Azure Virtual Desktop

Azure Virtual Desktop

Microsoft's Remote Desktop Services' Days Are Numbered: Here's Why
Microsoft has not made an official announcement that Remote Desktop Services (RDS) is on its way out, but increasingly signs are pointing that way.
logos for Microsoft's Office apps swirling around the new M365 logo

While Microsoft has not announced an end-of-support date for its Remote Desktop Services (RDS) role for Windows Server, its demise looks increasingly likely. Even though RDS will remain supported until at least 2026, Microsoft is adding more licensing restrictions and limitations to RDS — in some cases boldly, and in others, more quietly.

Customers use the RDS role to provide virtual or session desktops to remote users. Many use RDS to host virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) in their own datacenters or through third-party hosting.

These days, Microsoft's preferred solution for these kinds of tasks is its own hosted service, Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD). Microsoft only enables multi-session editions of Windows client on AVD, not RDS. Multi-session support allows customers to host VDI with fewer resources, and without access to multi-session editions of Windows client, Windows Server is the only multi-session option for in RDS. But Microsoft is limiting support for Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise on Windows Server, which affects on-premises RDS customers directly.

Windows Server 2022 was not supported at all by Microsoft 365 Apps for Enterprise (the former Office 365 ProPlus suite) when it was initially released, and Windows Server 2019 and 2016 are supported only until October 2025. In October 2022, after numerous customer complaints, Microsoft relented and agreed that Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise will be supported on Windows Server 2022 through October 2026, which is the end of Mainstream support for Windows Server 2022. It's anyone's guess if Microsoft will continue to support Microsoft 365 Apps for Enterprise on future versions of Windows Server, but RDS customers shouldn't plan on it. Microsoft wants customers to use AVD for remote desktops running Microsoft 365 Apps for Enterprise.

Unlike AVD, RDS can be used in fully disconnected scenarios like remote worksites, does not require an Azure subscription, and can be deployed in third-party clouds -- which likely explains, at least in part, why Microsoft is trying to move customers away from RDS.

Microsoft is planning to continue to offer support for RDS at least until 2026, but customers should avoid future and longer-term investments in RDS, as all signs indicate its days are numbered.

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Chart summarizes significant differences between Azure Virtual Desktop and Windows 365 Enterprise.

Azure Virtual Desktop and Windows 365 Enterprise are Microsoft’s hosted virtual desktop infrastructure and remote desktop services, and both continue to receive improvements and preferential licensing while on-premises Remote Desktop Services languishes.

Remote Desktop Services remains supported, but Microsoft is using support policies, licensing and use restrictions, and benign neglect of RDS to push customers to Azure Virtual Desktop.

Previews of AAD-based single sign-on and password-free authentication for Azure Virtual Desktop could improve the security of the service.

Screenshot shows the overview dashboard of Azure Update management, which helps administrators manage Windows and Linux server OS updates.

Teams media optimization for macOS clients accessing virtual desktops hosted in Azure Virtual Desktop and Windows 365 is generally available.

RDP Shortpath can reduce latency and improve responsiveness when connecting to remote desktops hosted in Azure Virtual Desktop, but currently only supports access using Windows client devices.

Illustration shows connection routing for Azure Virtual Desktop RDP sessions in normal and RDP Shortpath scenarios.

Terms used to describe virtual desktop hosting are changing to accommodate new services and capabilities, which may lead to confusion.