One of the big talking points from Ignite 2022 was Windows 365, which had a lot of announcements. Having only announced Windows 365 in 2021, Microsoft is accelerating Windows 365 as one of its forefront products. As reported by CRN, Microsoft is merging its Azure Virtual Desktop and Windows 365 offerings under desktop virtualization guru Scott Manchester with hopes that it will lead to bigger sales growths for its virtual desktop solutions. Windows 365 is Microsoft’s version of the Cloud PC, and although the term “Cloud PC” is relatively new, Desktop Virtualisation has been around for nearly two decades and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon. This article will give some of the key benefits of Cloud PCs from my experiences with Windows 365.
A brief history of Desktop Virtualisation
For many years, some organizations have opted to use desktop virtualization products to allow users to access organization resources such as file shares, company-specific applications, and company emails. Most of these solutions were based on on-premises infrastructure. But, towards the end of the 2010s, organizations started to move their Virtual Desktop Infrastructure off of on-premise infrastructure and migrated to products such as Citrix Cloud, Azure Virtual Desktop, and Windows 365.
What is a Cloud PC
When explaining a Cloud PC to customers, I always say that a Cloud PC is essentially a Desktop PC, but instead of the device being physically in front of you, the device is hosted in the Cloud. Using Windows 365, the Cloud PC is the end user’s PC that nobody else will use. Windows 365 can be streamed to nearly any device, including Windows, macOS, Linux desktop devices alongside Android and iOS devices. Users can gain access to their Cloud PC by navigating to https://windows365.microsoft.com or installing the Windows 365 app. For more details on End-User hardware requirements, click here.
Benefits of Windows 365
At first, I was skeptical about Windows 365 as I didn’t quite appreciate the reasons why I would need a Cloud PC over Azure Virtual Desktop. However, after spending a lot of time using Windows 365 over the past 6 months and designing Windows 365 solutions for customers, I am convinced that Windows 365 can enhance user experience and improve IT administrators’ lives. Some of the benefits are:
- Device Management – Windows 365 directly integrates with Microsoft Intune, which means that deploying applications and device configurations are very simple. If you have users with company-provided laptops or Cloud PCs, you can use the same configuration and applications for both Cloud PCs and physical devices.
- Security – This is one of the main benefits of Windows 365, and it will help your organization’s security posture in multiple ways:
- Windows 365 can ensure that all Cloud PCs are on the most up-to-date security baselines meaning users connecting to your Microsoft 365 environment are all up to the company’s approved security standards.Organizations can allow “Bring Your Own Device” for users to connect to Windows 365 with the peace of mind that data cannot be exfiltrated from the Cloud PC by using features such as disabling clipboard and printer redirection, alongside products such as Endpoint DLP.
- No Azure infrastructure needed – When organizations have a complete Microsoft 365 greenfield environment, the idea of creating an Azure Landing Zone may not be appealing because of the added costs of Azure virtual machines. Windows 365 allows organizations to run Cloud PCs on the Microsoft Hosted Network, meaning that Azure networking is unnecessary. Having a Cloud PC on the Microsoft Hosted Network means that Microsoft completely takes care of the networking of the Cloud PC, which makes it a great option if you do not have an Azure Landing Zone. But one of the drawbacks of the Microsoft Hosted Network is that users cannot directly connect to any internal resources – so configuring Cloud PCs to be part of the Azure Landing Zone will be the best solution if organizations have any Azure file shares or resources that users need to connect to.
- Fixed pricing model – A real advantage for organizations that require a fixed pricing model is that they know exactly what they will be spending monthly. This is sometimes preferred by some organizations over a flexible pricing model, which could be low one month and then considerably high the next month due to increased usage.
What do you need to deploy Windows 365
Microsoft has made deploying Windows 365 quite a simple task. The only prerequisite to getting started with Windows 365 is to purchase the correct licensing. Both of the following licenses are needed before deploying Windows 365:
- Windows 365 license – these licenses are based on storage, CPU, and memory requirements. For a full list, follow this link.
- The minimum licenses needed are as follows, but it is recommended to purchase a Microsoft E3 or E5 license to fully benefit from the whole Microsoft 365 suite:
- Azure AD
Windows 365 Use Cases
A common question I am asked is, “Why should we use Windows 365 over other virtual desktop solutions?” I often point the questioner to some of the positives listed above, but sometimes those points are not sufficient reasons to use Windows 365 over Azure Virtual Desktop. But I have found the following solid use cases for Windows 365:
- Organizations with a greenfield Microsoft 365 environment who need a pool of contractors to connect to a company-approved PC from their own device.
- Training providers that need students to be able to access a Cloud PC with pre-approved programs on them.
- Organizations with CxO level employees that frequently travel, for example, to locations like China where organizations don’t want a physical device with corporate data on it. Access to a Cloud PC from anywhere in the world is appealing as the Cloud PC will always be available to them via any device such as an iOS, Android, or Windows Device.
- Organizations with a small IT team that need minimal infrastructure to manage. Other Virtual Desktop solutions need a high amount of infrastructure to manage the environment. Windows 365 requires zero infrastructure, which greatly reduces the stress for IT teams.
Can the cost of a Cloud PC be justified?
In my opinion, a Cloud PC is cost-effective for some organizations, especially when you consider the journey of a laptop during its lifecycle. According to Radix Reviews, the average lifecycle for a device that costs between $700-$1000 is 3-5 years. If we consider our use case of a pool of contractors working for an organization for 6-12 months, the IT team would need to procure a device for each user, ship it to them, and recall and reprovision the device when the contractor finishes working at the company.
I have seen a lot of money wasted over the years where organizations have dozens of spare laptops lying around due to a lack of management. With a Cloud PC, once the user’s license is removed, their Cloud PC is instantly deprovisioned and freed up for another user.
Depending on the Windows 365 Cloud PC chosen, the cost for the lowest spec Enterprise model could be $1023 over 3 years or as high as $5,762 for the highest model (costs calculated here). So, the Cloud PC could be a higher cost – but considering the lack of logistical management needed and some of the benefits mentioned above, Windows 365 could be the perfect answer for some organizations.
What Cloud PC sizes are available?
Choosing the correct Cloud PC types is one of the most important tasks when implementing Windows 365. Microsoft provides a tool that can help you choose the most appropriate Cloud PC for users. Usually, I recommend the Windows 365 Enterprise, 2vCPU, 8 GB RAM, and 128 GB Storage option to organizations that need to use the desktop version of Microsoft 365 Apps, such as Microsoft Teams. However, if the Cloud PC must deal with a high volume of data processing or run any tasks that require a large amount of memory, the Windows 365 Enterprise, 8vCPU, 32 GB RAM, and 128 Storage may be required. I highly recommend using the tool provided by Microsoft to decide upon the Cloud PCs for your business.
Should you invest in Windows 365
A Windows 365 Cloud PC will not be right for every organization, but it could be the perfect product where organizations that need a secure device for contractors or long-distance students. The term Cloud PC may be the latest buzzword in the Microsoft eco-system, but it certainly isn’t going away anytime soon!
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