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Windows Virtual Desktop Pricing: How Much Does WVD Really Cost?

What is a Windows Virtual Desktop?

Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) is a desktop as a service (DaaS) offering, which is the evolution of Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Service (RDS). WVD runs on Azure and offers a multi-user version of Windows 10. The service integrates FSLogix technology to allow personalized user experiences.

WVD is a free service for Microsoft customers with most Windows 10 Enterprise license types. However, you still need to pay Azure costs for the resources required to run your virtual desktops, and there may be additional hidden costs (see Calculating the True Cost of WVD below).

In this article, you will learn:

Calculating the True Cost of Windows Virtual Desktop

While Microsoft offers the WVD service itself at no charge, there are additional costs. To use WVD, you need to have the appropriate operating system licenses and Office licenses (if necessary). You also need to pay for the Azure resources used to run your virtualized desktops.

License Costs

Normally, when running resources in Azure, the cost of the operating system is included in the per-hour VM cost. For example, when you run an Azure VM with Windows Server, the per-hour cost includes a charge for the Windows Server software license.

On Windows Virtual Desktop, it works differently. You need to pay separately for licensing for the virtual desktops you run. You may require three types of licenses:

Windows 10 licenses

WVD requires you to purchase a Windows 10 license for each virtual desktop and charges VMs at Linux compute rates. To run a virtualized desktop on WVD, you need to have an E3, E5, A3, A5 license for either Microsoft 365 or Windows, or an F3 or Business Premium license for Microsoft 365. Licenses are charged automatically when you deploy WVD from an Azure Marketplace image.

FSLogix licenses

If you want to use FSLogix containers for desktop personalization, each virtual desktop will also require an FSLogix license. However, at the time of this writing, all the Windows license editions mentioned above include an FSLogix license. So when you pay for a Windows 10 license for a virtual desktop, you will also get an FSLogix license.

Office 365 licenses

If your users need to use Microsoft Office, you will need an additional license for Office 365 with shared computer activation. The supported licenses are O365 E3 or E5 and M365 Business Premium or higher.

Azure Infrastructure Costs

WVD supports two types of desktops: personal desktops, which are dedicated to a specific user, and pooled desktops, which different users may use. You also have the option of running individual applications on WVD.

In each case, the virtual desktop or application is deployed on Azure VMs running Windows (commonly Windows 10 Enterprise multi-session)—these are known as session hosts. These VMs run in your Azure subscription and are priced like regular Azure VMs (except that, as explained above, you pay for licenses separately, not included in the VM hourly rate).

The cost of Azure VMs for WVD will depend on the number of users you can run per vCPU (you should test this in advance), average RAM required per user, the Azure VM family you choose, the type of storage, disk capacity required for each VM, and data transfer volumes. You may also need additional Azure services like backup, VPN, and so on.

Use the Azure cost calculator to estimate the exact costs of your WVD deployment under different scenarios.

Business Case for WVD

Before deploying WVD, it is good to create a business case to understand better the ongoing costs of the service for your specific scenario.

Let’s build a sample business case for WVD with the following parameters:

  • Running in the East US region
  • 1000 users running on multi-session Windows 10, with heavy workloads
  • Peak concurrency of 90%—meaning that 90% of all users connect during peak times—and off-peak concurrency of 5%
  • D4s VMs with 16 GB RAM, 32 GB temporary storage
  • Reserved instances with 3 years term (granting 62% discount)
  • Standard SSD storage—128 GB per VM
  • Premium File Storage
  • 5 GB outbound data transfer

The total monthly cost for this scenario is $7,165.14. The effective cost per user is $7.17.

You can see this scenario and tweak the parameters in the Azure Calculator by clicking here or learn more about Azure pricing.

Optimizing Cost for Windows Virtual Desktop

Here are two ways you reduce the ongoing costs of the WVD service.

Leverage Autoscaling

Microsoft offers an autoscaling solution for Azure WVD. This automatically deploys additional session hosts according to the actual number of user sessions, and so it can conserve costs on Azure. Autoscaling is managed using the concept of core hours, as follows:

  • You define core hours during which the WVD service needs to operate (usually, this will be business hours for the organization using virtualized desktops).
  • You define a minimal number of session hosts which should be maintained outside core hours to enable occasional use of virtual desktops outside office hours.
  • Autoscaling applies during core hours, scaling up session hosts as needed to support more user sessions. However, when session hosts are added, WVD does not automatically shut them down until the end of the core hours. Also, it can only add session hosts within the existing pool of hosts (you cannot automatically add more hosts to the pool).

Gain Discounts by Committing to Reserved Instances

By default, all resources deployed in Azure are paid at on-demand rates, with no minimum commitments or restrictions. However, other pricing options, such as Azure Reserved Instances (RIs) for virtual machines. RIs grant significant discounts in exchange for committing to resources for a term of one or three years. If you cancel the resources before the end of the term, you pay a cancellation fee.

The important thing to remember is that if you buy an RI for a virtual machine, you will have to pay for it whether or not the virtual machine is powered on. Generally, you should use RIs for core WVD session hosts that are always needed, even off-hours, and on-demand pricing for variable capacity, which may be added or removed depending on actual loads.

Testing Windows Virtual Desktop with Login VSI

There is no doubt the perfect instance for your enterprise is in Azure. The question is which instance and images are the best performing and lowest cost. Determining this with Login Enterprise is easy; it features 3 tests to make sure you find the perfect match.

Starting with a quick test of an existing desktop machine to set the baseline for performance you’d like to see from Azure is just a quick Application test away. After that, you can use the same test to determine the baseline of the instance and image you select. To know how many sessions that solution can support, a Load Test with Login Enterprise will tell you how many sessions you can get on a solution while still delivering an excellent performance. This can also help to identify the best solution when it comes to autoscaling. Lastly, making sure that your users continue to have outstanding performance in production is easy with a continuous test.

After finding the perfect solution for your enterprise needs, there are no doubt changes will come along that will impact the performance and availability of the solution. Running application and load tests before the changes are released to production is a perfect way to ensure that these changes will not impact productivity. Unexpected changes that impact your production environment are quickly identified with continuous testing.

Picking the perfect solution will undoubtedly come with the best cost, but continuing to provide the production workforce with a great user experience will also improve productivity, hitting SLAs and the bottom line.

Take control over your Azure Virtual Desktop environment with our free Azure/Windows Virtual Desktop Test Kit.

About the author
Blair Parkhill and Gilad David Maayan

Blair Parkhill (@SANspyder) joined Login VSI in the summer of 2015 as the director of products. Blair has been a marketing leader, avid architect and supporter of customer-focused technology solutions and technical marketing since the late 1990s. Residing in tiny homes located in the mountains of Colorado and jungles of Costa Rica, he tries to spend as much time as he can traveling, playing music, exploring the jungle, walking on beaches, and hiking in the mountains – when he’s not playing with the product, geeking out with the latest tech, presenting, testing or blogging.

Gilad David Maayan (@gilad_maayan) is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 technology companies including SAP, Oracle, Zend, CheckPoint and Ixia, producing technical and thought leadership content that elucidates technical solutions for developers and IT leadership.


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