Neil McLoughlin is a MVP (Microsoft Most Valued Professional) who lives in Manchester located in the UK. He is currently employed at New Signature as a Modern Devices Technical Architect. He is a true virtual desktop enthusiast, and after following Neil on Twitter I instantly added him to my list of people to approach for an interview. I wasn’t surprised when Neil quickly responded and returned an interview to share his experiences with others, while maxed out with arranging his WVD Community (Windows Virtual Desktop) event on the same day. A little tip, if you want to catch Neil’s attention, just mention WVD. 🙂
Neil is the co founder of the WVD Community User group and in very little time has helped setup WVD (Windows Virtual Desktop) user groups in several countries around the world. His aim is to setup a WVD user group in every country which we’re sure he will arrange with his passion for WVD. As you’ll get to know from the interview, he is very passionate about Windows Virtual Desktop, so let’s move on and find out more.
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Neil McLoughlin Interview
Tell us about yourself?
My name is Neil McLoughlin and I am based in Manchester, in the United Kingdom. I started in IT straight out from college, so I have been doing it for 23 years now!! (Makes me feel very old!). In my spare time I love reading, watching movies and going out for a nice long hike! I currently work for a company called New Signature as a Modern Devices Technical Architect. In my day to day job I mainly design and implement WVD & Citrix Cloud solutions for customers worldwide. I went to work for New Signature as they are a cloud first company (we don’t do on-prem at all) and they won Microsoft Country Partner of the Year in 2019, so it’s definitely a good place to be 😊
What is your greatest achievement whilst working in the world of Tech?
Definitely setting up the WVD Community and getting a Microsoft MVP. I used to look up in awe at all these people who were doing the conference speaking, writing blog articles, and people with a Microsoft MVP. I thought they were superhuman. And then I decided to go for it myself, and here I am!
How did you get into IT?
My uncle was a programmer and I found it fascinating that you could get a computer to do exactly what you wanted it to do. I got my first computer when I was around 8 years old (I think?!). It was an Amstrad CPC 464 with a green screen!! From there I moved onto a 386SX20, then a 486DX2 66 and then onto Pentiums if I remember rightly. I tinkered with hardware and programming but always loved fixing problems. That is when I decided I wanted to become a sysadmin instead of going down the programming route.
What would you recommend for someone wanting to start a career in IT?
Be sure it is 100% what you want to do, because it is a very difficult industry to be in if you are not committed 10000%. Once you have decided to go all in. Do not just read – do. Setup a blog, make a YouTube video, get involved in a community, consume all the knowledge you can. You get out what you put in.
How did you get into the world of Microsoft Azure?
I first started to notice Azure properly around 2017. The company I was working at the time were doing a migration to Office 365 and I was blown away how simple it was. I was a Citrix Consultant at the time also, and Citrix Cloud was starting to make some headway. So, I decided to learn all about it and get certified! Initially I just focussed on things relevant to Citrix, so the storage, compute, and networking.
What are your areas of expertise? Are you still working with other Microsoft products apart from Microsoft Azure?
My area of expertise is VDI. I have been doing Citrix for around 10 years, and for the past 12 months I have been very focused on Windows Virtual Desktop.
You have had a lot of involvement with WVD (Windows Virtual Desktop)? Could you please explain what WVD is?
WVD is Microsoft’s Desktop as a Service offering. It is basically a desktop broker in the Cloud. Using WVD we can provision desktops and applications in Azure, and have users connect to those desktops or applications whatever device they choose from any location.
Why has WVD become so desirable in the currently Covid-19 pandemic?
The shift to home working caused businesses problems when it came to keeping their employees connected. With WVD if you have a Microsoft 365 license, you are licensed to use it, you just need to pay for your Azure compute. It is also super easy to configure, you can be up and running in as little as 35 minutes if you use the quick start! I saw many instances of companies migrating thousands of users to WVD in a matter of days. One story I heard was 20,000 users over 1 weekend. From start to finish. Amazing.
What would you recommend for those wanting to learn WVD (Windows Virtual Desktop)?
Just play with it! Deploy some host pools, do a POC at your company. There are some great MS Learn modules out for it, and check out the Azure Academy, and also Christian Brinkhoff’s site. And of course, join the WVD Community for our podcasts and newsletter and user group meetings 😊
What is the most challenging part of configuring WVD, and those that techies need to look out for while planning a new solution?
I would say networking, especially if deploying in a secure environment with lots of firewalls and proxies in the way. It is a Microsoft hosted service so getting it working end to end can be a bit challenging. So when starting out definitely get the network requirements sorted. The other issue is identity. Now you need Azure AD and connectivity to a domain controller, either through VPN or a VM inside Azure. You can also use Azure Active Direction Domain Services also.
Is the migration from Citrix or VMWare Horizon to WVD a straightforward process? Personally, I think so yes. I have done a few Citrix migrations and most of the same rules apply, especially when it comes to image management. If I build a master VM in Citrix, I can build that master VM in Azure and use that as my WVD Image.
Are there any additional features that WVD offers that Citrix or VMWare Horizon don’t?
So here is where it gets interesting! The only one that comes to mind is MSIX App Attach which is coming soon, the ability to assign applications directly from the portal is a game changer. Citrix has, and always will have more features, but you pay more for it. At the moment more and more Citrix features are coming to WVD (Teams Optimisation, Screen Scraping for example)
Were there any recent WVD announcements at MSIgnite (September 2020) that you found were useful?
All of them!! The WVD Announcements are all amazing. By the end of this year we will hopefully have Screen Capture protection, SSO for the Spring Update, Direct RDP to session host, Start VM on Connect, MEM Integration, Azure Monitor for WVD and App Attach from the Portal!
Can the implementation of a WVD platform be automated? Where should one start if they have no experience with coding and automation?
Yes, it can all be automated from end to end. I have created a new term called Desktops As Code 😊 I am learning it at the moment myself so I will let you know! The best way now is again, just play with it. Check out the WVD Quickstart and have a look at the code. I am hoping to write some blog articles about it.
We noticed that you run a few successful WVD user groups? Could you please explain what these events are? Can anyone join these events?
Yes sure, I help run the WVD Community which is a Global Community. We publish a weekly newsletter, and every other week produce a podcast. I started it as there was lots of stuff being released and it was difficult to keep up. I also want to plug the gap of knowledge between EUC guys and Azure. This has branched off into local user groups worldwide, and I also run the UK WVD User Group. Now we also have user groups in Germany, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, USA, Australian & Japan! My goal is to have one in every country in the world!
What certifications have you achieved, or the certifications you are working towards?
I passed my first Microsoft exam on the 11th August 1999 and have not stopped! I have multiple Citrix certifications, and the following:
Microsoft Certified: Azure Administrator Associate
Microsoft Certified: Azure Solutions Architect Expert
Microsoft 365 Certified: Modern Desktop Administrator Associate
What would you recommend for those wanting to learn Azure?
Go create an account and play with it. I went through the full end to end certification process which has helped me learn it, but you can’t beat on the job experience. So, if you have a project at work using Azure, then volunteer to help out. Microsoft Learn modules are excellent and free, and there is also Pluralsight which has some great courses.
How do you keep up to date with the latest Microsoft Azure products? With great difficulty!! I have given up trying to learn everything, so I just focus on the stuff I need to know! I mainly use twitter and the information which the Global Black Belts push out, as well as a few popular blogs which I subscribe to.
What would you recommend for someone who wants to start a journey of becoming Azure certified?
Read the docs, follow the Microsoft Learn learning path, and play with the product. There is so much to learn, and make it fun!
What’s your advice for someone who wants to become a public speaker but not confident, or not sure where to start?
Just do it!! I only did it for the first time last year and haven’t looked back since. Nobody is going to judge you, everybody just wants you to succeed. You will find that once you get up there and start speaking, it will all just become a lot easier!
How did you become an MVP (Microsoft Most Valuable Professional)?
I found a passion in something, setup a community and shared my knowledge! I wasn’t looking to become an MVP, it just happened. For me I think it was the community stuff, I did lots of presenting, lots of tweeting, blog writing etc.
What’s next in your Microsoft Azure journey?
Definitely Automation. It’s my weakest area so I am going to be diving in deep on all things related to automation! So, PowerShell scripting, ARM Templates, Azure DevOps, Terraform etc.
Do you have any final words of wisdom?
As the Nike advert says – Just do it!! All my success has only come since I started putting myself out there. And there is 1 phrase which always sticks with me “You know something they don’t, and they know something which you don’t” That is what community and information sharing is all about!
The most important question of all 😊
From a scale from 1 – 10 how crazy are you about Microsoft Azure?
10 Of course!!
End of interview
Name: Neil McLoughlin
WVD Community: @WVDCommunity
WVD Community Website: WVD Community