtual Desktop so exciting in 2021?

 It supports hybrid work 

Based on this 2021 Microsoft survey of 31,000 workers, the future workplace will be a hybrid one. 66% of surveyed decision-makers are considering an office redesign to accommodate hybrid work better - cloud-computing with Azure Virtual Desktop can power that.

With it, workers can stream access to a desktop as powerful as what’s on their head-office desk from any location or device. 

 Easy upgrade for legacy systems 

Across all sectors, legacy IT is a challenge for security, productivity and makes new technology adoption difficult. The biggest barrier to upgrade is the huge upfront cost required to buy new hardware.

Cloud computing through Azure Virtual Desktop is an easy way to upgrade without that huge, one-off fee. Instead, organisations can access a modern, powerful desktop and spread the cost with a lower, flat monthly payment (more on that below).

 Cut hardware overheads with BYOD 

Cloud computing with Azure Virtual Desktop offers organisations all the benefits of a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) computing model without the typical risks.
Suppose colleagues connect to a virtual desktop on a personal device.

They’d get to use a work device they prefer. Their employer would get to cut hardware spend, software licencing costs and time spent managing business-owned devices—all without losing the ability to control access sensitive data centrally. 

 It's a green technology 

Besides being more resilient and efficient, cloud computing can help cut an organisations carbon footprint drastically.

By hosting your infrastructure with Azure, all of your computing power would come from data centres that have been 100% renewable since 2014.

This could have positive impacts outside your organisation too —in the UK, commuting accounts for 5% of our total carbon emissions. By creating an infrastructure that supports remote work, you’d help your workforce commute less and drop their carbon footprint.

 It's a gateway for better security 

Just by upgrading to a modern Windows 10 virtual desktop, users benefit from comprehensive data protection without any sacrifice to productivity. These include built-in security tools like:

🔒 BitLocker: military-grade encryption that protects sensitive data when devices are lost or stolen.

🗂️ Windows Information Protection: data protection that prevents accidental leaks to unauthorised users, apps or websites.

By hosting that desktop on Azure cloud, a team of 3,500 Microsoft Cybersecurity experts will actively spend their day keeping your data safe.

  •  Most organisations have access to it already 

  • Not enough people know this, but Azure Virtual Desktop is included for free as part of certain Microsoft Enterprise License Agreements.

    What you pay for is the compute power you use when connected to a Virtual Desktop.
  • As complex as that might seem, Microsoft has created a pretty comprehensive pricing calculator to make cost forecasting easier for you. With it, you can get a pretty accurate estimate of your monthly costs based on your planned usage.  

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Who would benefit most from Azure Virtual Desktop in 2021?

Organisations struggling with high cloud costs

In 2020, 26% of organisations accelerated their cloud migration strategy faster than planned. Hasty adoption means that 30-35% of cloud spend in 2021 is typically wasted on unnecessary capacity and resources. Because of this, cost savings is a huge cloud priority for organisations in 2021.

Most don’t realise that Azure Virtual Desktop is included for free as part of most Microsoft Enterprise License agreements. With Windows Virtual desktop and the support of cloud specialists like Rob Blountthe average organisation could’ve had the same cloud performance for 30% less money in 2020

Environmentally conscious organisations

Asides from the obvious moral and ethical advantages to lowering the environmental impact of your organisation, there are commercial benefits too. Environmentalism can help you qualify for accreditations like a B Corp certification, which sends a clear message to funders, employees and suppliers about your business. 

The high bar set for impact and transparency can help attract top talent and ethical consumers, whose spending reached a record high of £41bn in the UK alone.

Organisations focused on modernisation

Maintenance aside, legacy technology is costly.

  • 😤 48% of UK employees waste 3 hours or more per day battling inefficient systems.
  • 😒 Over half of UK employees are dissatisfied with workplace technology, affecting morale and output.
  • 📲 45% of customers are confident that digital channels will be their main channel for contacting brands going forwards. Tolerance for a poor digital experience is falling, and the cost of not providing quality digital support is high. One bad review can cost an organisation up to 22% of potential customers.

To stay competitive, organisations can use Azure Virtual Desktop to create better user experiences, attract quality talent and boost productivity without having to pay a huge, one-off infrastructure refresh fee

Organisations that need more flexibility

Flexibility in movement or capacity. Without it, organisations can struggle to respond to demand peaks or support colleagues in working as effectively as they can. 

The NHS has invested heavily in cloud computing to offer new mobility freedoms to healthcare workers and make more advanced care possible outside of hospitals.

Workplaces are also rethinking the way we work. High productivity is masking how close to burnout many in the workforce are.

Digital Intensity in 2021

With Azure Virtual Desktop and Azure, organisations can onboard new staff fast to cope with peak demand and create a hybrid-working model to help people balance their working lives. 

How Azure Virtual Desktop helped shape digital transformation during the pandemic

A fantastic saying from boxxe’s Head of People, Sarah Hetherington, is that we’ve all been through the same storm but on very different boats during the pandemic.

During 2020, we saw a massive boom in the popularity of Azure Virtual Desktop across all sectors, but each sector had very different drivers.

Here’s how Windows Virtual Desktop transformed the public and private sectors in 2020 and why Azure Virtual Desktop was so popular:

Public sector

Azure Virtual Desktop in Higher Education

Case study: University of Nottingham

Challenge: Low power PCs impacting the student experience

During lockdown, the University of Nottingham discovered that students with less powerful computers were falling behind faster than peers who could afford more powerful machines. 

Azure Virtual Desktop solution: Streaming access to a more powerful desktop

Building on their Azure platform infrastructure, Nottingham focused on Azure Virtual Desktop to solve both challenges. With it, they transformed the student experience with a cloud-based desktop that students could stream from any device. 

By hosting the virtual desktop on a powerful server, students had access to the specialised software needed for their course. With Azure Virtual Desktop, they could run it like they had a powerful, expensive computer at home. 

Windows Virtual Desktop in Higher Education - Quote


Azure Virtual Desktop in Local Government

Case Study: London Borough of Waltham Forest

Challenge: Slow performing legacy processes

Legacy processes were a headache for Waltham Forest to manage - particularly their council tax and benefits system.

The system needed to update every night but ran too slowly on old equipment. Too often, the system wouldn’t finish updating by morning and would create operational issues that day. 

Azure Virtual Desktop solution: flexible compute power

One of the benefits of cloud computing for the government is that offices can add more compute power to systems on-demand. 

By running the system through Azure Virtual Desktop, Waltham Forest can dedicate more cloud resources to this system at night and ensure that the updates finish before work starts the next day. 

Learn more about the impacts of cloud computing for government with this article

Challenge: Security

Local authorities across the UK face millions of cyber-attacks every year. Some attacks target sensitive data, while others, like DDoS, are aimed purely at disrupting service

The barriers to effective security in local government are typically budget, the availability of in-house skills and time needed to set up and run a Security Operations Centre. 

When Waltham Forest’s ageing infrastructure needed a refresh in 2020, leadership saw an opportunity to improve security with a cloud infrastructure.

Azure Virtual Desktop solution: easy upgrade to a modern, secure and stable OS

Waltham Forest chose Microsoft Azure as its cloud computing platform for many reasons. One of the biggest was to make the upgrade to Windows 10 and Microsoft 365 easy

With Windows 10, every user in Waltham Forest gets comprehensive data protection without any sacrifice to productivity.

Private sector

Azure virtual desktop in Professional Services

Case study: Arup

For 70 years, Arup has been at the forefront of ambitious design and engineering – from concert halls to national stadiums. Like most, the pandemic kick-started Arup’s cloud transformation in 2020. 

Challenge: Making power-hungry applications accessible to a remote workforce

Arup’s needed to make all of its specialist design applications accessible to remote teams as a priority.

Like the University of Nottingham, Arup's applications are all compute-intensive - needed for design, building modelling, and project management software for giant teams.

Loading such resource-heavy software onto the cloud raised concerns among all staff about performance and the potential impact on output. Clients still need projects delivered, so the Arup IT team were under immense pressure to get the infrastructure right. 

Azure Virtual Desktop solution: Running applications through Azure

Having been burnt by virtual desktop solutions before, the Arup team was reluctant to use Azure Virtual Desktop at first. Despite concerns, their initial tests were so promising that they now run 45% of all their workloads in Azure. 

Windows Virtual Desktop in Professional Services - Quote

“This experience has built business confidence in technology, its leadership and its people. It has shown that this is possible if you put your mind to it,” says Greig. “What we’ve done – and I think what COVID has done – is to open many people’s eyes to cloud and what it actually means in terms of speed and velocity. Rather than tell, we have been able to show.”

Azure Virtual Desktop in Energy and Utilities

Case study: Centrica

Centrica plc supplies over 23 million customers in the UK, Ireland and North America through brands like British Gas. 

With the growing popularity of digital engagement amongst consumers, Centrica set out to boost the performance of its digital, customer-facing agents in 2020. 

Challenge: Lack of flexibility

The project’s first goal was to address digital friction points and manage peak demand for customer services more efficiently. To do this, Centrica needed an infrastructure that could support 15,000-18,000 customer service agents at any time. 

This flexibility would help Centrica accommodate unexpected high query volumes, like when services are affected by severe weather conditions or temperatures.

“Whenever we wanted to expand the platform, it took us months to procure and deploy the hardware,” explains Patrick Babic, End-User Compute Service Owner, Centrica. “This made it both costly and challenging to meet peak demand.” 

Azure Virtual Desktop solution: Windows 10 Enterprise Multi-session

A massive advantage of Azure Virtual Desktop is Windows 10 Enterprise Multi-session. With it, you can give users a full Windows 10 desktop experience but assign multiple users to each VM. 

Since Azure is a pay-per-use platform, the ability to assign many users to each VM means Centrica can scale up its workforce on-demand while keeping costs down. 

Challenge: Better customer experience

The second goal was to make customer services more efficient. For most agents, their performance is tied to the amount of computing power they have available. 

Centrica wanted the flexibility to add and manage the computing power staff have on-demand - without the cost and long delays of hardware provisioning. 

Azure Virtual Desktop solution: Access cloud-hosted applications

Hosting applications in Azure makes virtual desktop performance fast. And with Microsoft 365, every user has 1TB of storage through OneDrive.

Since both platforms integrate, Centrica agents get secure, nearly instant access to files without downloading anything to a desktop.

“Users can move between apps and access information almost instantly, enabling faster service to our customers,” explains Patrick Babic, End-User Computing Service Owner at Centrica.

Windows Virtual Desktop in Energy and Utilities - Quote

Following a successful pilot, Centrica deployed Azure Virtual Desktop across the business in 2020.

“In 5 months, we went from proof of concept to starting the migration of 18,000 global users. In an enterprise like ours, that level of speed is unheard of.”

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