Azure Virtual Desktop Pricing Overview

Last Updated:
April 11, 2024

Azure Virtual Desktop Pricing Overview

With so many individuals continuing to work remotely post-pandemic, Azure® Virtual Desktop presents a seemingly irresistible alternative to managing and delivering a “traditional” end user desktop. Formerly known as Windows® Virtual Desktop, Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) virtualizes Windows operating systems and delivers virtualized desktops and applications from Azure to end users working anywhere. Since AVD is fully managed by Microsoft®, adopting it means that IT teams currently tasked with managing traditional end user desktops can turn their attention to more strategic, business-critical projects—an appealing prospect.

But, like all Microsoft pricing and licensing, Azure Virtual Desktop pricing is highly convoluted. If you are considering a move to AVD, it’s critical to thoroughly understand your current Microsoft licensing and factor in all the Microsoft components that will affect pricing for your AVD implementation before taking the leap. Making the wrong choices results in inflated costs, wasted resources, escalating IT budgets, and unhappy end users.

Azure Virtual Desktop Cost Components

The primary pricing components for AVD are user access rights to Microsoft licenses and Azure infrastructure. In a traditional end user infrastructure, when IT installs Windows on a physical desktop, IT must pay for that Windows license. With AVD, Windows runs on a virtual machine in the Azure cloud, but the end user is still using Windows to do their work—and IT needs to pay for that license.

Additionally, IT will need to pay for the virtual machines that end users utilize and the computing resources (like networking, compute, and storage) that those VMs consume—just as IT needed to pay for those resources when running an end user computing infrastructure in-house. AVD rolls its VM and compute resource management fees into these costs.

Pricing for User Access Rights

Microsoft prices AVD licenses based on user type. For internal users (i.e. employees for whom the organization buys licenses), Microsoft’s Bring Your Own License (BYOL) program waives licensing costs if the organization already owns eligible Windows licenses. BYOL applies only to organizations using per-user licensing. Licenses covered by BYOL include Windows, Microsoft 365, Microsoft Remote Desktop Services, and CALs; those licenses can be repurposed on AVD at no additional cost. Note that the Microsoft license types eligible for BYOL have changed over time, so consult Microsoft for current eligibility.

For external workers (i.e., contractors, suppliers, consultants, etc. who need a virtual desktop but who do not work directly for the organization), Microsoft will charge the organization a per-user monthly cost based on the user’s workload and computing requirements.

Pricing for AVD VMs

Microsoft offers four pricing models for VMs on AVD:

Pay-as-you-go: pay for computing capacity by the second without any long-term commitments or upfront payments. This program allows businesses to increase or decrease consumption on demand. Basically, the plan allows Azure to create or delete VMs on an as-needed basis. Pay-as-you-go is designed for organizations with highly dynamic workloads who don’t want long-term commitments and need the ability to frequently scale computing resources up or down. While this plan enables organizations to pay just for the virtual desktops it actually uses, it is the most expensive choice.

Azure Savings Plan for Compute: allows you to opt for a fixed hourly amount for 1 to 3 years on select compute services for a lower hourly rate. When you reach your hourly commitment, additional usage is billed separately using the pay-as-you-go model. This plan is designed for workloads that will run long-term where compute usage is well-understood over time. Unplanned changes that drive up usage can significantly drive up costs.

Reserved Instances: a virtual machine that has been reserved for dedicated use for 1 to 3 years. Designed for stable, planned enterprise workloads, this model can save up to 72% compared to the pay-as-you-go model. Another benefit is that Reserved Instance workloads have prioritized capacity—meaning that Azure prioritizes their increased capacity needs.

Azure Spot: This plan provides significant discounts on unused compute capacity for workloads with flexible start and end times that can tolerate downtime and interruptions.

To select the most appropriate plan, IT needs to balance cost, end user roles and expectations, and anticipated changes in the business. It’s critical to thoroughly understand your current and future end user computing environment, including vCPUs and RAM needs, at a granular level. For example, how many users perform graphic-intensive tasks? Those users will need more powerful virtual desktops than users that primarily use email, word processing, and spreadsheets to do their jobs.

How many employees will expect a persistent virtual desktop, i.e., one that retains the changes they make in their desktop environment between sessions? These desktops cannot be reassigned to another employee and thus cannot be fully leveraged. How many employees will be fine with a nonpersistent virtual desktop that reverts to its original condition the next time it’s used? Nonpersistent virtual desktops can be pooled and shared by multiple employees, reducing the total number of virtual desktops IT needs to support and pay for.

Additionally, will the employees using nonpersistent virtual desktops all have the same computing needs? Microsoft recommends limiting nonpersistent desktop usage to 2 users per vCPU if those employees are knowledge workers  If those employees are working in a call center doing simple data entry, Microsoft recommends up to 6 users per vCPU.

These are just a few of the elements IT needs to consider when determining resource needs to select the pricing plan that’s best for the organization. Miscalculate your needs, and you’ll end up with underpowered virtual desktops and unhappy employees—or end up paying for far more resources than you need.


Additional AVD Costs

The following cost elements can also influence AVD pricing depending on your implementation.

Azure Regions: AVD pricing varies by region based on demand and local infrastructure costs.

Azure Active Directory: Azure AD is often used for authentication and user management in AVD setups. Azure AD pricing might be separate from the Azure Virtual Desktop costs, depending on your specific configuration.

Windows Virtual Desktop Access Licenses: These licenses allow users or devices to access a virtual desktop running a Windows client operating system. Depending on your existing Microsoft licensing agreement, you might need to pay for VDA licenses for each user or device that accesses the virtual desktop environment.

Azure Bandwidth Pricing: if your organization is running virtual desktops in multiple Azure data centers, which is common for enterprise companies, and those users are exchanging data with other employees in the organization or with non-employees, you’ll probably be subject to Azure Bandwidth costs. Costs can be applied when downloading files from Azure storage, accessing data from Azure virtual machines, and moving data between Azure regions. Costs are based on the amount of data transferred measured in gigabytes.

Support and Maintenance: Azure may also charge setup, support, and maintenance fees not included in the base cost of the Azure platform.

What Organizations Benefit Most from AVD?

Microsoft is pretty transparent about their target audience for AVD—enterprise customers, not individual users, not small businesses—who want to deploy virtual desktops to employees working anywhere. AVD pricing is optimized for large organizations with predictable, consistent, enterprise-level workloads who need to be able to deliver a variety of desktops to employees in a wide variety of roles.

Who is AVD not optimized for? Windows ISVs who simply want to deliver their application—not a desktop—to customers located anywhere that expect a consistent user experience where the application performs like it’s running locally.

If you are a Windows ISV that wants to deliver your application to customers located anywhere, with easy, fast logons and great performance, even over low bandwidth connections, consider GO-Global.

Instead of multiple pricing models and add-on costs, GO-Global has one easy choice—concurrent user licensing, where you pay just for actual usage.

GO-Global was purpose-built for Windows ISVs. Despite its low cost, GO-Global delivers enterprise-level scalability but is easy to install, configure, and use, with considerably less technology overhead required for implementation.

To learn more, request a demo here or download a free 30-day trial.

Concerned about AVD Pricing?

See how GO-Global provides a simple, cost-effective alternative