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Licensing Azure Virtual Desktop – What You Need to Know

Oliver Presland

Oliver Presland
Vice President, Global Consulting Services Portfolio

Microsoft’s Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) (formerly known as Windows Virtual Desktop) was one of the success stories of 2020. The service quickly became a go-to solution for businesses rushing to secure remote working as a result of the pandemic. This isn’t surprising, given that AVD addressed the majority of the problems facing organisations with the transition to remote working. The speed and relative low cost of implementation, along with security benefits, has made the service an attractive solution.

When implementing such services, licence management is usually one of the more complex elements to consider. There is a need to keep track of multiple renewal dates, whilst staying on top of and validating the volume of licences you actually need. Active software asset management is always vital in managing cost. At first glance, it can seem like a bit of a minefield, and the most cost-effective and efficient route may not be obvious.

However, AVD goes a long way in simplifying this process. In essence, AVD means fewer licences and vendor agreements to manage, as well as fewer renewal dates to stay on top of. Many enterprises will already have the necessary licensing needed to make use of AVD.

This not only makes AVD a simpler proposition to implement, but one that can be remarkably cost-effective. Most of the time there is no need to invest in additional licensing. With other solutions businesses often find themselves paying for a quantity of licences they may not need. With AVD, it’s likely your organisation already has the appropriate Microsoft 365 or Windows licensing required in order to use the service, meaning all you pay for is the Azure capacity.

With this in mind, the primary question for an organisation looking to implement AVD has to be what licences are required, and are they in a position where they already have them. Let’s delve into the details.

What do I need?

In order to implement AVD, a business needs an eligible licence and subscription for each user they wish to connect. For those who already make use of Microsoft services, many will already have access to AVD. The following licences provide eligibility for virtual Windows 7 or Windows 10 desktops

  • Windows 10 Enterprise E5 or E3
  • Windows 10 Education A5 or A3 (Including student use benefits)
  • Microsoft 365 Business Premium (previously known as Microsoft 365 Business)
  • Windows 10 Virtual Desktop Access (VDA)
  • Microsoft 365 A3 or A5
  • Microsoft 365 F3, E3 or E5

It should be reemphasised that these need to be per user licences in order to access Windows 7 or 10 with AVD. Also, whilst any Microsoft 365 licence grants access to the entire Office 365 suite, Windows licences would require additional Office licensing. This can be obtained via a subscription to Office Standard, Office 365 or Office Professional Plus.

Windows Server

Although the major use case for AVD on Azure is to deliver Windows 10 or Windows 7 virtual desktops, if you need to run some instances of Windows Server operating system, you can. There are two options for organisations in this situation. One, they can license the subscription within Azure on a pay-as-you-go rate, although this can be expensive.

Alternatively, you can opt for Azure Hybrid Benefit, which works by letting organisations use their own on-premise Software Assurance-enabled Windows Server on Azure. Businesses can save up to 85% compared with the standard pay-as-you-go rate with this approach.

Organisations using Windows Server should also be aware of the need to license Remote Desktop Services. There are a number of ways this can be achieved:

  • Windows Server RDS User client access licences (CALs). These are covered with Microsoft Software Assurance.
  • The Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider program.
  • Devices that already have RDS Device CALs.


If licensing still appears daunting, enlisting a validated Microsoft partner can help an organisation navigate the process. When building a tailored business case, it can be useful to have a partner who is able to provide a deep and accurate understanding of licensing and what the costs will be for an organisation’s particular circumstances. This decision ultimately has to be informed by the unique needs of the organisation.

The total cost of ownership makes AVD a very attractive solution for organisations. For a business with the right user requirements and network connectivity, there is an opportunity to significantly reduce costs with this system. Traditional complexities with licensing can be made remarkably simple with AVD.

Follow this series to understand more about how AVD can benefit your business and unlock the potential of your users. For more insights on AVD click here.

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