Virtual desktops are now an important aspect of remote operations – particularly as working from home becomes more common. With a virtualised environment, businesses are able to regain control of their endpoints, regardless of the client device used.
Cloud PCs – a complete desktop operating session hosted in the cloud – offer a consistent, reliable interface that replicates the in-office user experience anywhere in the world. Unsurprisingly, virtualised desktops are experiencing a surge in interest – research by Mordor Intelligence predicts compound annual growth of more than 58% over the next five years.
At the Microsoft Inspire 2021 conference, Microsoft announced their latest entrant into the Cloud PC market – Windows 365. This article will explain why Windows 365 is a gamechanger – and how it differs from its big brother, Azure Virtual Desktop.
What is Windows 365?
At the most basic level, Windows 365 is a cloud-based virtual PC. Accessed via a web browser, the Windows 365 session looks and behaves just like a desktop PC running Windows 10 or 11.
Unlike a laptop or desktop however, the virtual PC session remains in the Azure cloud at all times. This means that your users can log into their own personalised desktop from virtually any device with an HTML5-capable web browser – including tablets and smartphones. And although this is a thin client environment, each Windows 365 session can run “full” desktop applications.
Behind the scenes, Windows 365 runs on the Microsoft Azure cloud. Robust and trusted, Azure is the cloud platform of choice for thousands of companies across the world, adding an additional layer of reliability to your desktop computing environment.
Importantly, Windows 365 is only available to business customers.
What are the benefits of Windows 365?
There are three key use cases for which Windows 365 is particularly well suited:
- You are due to carry out a routine hardware refresh
- You are considering how best to meet demand for increased remote working
- You have a fluctuating headcount and don’t want to invest in additional capacity that will be under-used.
- You require to provide access to your environment to 3rd parties.
In each case your business can expect to realise these benefits:
1. Increase return on existing investments
Because all the heavy processing is done in the cloud, the client device used to access the Windows 365 session is less important. This means that existing desktop PCs and laptops can remain in service for longer, maximising the overall return on investment.
You will also find that BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) enables organisations to quickly and efficiently implement remote working. If employees are able to use their own devices to access corporate Windows 365 sessions, this further reduces required capital spend on company devices
2. Future-proofed technology
Where the PCs in your offices begin to experience age-related performance and reliability issues, Windows 365 Cloud PCs do not. Built using proven virtualisation concepts, these sessions do not age or degrade, components never fail and performance will remain consistent forever.
As technology evolves, Microsoft will continue rolling out new features and functionality that further improve performance. You will also have the option to upgrade the version of Windows installed on your Cloud PCs as part of the subscription fee.
3. Enhanced security provisions
Because it is built on the Azure cloud, Windows 365 benefits from the same enterprise-class security safeguards. Microsoft is constantly refining and improving defences to improve overall security of the platform.
The Cloud PC approach also ensures that corporate data is always encrypted and stored in the cloud. Even if users save data to their desktop PC, it is still stored securely in Azure, dramatically reducing risk if a device is lost or stolen for instance.
4. Straightforward licensing
Very similar to Microsoft 365, Windows 365 is licensed on a per-user monthly subscription basis. Rather than making a significant investment in buying physical PCs, you can take out a Windows 365 subscription that offers exactly the same functionality for a small monthly fee.
The subscription models ensure you only ever pay for what you need and that you don’t hold any surplus licenses and hardware ‘just in case’ they may be needed in future.
5. Simplified IT management
Historically, hosted desktops and thin clients can be difficult to deploy and manage – but the cloud-centric design of Windows 365 has been designed to simplify every aspect of managing your PC estate. All the tools you need to create, configure, deploy and manage are included in the subscription, allowing you to quickly spin-up and assign new virtual computers for your users.
The less time you spend managing your IT estate, the more time you can invest in strategic projects and revenue-creating activities.
How is Windows 365 different from Azure Virtual Desktop?
Windows 365 and Azure Virtual Desktop both offer the full Windows operating system experience in a web browser. There are two major differences though – the division of responsibility between Microsoft and the customer, and the way both platforms are billed.
Windows 365 is designed to be quick and easy to deploy and manage. To achieve this goal, Microsoft assume management responsibility for the entire technology stack; subscribers need only manage end user devices (the device used to access the Cloud PC) and user accounts (identity). All the supporting factors (physical hardware, connectivity and performance) are managed by Microsoft as part of the subscription.
On the other hand, Windows Azure Desktop is targeted at businesses who need greater control of their environment – and who have more skilled resources available to manage their desktop environment. These subscribers are responsible for managing everything that sits on top of the virtualisation plane, including network controls, deployment configuration, operating system, application security, end user devices and user identity.
When it comes to billing, Windows 365 is offered as a flat rate subscription. Everything – virtual processing, network bandwidth and storage – is included in the fee. This greatly simplifies budgeting and cost control.
Azure Virtual Desktop follows the general Azure resource consumption billing model – you are charged for the resources your users actually consume in their cloud PC sessions. To realise maximum value from this set-up, businesses will need skilled cloud engineers who can configure and manage sessions to contain and maximise resource usage.
How does Windows 365 integrate with Microsoft Endpoint Manager?
Microsoft Endpoint Manager combines Intune and System Center Configuration Manager to simplify administration of your remote workers and their computers. This functionality has now been extended to Windows 365 Cloud PCs, offering a single interface for mobile device management (MDM) and mobile application management (MAM).
With Microsoft Endpoint Manager your IT administrators can quickly provision, deploy, manage and secure each Cloud PC. This will reduce operational overheads, allowing them to resolve user issues as efficiently as possible. This is particularly good news for any business already using End Point Manager as it means one less management tool to master.
How do you get started with Windows 365?
Windows 365 is available in two variants, Business (targeted at SMEs) and Enterprise (for larger businesses). To get started with Windows 365 you must:
- Decide whether your business is best suited to Business or Enterprise plan.
- Specify the virtual hardware configuration that best meets your user needs.
- Purchase sufficient subscriptions to cover your mobile workforce.
At this point you are ready to begin configuring Cloud PC images and onboarding users. As with any new deployment project, your Microsoft partner will be able to assist with specification, sourcing and pricing to ensure you get exactly what you need.
To learn more about Windows 365 and how Camwood can help you build a Cloud PC estate that delivers on your strategic goals, please get in touch.