While the virtual desktop has consistently been growing in adoption and perceived value, Microsoft’s recent acquisition of FSLogix may very well be the integral event that propels it to the next level.
Back in September during Microsoft Ignite, Microsoft announced its dedicated entrance into the Data as a Service (DaaS) market with their newest Azure service called Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD). Microsoft describes it as the best virtualized Windows and Office experience delivered on Azure. It is currently the only cloud-based service that delivers a multi-user Windows 10 experience that is also optimized for Office 365 ProPlus.
The appeal of the product is simple; give organizations the ability to deploy and scale Windows and Office on Azure in minutes, plus provide built-in security and compliance. Once released, WVD will be competing with Amazon Workspaces and other DaaS offerings.
Of course there is nothing new about virtual desktops. Many companies utilize dumb terminals rather than a fully functioning standalone PC to connect to PC-like desktops. By presenting users with a virtual environment consisting of only the tools and applications they need, VDI simplifies the environment and experience for the user, reducing support costs and perpetual client hardware recycling. The vast majority of these VDI solutions are on-premise, which is a limitation as many companies are digitally transforming themselves by migrating resources and services to the cloud. These traditional solutions are not necessarily designed for mobile workforces and cloud availability. The ability to deliver a customized desktop experience is a truly progressive approach that incorporates scalability and policy-based deployment in the same way that Azure transformed the ability to deploy and manage server fleets.
Where FSLogix Fits in the Equation
As interesting as the concept of cloud-based virtual desktop provisioning sounds, the allure will be limited if it cannot replicate the performance of the on-premise solution. This is where FSLogix comes in.
There are a variety of actions that the FSLogix software client performs, but the two most compelling problems they solve are around non-persistent VDI. As a reminder, non-persistent VDI means that every time a user connects, he connects to a new machine which is fresh again. As such, the user’s data is dumped … unless it’s stored somewhere. And this is where FSLogix can be helpful.
Here are the three problems that FSLogix solves, and why I think Microsoft purchased them.
Problem #1: Caching of Outlook items in non-persistent VDI
When you roam to a new non-persistent VDI machine (or new laptop, etc.) your Outlook needs to be re-downloaded from Exchange. And your caching and indexing needs to be rebuilt. Ow ow ow. Instead, FSLogix has a method to store this data in an external file. Thus when you log on to a fresh VDI machine, you simply and quickly re-attach, and you’re ready to rock. Instant Outlook.
Problem #2: Instantly restoring a profile in non-persistent VDI
If you have other user settings and data which change, like My Documents, Start Menu configuration, etc., this information will be wiped out when using non-persistent VDI. However, with FSLogix, the user’s contents are stored externally and then quickly reconnected upon login. There’s no need to mess with in-box Windows Roaming Profiles, nor do you have to add-on another roaming-profiles management tool like Microsoft UE-V or another third party “Roaming Profile Band-Aid” tool.
Problem #3: Reduction of VDI images
When you have VDI, you have images. Different images for Sales vs. Marketing vs. Human Resources. FSLogix has an “Application Masking” piece which enables admins to build multiple applications into a single image, then hide or show applications based upon group membership. So instead of having three images (Sales, Marketing, Human Resources) you can use one unified image with all applications and hide / show the applications to the right users at the right time. Brad Anderson, corporate VP for Microsoft Office 365 calls FSLogix, “A next-generation app-provisioning platform that reduces the resources, time and labor required to support virtualization.”
There are certainly other compelling pieces to FSLogix, but my gut tells me that these are the three main reasons FSLogix was acquired. Microsoft now has leading edge technology from FSLogix that solves the key problem of providing cloud-based roaming profiles and caches on virtual desktops, making it possible for mobile users to take full advantage of VDI.
Where PolicyPak Fits in the Equation
What this acquisition doesn’t do is address the functionality required to administer the granular security and look and feel aspects of the desktops. Which is where PolicyPak comes in strong.
Indeed, PolicyPak and FSLogix were already partners before the acquisition. And on the PolicyPak website you can see numerous examples of the PolicyPak and FSLogix better together story. But as a quick reference, here are the key things that PolicyPak can do alongside FSLogix and Windows Virtual Desktops (with links to accompanying videos):
- Get real Group Policy settings to machines that are not domain joined (via PolicyPak MDM or PolicyPak Cloud)
- Remove local admin rights and bypassing UAC prompts
- Use PolicyPak to manage multiple browsers
- Use PolicyPak to manage Windows 10 Start Screen and Taskbar settings
- Use PolicyPak to manage Windows 10 File Extensions
- Use PolicyPak to manage application settings based upon which applications are present
And if you want to see a longer, even more comprehensive PolicyPak + FSLogix profiles demo, check this out.
Summary and Final Thoughts
FSLogix provides a giant leap forward for Microsoft in managing VDI desktops, and then PolicyPak helps you once you’re over there in VDI land.
PolicyPak and FSLogix already had a great better together story. Now with the acquisition of FSLogix into Microsoft’s offerings, we can continue to enable on-prem and VDI desktop admins to create and deploy policies which manage applications, desktop operating systems, web browsers and desktop security.