Move on-premises Remote Desktop Services to Azure Virtual Desktop scenario

Azure Virtual Desktop is a desktop and application virtualization service that runs on the cloud. It's the only desktop and application virtualization infrastructure that delivers simplified management, Windows 10 and Windows 11 Enterprise multi-session or Windows Server operating systems, and optimizations for Microsoft 365 Apps for the enterprise. You can deploy and scale Windows desktops and applications on Azure in minutes, and get built-in security and compliance features.

In this article, Contoso migrates and modernizes their on-premises VDI environment based on Remote Desktop Services (RDS) in Windows Server to Azure Virtual Desktop.

Migration options Outcome
Azure Migrate Run workloads in an Azure Virtual Desktop environment.

Business drivers

By working closely with business partners, Contoso IT team defines the business drivers for the RDS on-premises migration to Azure. These drivers might include:

  • Current environment end-of-life: A datacenter is out of capacity when it reaches the end of a lease or is closing down. Migrating to the cloud provides virtually unlimited capacity. Current software might also be reaching its end of life where it's become necessary to upgrade the software running Contoso's desktops and application virtualization solution.
  • Reduce cost: Reduce costs with pooled, multi-session resources. With the new Windows 11 and Windows 10 Enterprise multi-session capability, exclusive to Azure Virtual Desktop, and the Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH) role on Windows Server, you can greatly reduce the number of virtual machines (VMs) and operating system overhead while still providing the same resources to your users.
  • Optimize for Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise: Deliver the best Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise experience, with multi-session virtual desktop scenarios providing the most productive virtualized experience for Contoso's users.
  • Deploy and scale in minutes: Quickly virtualize and deploy modern and legacy desktop applications to the cloud in minutes with unified management in the Azure portal.
  • Secure and productive on Azure and Microsoft 365: Deploy a complete, intelligent solution that enhances creativity and collaboration for everyone. Shift to Microsoft 365, Windows 11 or Windows 10, and Enterprise Mobility + Security.

RDS on-premises to Azure Virtual Desktop goals

With the business drivers in mind, Contoso defines the goals for this migration:

  • Modernize the desktop and application virtualization environment for the cloud.
  • Take advantage of existing Microsoft 365 licenses with Azure Virtual Desktop.
  • Improve the security of corporate data while providing service to remote and hybrid users.
  • Optimize the new environment for cost and enterprise-scale growth.

These goals support the decision to use Azure Virtual Desktop and validate it as the best migration method for Contoso.

Benefits of running Azure Virtual Desktop

Using Azure Virtual Desktop, Contoso can now seamlessly run, manage, and scale its desktop and application virtualization solution quickly and easily. The company can also provide an optimized multi-session solution on Windows 10 or Windows 11 environments to its users.

Contoso capitalizes on existing Microsoft 365 licenses while using the scale, performance, security, and innovation of Azure.

Additional benefits might include:

  • Access to Azure Virtual Desktop from anywhere.
  • Optimized Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise environment.
  • Azure Virtual Desktop for dev/test environments.
  • Removing the need for RDS CAL (Client Access License) licenses, when replacing Windows Server multi-session hosts with Windows 10 or Windows 11 multi-session.

Current architecture

RDS personal and pooled resources are deployed to an on-premises datacenter. Microsoft 365 is licensed and in use by the organization.

Solution design

After assessing current RDS deployment, Contoso defines the goals and requirements that are used to design the migration process.

Proposed architecture

The following diagram outlines the architecture that will be built to migrate RDS on-premises deployment to Azure Virtual Desktop.

*Figure 1: Proposed architecture: Azure Virtual Desktop LZA will deploy the resources contained under the Azure Virtual Desktop LZ Subscription* Figure 1: Proposed architecture: Azure Virtual Desktop LZA will deploy the resources contained under the Azure Virtual Desktop LZ Subscription.

Download Visio file

The diagram outlines resources that are prerequisites for the migration (Identity, management, connectivity, Azure AD sync) and the resources that are created by the Azure Virtual Desktop Landing Zone Accelerator deployment under the AVD LZ and AVD Shared Services LZ subscriptions. More information on resources deployed can be found in the Azure Virtual Desktop Landing Zone Accelerator resource organization diagram.

Migration process

Contoso will go through the following flow to migrate from on-premises RDS to Azure Virtual Desktop:

*Figure 2: The migration process.* Figure 2: The migration process. "*" indicates an optional step.

The migration flow will be structured in the following migration steps:

  1. Define prerequisites.
  2. Assess the current RDS on-premises environment.
  3. Deploy Azure Virtual Desktop Landing Zone Accelerator (LZA).
  4. Prepare users for new profiles using FSLogix.
  5. Migrate VMs that must persist to Azure (optional).
  6. Migrate VM images that must persist to Azure (optional).
  7. Manage the Azure Virtual Desktop.
  8. Optimize the Azure Virtual Desktop.


Contoso will now progress through the steps required to complete the Azure Virtual Desktop migration:

Step 1: Prerequisites

  1. An Azure subscription is required (subscription requirements).

  2. Make sure that domain services, either Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) or Azure Active Directory Domain Services (Azure AD DS), are synchronized with Azure Active Directory (Azure AD). Ensure the domain service is accessible from the Azure subscription and virtual network where you deploy Azure Virtual Desktop session hosts. Azure Virtual Desktop requires hybrid user identities for majority of your Azure Virtual Desktop deployments and desired features. The Azure Virtual Desktop service requires user principal name (UPN) or security identifier (SID) to match between on-premises AD and Azure AD.

  3. Prior to the deployment of the Azure Virtual Desktop LZA, ensure the Azure Virtual Desktop LZA Prerequisites are met.


    Learn more about:

Step 2: Assess the current RDS on-premises environment

To collect additional data on performance and sizing from the current environment, it is recommended to run an assessment of the RDS on-premises environment, to achieve this Contoso its tool of preference. The assessment will cover the following information for each RDS scenario:

  • Number of users in each persona.
  • Applications in use by users.
  • Resource consumption by user.
  • Resource utilization averages by user persona.
  • RDS session host performance data.
  • Users concurrency reports.
  • Top software packages in use.

Once adequate amount of data is captured per scenario, Contoso reviews the assessment's insights and determines the most cost-effective path will be the use of both pooled and personal Azure Virtual Desktop resources, to replace the existing RDS Scenarios:

  1. Multi-session (pooled): RDS session hosts running Windows server and allowing multiple users connections to the same host.
  2. Single-session (personal): RDS session hosts running Windows 10 or Windows 11 and allowing a single user connection to the host.


To improve performance of Azure Virtual Desktop users flows, Contoso will also need to migrate application servers and data sources that will be consumed by the Azure Virtual Desktop environment. This same methodology should be applied to platform shared services (domain Controllers, DNS, network devices, among others) that Azure Virtual Desktop will rely on. The recommendation is to host these services in the same Azure region as the Azure Virtual Desktop session hosts.

Step 3: Deploy Azure Virtual Desktop Landing Zone Accelerator (LZA)

Contoso is ready to deploy Azure Virtual Desktop. The Azure Virtual Desktop LZA is Microsoft's enterprise-ready solution that can be used to deploy an end-to-end Azure Virtual Desktop enterprise-ready environment. To deploy the accelerator follow the Azure Virtual Desktop LZA Deployment Walk Through guide.


Based on the outcome of the assessment phase, two Azure Virtual Desktop LZA deployments in East US 2 will be required to address Contoso scenarios:

  • Multi-session (pooled host pool): Azure Virtual Desktop management plane (workspace, host pool, application group, scaling plan) deployment with Windows 10 or Windows 11 multi-session session hosts and FSLogix to manage users profile data.
  • Single-session (personal host pool): Azure Virtual Desktop management plane (workspace, host pool, application group) deployment without the creation of new session hosts (personal VMs will be migrated from RDS).
Deployment type Link
Azure portal UI Deploy to Azure
Command line (Bicep/ARM) Powershell/Azure CLI implementation
Terraform Terraform implementation

At this point, the Azure Virtual Desktop environment is available. Contoso can continue to prepare users profiles data to be moved to new FSLogix profiles in the Azure Virtual Desktop environment.

Step 4: Prepare users for new profiles using FSLogix


Microsoft does not support migrating profiles from User Profile Disks (UPD) or Roaming User Profiles (RUP) to FSLogix.

Azure Virtual Desktop doesn't support user profile disks (UPDs), so Contoso needs to prepare their users for new profiles using FSLogix. Starting users with new profiles provides the best transition from UPD or RUP profiles. To make this transition, Contoso needs to enable the users to save or to backup their data before they sign into their desktops for the first time.

  1. Enable Microsoft Edge enterprise sync. If other browsers are used, export and import bookmarks or favorites to Microsoft Edge.
  2. Enable OneDrive for the users moving to Azure Virtual Desktop.
  3. Enable known folder redirection to OneDrive (optional). Both user and non-user data should be saved or backed up to OneDrive, SharePoint or other document repositories.
  4. Both user and non-user data should be saved or backed up to OneDrive, SharePoint or other document repositories.

Contoso has now enabled Microsoft Edge enterprise sync to export browser data and known-folder redirection to OneDrive to save both user and non-user data.


Users might require settings or application data in their profile from third party or other line-of-business applications. If that data is necessary, you should preserve it following the recommendation of the vendor. Microsoft is not responsible for this data.

For more information about FSLogix:

At this point, the users have saved or backed up their important profile data. Contoso can continue to start replicating and persisting VMs to Azure Virtual Desktop.

Step 5: Migrate VMs that must persist to Azure (optional)

The next step in the migration process for Contoso is to migrate the RDS session host (running Windows Server) that must persist to Azure Virtual Desktop. To do this, Contoso goes through Azure Migrate: Server Migration steps:


  • Instead of migrating RDS session hosts, Microsoft recommends to redeploy VMs using Azure market place images or custom images built from the marketplace, as these will ensure compatibility and remove any possible bloat from the existing on-premises images.
  • Azure Migrate only supports Windows Server Operating System migrations. Client Operating Systems such as Windows 10 can be Migrated using Azure Site Recovery replication and failover, once these VMs are available in Azure, skip to section 5 to install and configure the AVD agents.
  1. Sign in to the Azure portal.

  2. In the search bar, type Azure Migrate and select the matching service entry.

  3. In Get started for Azure Migrate, select Discover, assess and migrate.

    Screenshot that shows the overview page and Get Started tab for Azure Migrate. Figure 3: Getting started.

  4. Select Create project.

    Screenshot that shows the Create Project button. Figure 4: Creating a new Azure Migrate project.

  5. Set the subscription, resource group, project name, and geography for the migrate job data, and then select Create.

    Screenshot of adding job data to the Azure Migrate project. Figure 5: Adding job data to the migration.


    This location isn't where the new Azure Virtual Desktop environment will be deployed. Only the data related to the Azure Migrate project will be stored here.

  6. Contoso starts by selecting Discover in the Azure Migrate: Server Migration tools.

    Screenshot of the Azure Migrate: server migration discovery option. Figure 6: Discovering a server migration.

  7. Contoso converts an appliance in its environment that's going to manage the replication of the machines to Azure Virtual Desktop. Ensure that the target region is set to East US 2, where the Azure Virtual Desktop environment was created. For full Azure Migrate OS Support matrix, see Support Matrix for Hyper-V and Support Matrix for VMware vSphere.

    Screenshot that shows creating an appliance for managing the replication.

    Figure 7: Converting an appliance.

  8. Contoso downloads, installs, and registers the replication provider to the Azure Migrate project to start the replication to Azure.

    Screenshot that shows downloading and configuring replication.

    Figure 8: Prerequisites for replicating to Azure.

  9. The replication of the hosts into Azure Blob Storage starts. Contoso can continue to let the replication occur until it's ready to test the VMs and then migrate them into production.

  10. As migrated VMs start running in Azure, Contoso will need to install and configure Azure Virtual Desktop agents on each migrated:


Another option for Contoso to automate this process, is to use VM custom script extension to deploy the Azure Virtual Desktop agents, this process is contained in the (Azure Virtual Desktop LZA Automation).

At this point, Contoso finalizes the migration of the machines that must persist and continues to gradually migrate the rest of the on-premises RDS session hosts to Azure Virtual Desktop.

Step 6: Migrate VM images that must persist to Azure (optional)


Instead of migrating VM images, Microsoft recommends building a new image in Azure based off a vanilla marketplace image. This will ensure compatibility with the image and reduce unwanted dependencies or configurations that may have been present in the original VM image. Additionally, building a new image in Azure from a marketplace image can help streamline the deployment process and ensure that the image is up-to-date with the latest security patches and updates. Tooling for building new images is available at the Azure Virtual Desktop LZA Custom Image Build - Getting Started

For scenarios on which VM image must persist to Azure Virtual Desktop, the following article provides guidance to prepare a Windows VHD or VHDX to upload to Azure.

Step 7: Manage Azure Virtual Desktop

  1. Publish applications and desktops: Azure Virtual Desktop LZA deployment by default creates one application group for desktops and has the option to also deploy a RemoteApp application group. Post deployment there is no need to publish desktops as they are published by default. RemoteApps can be managed by following the guidance:

  2. Managing session hosts: once the session hosts are deployed and joined to the domain, they can be managed using existing tools like SCCM and Group Policy. Microsoft Intune can also be used to help you manage your devices and apps. To get started with Intune, refer to the Microsoft Intune documentation.

  3. User access: as the last step before the final migration, Contoso selects the Users item in the Azure Virtual Desktop settings to assign users and groups.

    Screenshot that shows assigning Azure Virtual Desktop resources to users and groups. Figure 9: The last step prior to the final migration.

    Additional user assignment information can be found at Manage application groups with the Azure portal.

  4. Host pool scaling: Azure Virtual Desktop LZA deployment has the option to create an Azure Virtual Desktop scaling plan that is assigned and enabled by default on pooled host pools. The scaling plan is preconfigured with two schedules (weekdays and weekend) in the same time zone as the session hosts and default scaling rules.

    Azure Virtual Desktop LZA scaling plan. Figure 10: Azure Virtual Desktop scaling plan schedules sample.

    Scaling rules should be modified to meet the specific needs of the workloads the Azure Virtual Desktop environment is hosting. Information on configuring scaling plans can be found at Autoscale scaling plans and example scenarios.

  5. Monitoring: Azure Virtual Desktop LZA deployment has the option to deploy all diagnostics settings (enabled by default) required by the Azure Virtual Desktop insights workbook, including the creation of a new log analytics workspace (option to use existing is available) to gather Azure Virtual Desktop logs, metrics and events.

    Azure Virtual Desktop LZA insights. Figure 11: Azure Virtual Desktop monitor insights sample.

    More information on Azure Virtual Desktop monitoring can be found at Use Azure Virtual Desktop Insights to monitor your deployment.

Step 8: Optimize Azure Virtual Desktop

  1. Security: Contoso's security team reviews the Azure VMs to determine any security issues. To control access, the team reviews the network security groups (NSGs) for the VMs. NSGs are used to ensure that only traffic allowed to the application can reach it. The team also considers securing the data on the disk by using Azure Disk Encryption and Azure Key Vault. Session Hosts should also be protected using Defender for Endpoint or the product of choosing, ensure your vendor supports their product in Azure VDI environments. Also opt to protect Azure Virtual Desktop landing zone subscriptions with Defender for Cloud for increased visibility and compliance controls.


    Learn more about Azure Virtual Desktop security with Azure Virtual Desktop security best practices.

  2. Licensing: Microsoft 365 licenses are used for the desktop deployments. If Windows Server session hosts are still required, Contoso will need to bring their RDS CAL (Client Access License) licenses. Thanks to Azure Virtual Desktop licensing entitlement, there is no OS cost for any operating system, including Windows Server.

  3. Cost optimization: Contoso will use the following features to help with cost optimization:

    • Contoso will enable Azure Cost Management + Billing to help monitor and manage the Azure resources.
    • Contoso will use Azure Virtual Desktop Tagging to track costs and group it based on related resources to the host pool.
    • Contoso will monitor utilization across their entire Azure Virtual Desktop deployments using Azure Virtual Desktop Insights and assess the cost savings opportunities of Reserved Instances, Savings Plans or Reserved Capacity.
  4. Configure Business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR): Azure Virtual Desktop uses a combination of Microsoft managed components that come with a non-financially backed SLA targeting 99.9% uptime for our Azure Virtual Desktop Gateways, Brokers, Web Access, and diagnostics. These services meta-data and service-data are backed up and replicated behind the scenes to recover to alternate regions in the event of an outage. Contoso is responsible for the customer managed components, these components include: Virtual Machines, Storage, Images, Applications, and the network components for their DR requirements.

    • For large-scale global deployments of Azure Virtual Desktop, we recommend adopting a multi-region architecture to reduce single point of failures on any single region.

    • The following diagram is an example of an Azure Virtual Desktop multi-region architecture designed for regional Azure Virtual Desktop deployments to be entirely independent. Depending on the SLA requirements, there can be varying levels of dependencies on the primary region. Sample diagrams for varying levels of dependency on the primary region, can be found in the Azure Virtual Desktop Landing Zone Accelerator documentation Azure Virtual Desktop Landing Zone Accelerator Diagrams

      Azure Virtual Desktop Multi-region deployment Stage 3. Figure 12: Sample of an Azure Virtual Desktop multi-region architecture.

      Download Visio file.

Next steps

Learn more about Azure Virtual Desktop at: