Windows Virtual Desktop – First Thoughts – Part 2

A few weeks ago, I published the first part of this post, get to it here.

In the first part, I wrote about the initial setup and config experience for creating and accessing Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD). Overall, I found the experience to be good, but at times, slightly basic. This is to be expected with a brand new service that is in preview, but for the second part of this post, I wanted to explore the more advanced options of configuration that are currently available.

So in this post, I am going to discuss the following:

  • fslogix profiles
  • Load balancing
  • Depolying using a custom image
  • Availabiltiy/configuration of SSO

Starting with fslogix, I think it’s kinda cool that you are given a free license as part of WVD to use the service. The actual install was quick and easy, download the client, run it, set up two reg keys, done. However, I wasn’t overly familiar with fslogix and as such thought it wasn’t working and I have a solid background in desktop virtualisation, so I understand profile redirection explicitly. I found the Microsoft docs for this are light currently, but clicking through to the fslogix docs I spotted the issue, the local profile cannot exist first or fslogix will ignore it. A quick tidy up and my profiles were redirecting, loading quickly and generally behaving as expected. So far so good, I’d like to see how it scales with a tonne of users, but the expectation is similar performance to Citrix UPM. One thing that is perhaps a bit annoying out of the box is, when you choose signout from the web client, it simply disconnects the user from an app group, this can be fixed with some Group Policy, but I would expect sign out to mean sign out.

A little tip, check out the reg key “FlipFlopProfileDirectoryName” for a quick way to make finding your user profiles within your file share a bit easier. There are also more advanced options like “SIDDirNamePattern”, more here.

Next up is load balancing the session hosts. This obviously only applies to non-persistent session hosts, as the persitent relationship is 1:1. You also need to understand two concepts:

  • Breadth-first
    • This distributes sessions evenly across all session hosts, a max session limit is optional.
  • Depth-first
    • This fills up a session host first before distributing sessions, a max session limit is required.

Both options are simple to setup via powershell and behave exactly as outlined. Instructions here.

Third, I created a new host pool. To do this I first needed a custom image. So I deployed a VM to Azure to convert later. I skipped a bit here by using the new W10 image with 365 proplus preinstalled for you, very handy. However, I then realised this wasn’t the multi-user version and even though all is good with image creation, it fails when trying to register with WVD (30 mins later…) So to save you some time, just use the W10 multi-user image instead! I installed my apps, then I made the following changes:

  • fslogix installed and enabled
  • configured session timeout policies
  • Additional language pack and region settings

Once I had this done, to get your custom image, follow the usual docs here.

Then, you can simply specify it as part of the same steps you followed previously to deploy as a host pool

Once your new host pool is deployed, you need to assign users, don’t forget you currently can’t assign a user to more than one App Group at any one time. So I removed one of my test users from it’s previous group and added it to the new one.

Once logged in, everything is as expected. Profiles, custom settings and my newly added apps. For my own terrible fun I added a special app, yes, I’, sorry, that is Windows 95 running in the HTML5 client on WVD!

Windows95 running via HTML5 client on Windows Virtual Desktop

One tip that could save you some time is relevant to SSO. You may notice that when signing in and launching and app/desktop you are prompted for credentials twice. This is the current expected experience. In the comments on docs, I spotted the following response from the program group:

So we’ll just have to wait and see how good/bad SSO functionality will be once released!

If you have any questions or would like to see a third part to this series, let me know!

Windows Virtual Desktop – First Thoughts – Part 1

Last week, Microsoft released Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) to the public in preview. The service was first announced back at Ignite 2018. Microsoft describe the service as follows:

Windows Virtual Desktop is a desktop and app virtualization service that runs on the cloud.

Here’s what you can do when you run Windows Virtual Desktop on Azure:

  • Set up a multi-session Windows 10 deployment that delivers a full Windows 10 with scalability
  • Virtualize Office 365 ProPlus and optimize it to run in multi-user virtual scenarios
  • Provide Windows 7 virtual desktops with free Extended Security Updates
  • Bring your existing Remote Desktop Services (RDS) and Windows Server desktops and apps to any computer
  • Virtualize both desktops and apps
  • Manage Windows 10, Windows Server, and Windows 7 desktops and apps with a unified management experience

One point not mentioned that is important, Azure is the only public cloud you can run Windows 10 workloads.

There are a couple of pre-requisites to deploying WVD. First up is licensing, below are the requirements for running WVD

OSRequired license
Windows 10 Enterprise multi-session or Windows 10 single-sessionMicrosoft E3, E5, A3, A5, Business
Windows E3, E5, A3, A5
Windows 7Microsoft E3, E5, A3, A5, Business
Windows E3, E5, A3, A5
Windows Server 2012 R2, 2016, 2019RDS Client Access License (CAL) with Software Assurance

Next, you’ll need the following infrastructure components:

  • Azure AD tenant to register the service against
  • AD Domain Services reachable by VMs in WVD pool, so either a domain controller in the vnet or enable AAD DS.
  • An Azure subscription to host and pay for the above 🙂

Once the above is all ready to go, you’ll want to start your deployment. First, you need to register your AAD tenant with the WVD service. This requires Global Admin rights and your tenant ID, full details here. I found the process quick, simple and well documented.

Second, you need to create a host pool. This links the IaaS resources to your domain and your WVD service. I opted for an isolated vnet with AADDS activated to domain join the VMs, using a server pool for applications. Full details for this step here.

After a little time, my host pool was deployed and I could access the service via the web client.

A Windows 10 desktop session running via the HTML5 client right in the browser

The experience was good but I wouldn’t call it seamless. Simple things jumped out straight away from the authentication side of things with the HTML5 client. After logging into the Azure AD app, I then have to login again to the desktop, I would have expected SSO here. The same lack of SSO is present in the RDS client on Windows 10.

However, once connected, performance and latency were good. Exactly as expected in fact. Even via the HTML5 client.

Next, I wanted to test some individual apps. Namely, the powerhouse of app virtualisation, Notepad. I created a new RemoteApp Group, following the instructions here, again they were easy to follow. Although, Notepad didn’t show up in the list of available apps, I just entered the location where I know it is installed and it worked.

Again performance was as expected however the issue I ran into here was the fact that I couldn’t assign the same user to multiple groups, it was one group or the other as I had a “desktop” group and an “app” group. Hopefully this is something that is fixed, or a workaround in place for GA.

Next on my list will be to test the FSlogix option for profiles, load balancing options and creating a pool with a customised image. But so far I am impressed with the simplicity of deployment. I will follow this post up with impressions relative to that next level of customisation required for a production environment.

One final note is that all of the customisation of the Windows Virtual Desktop service is done via Powershell. If you’re not familiar or comfortable with this, you may struggle to get a working POC in place. My advice is to follow the published guides exactly or ask on Twitter for help!