Azure Lab Services vs. Azure Virtual Desktop Education
Hybrid learning is quickly gaining traction as students and educators increasingly embrace the benefits of remote education while retaining the perks of in-person instruction. This reality has compelled schools to look for technologies that foster holistic learning experiences, regardless of global health crises and other limiting factors. Azure Virtual Desktop has emerged as a secure, cost-effective, and flexible solution for hybrid learning environments. Learn more about Azure and alternatives for Azure Virtual Desktop education in this post.
What Is Azure Virtual Desktop?
Azure Virtual Desktop is a desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) product from Microsoft’s Azure cloud infrastructure. Organizations can use Azure Virtual Desktop to deploy virtual Windows desktops and applications. Users, in turn, can access these resources from various endpoints and platforms such as Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS—including any platform that has an HTML5-enabled web browser.
With Azure Virtual Desktop, organizations can:
- Set up a multi-session Windows 10 deployment and deliver multiple concurrent interactive sessions. Previously, only Windows Server could provide a multi-session environment.
- Virtualize Microsoft 365 applications and optimize them to run in multiuser virtual environments.
- Set up Windows 7 virtual desktops and applications with free extended security updates (ESU).
- Manage Windows 7, Windows 10, and Windows Server desktops and applications from a single console.
Azure Virtual Desktop provides three key capabilities: scalable and flexible IT environment, simplified deployment and management of virtual desktops, and streamlined onboarding of users to the virtual desktops.
Scalable and Flexible IT Environment
Azure Virtual Desktop provides scalability, flexibility, and just-in-time performance that enterprises require by allowing IT administrators to:
- Set up full desktop and application virtualization environments in Azure subscription without running any gateway server.
- Accommodate diverse workloads by publishing as many host pools as they need.
- Bring their own images for production workloads. IT administrators can also test various images from the Azure Gallery.
- Minimize IT costs via pooled and multi-session Windows 10.
- Provide individual ownership of resources via persistent desktops.
Simplified Deployment and Management of Corporate Resources
Azure Virtual Desktop streamlines the deployment and management of virtual desktops by allowing users to:
- Leverage the Azure portal, Azure PowerShell, and representational state transfer (REST) interfaces to create application groups, assign users and configure host pools.
- Publish full desktops or individual remote applications from a single host pool. IT administrators can also create individual application groups for diverse users.
- Troubleshoot errors quickly by leveraging the new diagnostics service.
- Manage only the virtual machines (VMs) and image templates and not the entire Azure infrastructure.
Streamlined Onboarding of Users to Virtual Desktops
Azure Virtual Desktop simplifies how users onboard via Azure Active Directory (AAD), allowing users to quickly access external applications, including Microsoft 365, software as a service (SaaS), and internal applications. Once assigned, users can launch the service from any endpoint and platform.
What Are the Benefits of Using Azure Virtual Desktop in Education?
Azure Virtual Desktop offers many benefits to education institutions. Below are a few of them:
- It can minimize IT costs. Rather than buying expensive hardware and servers, educational institutions can use Azure’s flexible pay-as-you-go pricing model to provision resources on the go. Azure Virtual Desktop can also help these institutions to minimize server upgrade and maintenance costs.
- It enhances scalability. Educational institutions can quickly scale up or down their operations and storage requirements based on their situations, allowing for flexibility as students’ and educators’ needs change.
- It can streamline business continuity. Azure Virtual Desktop can allow schools to continue their operations in the event of a natural disaster, pandemic, or power failure by having their data stored in the cloud.
- It enhances collaboration efficiency. Students and educators can leverage Azure Virtual Desktop to seamlessly share learning materials via file-sharing across any endpoint. Students can also work within virtual classrooms and communicate with their colleagues in different locations in real-time.
- It promotes flexible teaching and learning. With Azure Virtual Desktop, students have the flexibility to learn from anywhere, provided they have an internet-enabled device. Similarly, educators can also teach from any location.
How Are Universities Using Azure Virtual Desktop for Education?
Azure Virtual Desktop is becoming a powerful solution for meeting the diverse needs of universities. Below are four use cases showing how universities can use Azure Virtual Desktop to improve on education delivery and continuity:
1. Supporting Fieldwork and Remote Learners
IT administrators must ensure that all learners have access to the university applications they need, whether conducting fieldwork or learning remotely. This can be tricky when you have computationally intensive applications that students’ endpoints cannot run.
With Azure Virtual Desktop, the learners’ device types or OSs do not matter. When students log onto Azure Virtual Desktop, they receive a consistent user experience without compatibility challenges.
2. Replacing Physical Computer Labs with Virtual Labs
Virtually all learners in universities today have their own endpoints. However, certain classes may require applications that are either unavailable or not feasible to install on every learner’s endpoint. Also, students rarely use the existing physical computer labs, which takes up valuable campus space and wastes money spent on electricity.
Universities can use Azure Virtual Desktop to deliver required virtual applications to select learners who can, in turn, access them via their personally owned endpoints. This way, IT administrators retain control over access, updates, and licensing while moving away from physical computer labs.
3. Scaling Based on Semesters
The number of students, faculty, and staff keeps changing from year to year and semester to semester. As a result, universities that pay for on-premises virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and physical lab hardware may leave many resources largely underutilized. Also, when demand spikes suddenly, IT administrators must scramble to install additional infrastructure.
This can be complex and costly, with little return on investment (ROI) in the future when the demand normalizes or shrinks. Azure Virtual Desktop can enhance scalability in such environments by allowing the university to pay only for what it needs at any given time.
4. Simplifying IT Administration
Universities can be massive places, with hardware spread across several office blocks. IT administration in such an environment can be complex, especially for universities with more than one campus. This problem can become even trickier when you add in the number of offsite users that IT administrators need to support.
Azure Virtual Desktop is a fully managed service that manages the connections to the VMs. This provides room for IT administrators to focus on more important matters, such as configuring AAD.
How Do Azure Lab Service and Azure Virtual Desktop for Education Compare?
Azure Lab Services is a managed service from Microsoft that allows educational institutions to quickly set up and manage virtual labs in Azure. In this regard, Microsoft handles all the infrastructure management aspects for educational institutions, from spinning up new VMs to scaling the infrastructure to handling errors.
When an IT administrator creates a lab account, instructors can quickly set up their labs, specify the type and number of VMs, assign students to the class and manage learners’ VM usage. When the assigned students connect to VMs in the lab, they have a unified view of their projects, exercises, and assignments.
Both Azure Lab Services and Azure Virtual Desktop have the same goal: providing a secure, cost-effective, and flexible platform that supports a hybrid learning environment. Despite this similarity, some notable differences exist between them. For example, Microsoft has optimized Azure Labs Services to manage the labs’ underlying cloud infrastructure on behalf of schools.
Schools can use Azure Lab Services to quickly set up customized teaching and learning environments for time-boxed events such as semesterly courses or hackathons scheduled to run over the weekend. Schools can get their virtual labs up and running quickly with Azure Lab Services since IT administrators manage only the lab account and policies.
On the other hand, Azure Virtual Desktop is not education-specific. It goes beyond facilitating teaching and learning experiences by providing a highly configurable Windows virtualization environment to support multiple use cases, albeit with more complexity. This requires the enterprises’ IT departments to get involved in their initial setup and management.
Modernize and Secure your Remote Environment with Azure Virtual Desktop Education
- Give your staff and students access to FSI workloads from practically any device with enterprise-grade security, compliance, and performance.
- Rapidly enable access and on boarding
- Give your new and existing dispersed finance workers, contractors, partners, and foreign workforce remote access to business PCs and apps with an optimized Microsoft 3651 and Microsoft Teams experience.
- Better Risk Management
- Provide controlled access to company data for overseas employees, host applications securely, and uphold compliance with important industry laws including HIPAA, FedRAMP, SOX, SOC 1, and SOC 2.
- Cost and infrastructure efficiency
- While maximizing cost savings on RDS licensing, hardware upgrades, and IT infrastructure and administration expenditures, increase company agility and scalability.
Parallels RAS Centralizes the Management of IT Infrastructures in Education
Parallels® Remote Application Server (RAS) is an ideal VDI solution for educational institutions that want simple, foolproof, and affordable hybrid learning environments. As a VDI provider, Parallels RAS streamlines IT administration by centralizing all the school’s resources.
Moreover, Parallels RAS integrates with and extends Azure Virtual Desktop features, offering unified workload and resource management. Parallels RAS manages Azure Virtual Desktop workloads and other resources, supporting private, hybrid, and multi-cloud deployments for maximum flexibility and end-user productivity.
End users can utilize the Parallels Client for Windows to have seamless and transparent access to all Azure Virtual Desktop and other resources. Parallels RAS features like Universal Printing and Scanning, AI-based session prelaunch, and rapid file redirection further enhance the Azure Virtual Desktop experience.
Schools can leverage Parallels RAS to simplify the management of multicampus IT infrastructures from an easy-to-use, single pane of glass. And with an integrated Powershell application programming interface (API) and VDI templates, IT administrators can create VMs and assign them to students quickly.
Parallels RAS enhances the security of school applications and files via centralized management and other features such as multi-factor authentication (MFA), customized policies, and advanced filtering, among others. Parallels RAS can also minimize the risk of interruptions and downtime with an out-of-the-box load-balancing technology.