The ITAM Review

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Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop – Easy to deploy, difficult to price

Microsoft’s Windows Virtual Desktop service is now in public preview. When it was first announced in October, I covered what we knew about the service but now we have more info around the pricing, I think it’s worth another look.

What is it?

In a nutshell, it is “VDIaaS” – Virtual Desktop Infrastructure as a Service. According to Microsoft it is:

the only virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) that delivers simplified management, multi-session Windows 10, optimizations for Office 365 ProPlus, and support for Remote Desktop Services (RDS) environments.”

How is it licensed?

For organisations looking to deploy Windows Desktops, either Windows 10 or Windows 7, you will need:

  • Microsoft 365 E3/E5/A3/A5
  • Microsoft 365 Business
  • Windows 10 E3/E5/A3/A5

If you’d like to run desktops powered by Windows Server, either 2012 R2, 2016, or 2019, you will simply need:

  • RDS CAL with SA


Although the WVD service is included with those licenses, running Windows Virtual Desktops in Azure is far from free. You must still pay for the:

  • Azure Compute
  • Azure Storage
  • Azure Networking

associated with the desktops that comprise your environment.

One of the hardest things with cloud can be to get an accurate, up front cost for how much a solution will cost you. There are numerous variables and similar, but slightly different, ways of doing, and pricing, the same thing.

Microsoft’s example here is a Windows 10 multi-session deployment for 100 users in the East US region, with the use of Office apps being considered a “medium” scenario. They recommend 4 x “D8s v3” virtual machines which they price at $0.1474 per VM per hour.

However, if you look at the Azure Calculator the price is $0.752 per hour. That’s because Microsoft’s pricing on the WVD site is based on you using a 3-year Reserved Instance (RI) AND the Azure Hybrid Benefit rights to pay for the virtual machines.

The Azure Hybrid Benefit right is a Software Assurance benefit for Windows Server licenses, that enable you to purchase an Azure Windows VM without paying for the Windows OS element – thus reducing costs. However, whilst very attractive from a pricing perspective (if you’ve already got SA on your Windows Server licenses), it adds a whole new set of things that need to be managed…and managed very manually at that, at least until a tool comes along that can help.

So, if you don’t benefit from the reduced Hybrid Rights pricing, you per VM cost rises to $0.5154 – an increase of 250%.

If you don’t purchase a 3-year Reserved Instance either and take the standard Pay As You Go (PAYG) pricing, the VM cost then rises to $0.752 – a 410% increase over the original cost on the Microsoft WVD site.

Remember, these costs are per VM and you’ll need 4 in this scenario, so your per hour cost will be:

Microsoft also suggest an estimated monthly storage cost of $144.71, which is based on 15GB per user.

ITAM and costs

This is a great example of why cost management needs to be front of mind when planning and architecting scenarios, and why ITAM engaging with various stakeholders is key to financial success. The various cost options and purchase methods. and how/when/if they can be used in certain scenarios, are effectively a new breed of license metrics to understand.

As an example, if business units are basing projected costs on the use of Hybrid Benefit rights, ITAM needs to know about this. You only have a certain number of Windows Server licenses with SA, so there is a finite limit to how many Azure resources can take advantage of the Azure Hybrid Rights. Once that limit is reached, you will either need to start buying additional Windows Server licenses + SA – or increase the unit costs of the Windows Virtual Desktop project. The former doesn’t make a whole lot of sense…but then it will start to depend who’s got budget for additional costs etc.

Compliance with things such as the Hybrid Use license terms will, I’m sure, start to appear in Microsoft compliance checks and audits, so this is something that will need to be understood, monitored, and managed by ITAM and others across the business.

Further Reading

Pricing details:

Azure Calculator:

About Rich Gibbons

Rich has been in the world of IT and software licensing since 2003, having been a software sales manager for a VAR, a Microsoft licensing endorsed trainer, and now an ITAM analyst looking at software licensing and cloud.

A Northerner renowned for his shirts, Rich is a big Hip-Hop head, and loves travel, football in general (specifically MUFC), baseball, Marvel, and reading as many books as possible. Finding ways to combine all of these with ITAM & software licensing is always fun!

Connect with Rich on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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