Deploying Office 365: How it is different for VDI?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Deploying Office 365 for a virtual desktop (in VDI or virtual desktop infrastructure) is very different from deploying it on a laptop or desktop. If this difference in the deployment process is not understood and addressed, the VDI deployment is bound to lead to negative user experience.

Two completely different scenarios exist within VDI, and the installation depends upon whether your organization has chosen RDSH (Remote Desktop Session Host) or Pooled VDI. RDSH is a server shared by multiple users while the Pooled VDI deletes/refreshes once the user logs off. During the next logon, the user gets an entirely new VDI VM with a fresh OS image.

Install and Activate

How and where do you install Office 365? It is installed on the golden Image/RDSH Server using Click-To-Run Method and Office Deployment toolkit. This toolkit has a setup.exe file and a configuration file. While installing Office 365 for use with RDSH/Pooled VDI, remember that it should be installed in the shared computer activation mode. This mode is enabled by making a change in the configuration file.

The next step is activation; there is change in license and activation for Office 365 as compared to Office Professional Plus.

At the time of first use of Office applications, the user will be asked for credentials. If the user has been assigned license for Office 365 in admin portal, user login will activate Office 365 for that user.

It’s important to know what happens at the backend: Once the user logs in to Office 365, activation happens through the Office Licensing Service via internet. Once activated, a license token is stored in the user profile. This license token is valid for User-Computer combination.

But as you know, the user is travelling and not carrying his laptop. Now the user logs in to a different computer at his new destination. No sweat! A new login and new license token will be generated for this user-computer combination and stored under user profile.

Then he travels again! Microsoft tells us that users can do activations under Shared Computer Activation for an acceptable number of times, and it isn’t clear what number is unacceptable! Anyhow, we all know that multiple logins is a painful experience, and the way to overcome this is Active Directory Federation Service!!  Microsoft ADFS runs on Windows Server operating systems on-premise, to provide users with single sign-on access to systems and applications located across organizational boundaries.

Follow Best Practices

Ok, so single sign-in is possible anywhere, anytime.

In order to make using VDI painless, let’s look at certain best practices.

Outlook: Opt for the Fast Access mode, place cache files on network shares and prevent the cache file growth by limiting the amount of data.

Skype for Business: Best to use Optimization Packs by Microsoft because otherwise voice quality may not be optimal. The optimization packs reduce the bandwidth requirement for audio and video calls.

OneDrive for Business:  It is not recommended to install OneDrive for Business client on the RDSH or pooled VDI machine because each time a user gets a new pooled machine, data sync has to happen again and again. In fact, Microsoft does not even support the sync client in case of RDSH. It is recommended to use a web browser to upload and share the files when RDSH or pooled VDI are used.

Office 365 apps: It not recommended allowing Office 365 installation (for RDSH/pooled VDI) to update by itself. Auto update for Office 365 should be disabled. In order to update the RDSH Servers or Golden Image of the pooled VDI, either Update can be enabled in the configuration file of the Office Deployment Kit or user OfficeC2RClient.exe command to update.

Once the golden Image is updated, desktop pools in VDI can be made to get the new image which will have the desired build of Office 365.

There are also some handy tools for deploying Office 365 to make the IT manager’s life easier. A Configuration XML Editor is a GUI-based tool to build the configuration file; a Tool Analyzer will analyze the installed Office 365 apps on the client device and show if it is installed with Microsoft best practices; a Client Performance Analyzer tool can share information such as the amount of network bandwidth being used, network latency to Office 365 hosting datacenter, packets loss, etc.

IT tools and devices are meant to get jobs done, improve productivity, save time – but they must also enhance user experience and the correct deployment of Office 365 will certainly help achieve all of these goals.

Rajesh Puri