Azure Virtual Desktop (formerly Windows Virtual Desktop) is a cloud-based virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), terminal services, and remote app solution from Microsoft. After reading this article, you'll understand what Azure Virtual Desktop is, what business value it can bring to your organization, and how you can quickly set up a test environment to explore the product's capabilities. I'll walk you through its most common use cases and when NOT to consider Azure Virtual Desktop.
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Azure Virtual Desktop: Use cases and when to avoid it

Azure Virtual Desktop is great for:

Remote work: Azure Virtual Desktop enables employees to access their desktops and applications from anywhere. This benefit was crucial for many businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

App virtualization: Instead of deploying applications to individual machines, you can host them on Azure Virtual Desktop and provide access to users from over the Internet.

Secure access: Azure Virtual Desktop allows you to manage and secure your data, ensuring compliance and reducing the risk of data breaches.

On the other hand, there are some scenarios in which Azure Virtual Desktop might not be the best choice:

Low latency requirements: If your organization relies on latency-sensitive applications or services, Azure Virtual Desktop might not be ideal, depending on the particular application workloads requested by your users.

Limited Internet connectivity: Users require a stable Internet connection to access Azure Virtual Desktop.

High-performance requirements: Some high-performance applications might not work optimally on Azure Virtual Desktop.

High assumed Azure knowledge: Implementing Azure Virtual Desktop effectively requires not only VDI and terminal services skills but also experience with Azure virtual machines, virtual networking, and hybrid identity. These are not insignificant skill sets, for sure!

I'll give you some links to the Azure Virtual Desktop docs and training tutorials at the end of this article. For now, let's make sure we understand the difference between VDI and terminal services hosting. Azure Virtual Desktop VDI provides users with a full Windows 10 or 11 desktop running on dedicated VMs for a consistent and personalized experience.

On the other hand, terminal services, now referred to as Remote Desktop Services (RDS), is a long-established, on-premises Windows Server-based solution that allows multiple users to access a shared Windows VM, where applications run on a central server and users connect via RDP.

Thus, Azure Virtual Desktop enables you to offer your users shared desktop sessions or honest-to-goodness VM connectivity, depending on your users' workload and application needs.

Create an Azure Virtual Desktop proof-of-concept environment

The Azure portal includes an "easy button" Azure Virtual Desktop deployment that creates one of each of the following:

  • Host pool: This is an Azure VM running Windows 10 multi-user, which supports multiple simultaneous Remote Desktop Services sessions using Windows 10 Multi-User.
  • App group: This is a logical grouping of desktops and/or applications within an Azure Virtual Desktop host pool.
  • User: Azure Virtual Desktop uses either Azure AD in conjunction with Azure AD Domain Services or on-premises AD synchronized with Azure AD for identity sourcing. You then assign users to one or more Azure Virtual Desktop workspaces and app groups.

To get a feel for the Azure Virtual Desktop object model, refer to the following screenshot as I briefly explain each component.

Generic Azure Virtual Desktop topology

Generic Azure Virtual Desktop topology

  • Host pool: One or more Windows VMs that are either assigned entirely to a single user (Personal type) or that host multiple simultaneous terminal services sessions (Pooled type).
  • App group: A logical grouping of applications installed on host pool session hosts. The Desktop type denotes a pooled or personal connection. The RemoteApp type refers to a single application streamed to the user.
  • Workspace: A logical grouping of apps. You assign your users to one or more Azure Virtual Desktop workspaces in your Azure subscriptions.
  • Azure AD Domain Services/Azure AD: With Azure Virtual Desktop, all identity is based in Azure Active Directory. You can either synchronize local AD accounts with Azure AD, or you can do a "cloud first" identity model using Azure AD Domain Services.

Users make personal desktop, pooled desktop, and RemoteApp connections either through a web browser or the Remote Desktop app; this app is available for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android.

Now, let's turn to the Azure Virtual Desktop PoC environment. Be sure to note your resource group name so you can easily delete it after you've completed testing. Azure Virtual Desktop can get expensive quickly if you aren't careful. Consider signing up for the Azure Free Account to get 30 days and 200 USD credit on any Azure service.

Start by signing into the Azure portal, locating the Azure Virtual Desktop service, selecting the Quick Start blade, and clicking Start. I'll give you suggested options for each page in the Getting Started Wizard.


  • Identity provider: No identity provider
  • Identity service type: Azure AD Domain Services

Virtual machines

  • Users per virtual machine: Multiple users
  • Image: Windows 11 Enterprise multi-session, version 22H2


  • Create a test user account: Enable and provide a test user name and password; Azure Virtual Desktop will provision the account and use it internally to test access to the app group

The deployment will take at least 15 minutes to complete. When it's finished, navigate to the Azure Virtual Desktop blade and inspect what you've got. The "easy button" deployment gives you the following:

  • One workspace associated with a single app group
  • One host pool with a single session host configured for pooled (shared) desktop connections
  • One app group with a single desktop application called SessionDesktop
Azure Virtual Desktop proof of concept deployment as seen in the Azure portal

Azure Virtual Desktop proof of concept deployment as seen in the Azure portal

Don't forget to visit the app group's Assignment blade and assign it to your Azure AD account. Otherwise, you won't see anything momentarily when you connect to your workspace with the Remote Desktop client.

Test the Azure Virtual Desktop PoC environment

Go ahead and download the Microsoft Remote Desktop application for your system of choice. Fire it up, click Subscribe, and sign in with the Azure AD account. After authentication, you'll see the following screen:

Remote Desktop app for Windows

Remote Desktop app for Windows

Double-click the SessionDesktop connection, and authenticate again. You should see a Windows 11 desktop, as you'd expect.


Now, please understand, we've barely begun to scratch the proverbial surface of what Azure Virtual Desktop can do. For instance, consider the following:

  • FXLogix profile containers: This technology, analogous to the roaming user profile, enables your users to carry not only their docs but all their desktop and printing preferences between session hosts.
  • Custom images: Ideally, you and your team would create a library of "golden" VM images for use by your host pools.
  • Microsoft 365 integration: Easily add support for Office apps, including OneDrive for Business. Layer in security with the Microsoft 365 Defender products.

As promised, I'll leave you with some hand-selected Azure Virtual Desktop learning resources to shorten your learning curve:

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