Summary – Hosting desktops in the cloud goes by many names and can be setup in several methods depending on your needs. As you can see below, some setups can be costly from a Microsoft licensing perspective and some setups are better if you wish to share applications among users or alternatively have a completely isolated virtual machine for each user. As a hosting provider in the Microsoft SPLA program, Riptide Hosting can provide Windows Server and Remote Desktop Services (RDS) user licenses but not Windows Desktop (Windows 7,8,10) licensing. In the discussion below, you will see that Windows Server with RDS for individual user desktop sessions can be a very cost effective solution to provide users with a customizable desktop session and ability to share applications between users.
Method 1: Remote Desktop Services on Windows Server – You can utilize a Windows Server OS (2008r2/2012r2) with Remote Desktop Services (RDS) to provide each user their own customizable desktop session. Applications such as an access databases, accounting applications, business software, and MS Office can be installed on the server once and accessible by each user session simultaneously. Users have access to both a private folder (i.e. my documents) and apublic folder to easily share documents between users. The Desktop Experience feature can be installed to make Windows Server 2012R2 look like Windows 8.1 (or on Server 2008 R2 to look like Windows 7). A Remote Desktop server is often the cheapest method for providing desktop sessions. At Riptide, a VM with licensing for Windows 2012R2 starts at $90 plus RDS user licenses at $7.75 each.
Method 2: Windows VMs with Desktop OS 7, 8.1, 10 – Windows desktop licenses are not available in the SPLA program so hosting providers like Riptide cannot provide these licenses although you may be able to utilize your own licensing. Windows 7, 8.1, and 10 cannot be used as a Remote Desktop Session Host like Windows Server can be. If you are looking to provide individual (isolated) VMs to each user with a Windows Desktop OS, an option is to use one of our Dedicated Servers upon which to install your own Volume Licensed version of Windows 2012R2 Server OS along with the “virtual machine based desktop” deployment method of RDS where each hyper-V VM utilizes a desktop OS. Licensing in this scenario requires that each user or device accessing the VM have either the Windows Desktop Enterprise License with Software Assurance or a Windows Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) license. VDA device licenses are approximately $100/device/year. Many users do not have the Windows Enterprise license because it is available in Volume Licensing and not OEM/Retail and requires Windows Professional or better. Typically this is much more costly or cost prohibitive versus method 1 above. The rights to utilize the Desktop OS VM cease when either the Software Assurance or VDA license expires. For a client to use their own Volume Licensing, it must be on a fully Dedicated Server and must have the proper type of licensing. Here is a link to a good article on Microsoft licensing: https://community.spiceworks.com/how_to/124053-licensing-windows-10-with-virtualization-technologies-how-to
Method 3: individual VMs on Windows Server OS – if you want isolated VMs without the ability to share programs/documents between users, another option is to use Windows Server with individual hyper-V VMs with a Server OS instead of a desktop OS. This would allow you to license the underlying host machine/server with Windows Server Datacenter licensing which provides unlimited VMs on a server OS. In some cases this would be cheaper than method 2 above but almost certainly more expensive than Method 1 of Windows Server with RDS desktop sessions.
Things to think about:
- Do you want a Desktop OS or Server OS / Server OS with Desktop Experience?
- Who is providing the licensing? Do you have Desktop Enterprise with Software Assurance or VDA Licenses? Hosting providers via SPLA can provide Server OS and RDS licensing but not Desktop.