Understanding The Microsoft 365 Stack For Cloud Security

Microsoft 365 (M365) provides businesses with a solution that empowers people to fully utilize their creativity while working together securely.

All of the features that you get should enhance the productivity of your business. But, the key to all of this is keeping your data secure.

Incidents of security breaches have been steadily increasing over the last few years so data security should be a top priority for all businesses. By understanding how the Microsoft 365 stack operates, we can see how the available features can strengthen your cybersecurity.

What’s in it?

The first question that one may ask is what will you get with Microsoft 365? And is it actually any different from Office 365 or is this merely a rebranding exercise?

Firstly, clients get local apps and cloud-based apps, and productivity services. These include both M365 Apps for enterprise, the latest Office apps (such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and others), and a full suite of online services.

Secondly, you’ll also receive Windows 10 Enterprise which is the most productive and secure version of Windows. It meets the needs of users and IT for both large and medium enterprises.

And finally, you also benefit from device management and advanced security services including Microsoft Intune. So all in all, Microsoft 365 is designed to be a more comprehensive solution and the name change is more reflective of the range of features and benefits in the subscription.  

Businesses are vulnerable

The importance of cloud security to a business cannot be overstated. Especially when you take into consideration the study by the University of Maryland showing that cybercriminals infiltrate business data about once every 39 seconds.

And as remote work continues to expand, the use of personal devices to access sensitive data can be a massive additional risk. This is why businesses need platforms like Microsoft 365 Stack to not only enhance productivity but safeguard business data as well.

Backing up your data

Arguably one of the first things to consider in your data protection strategy is cloud backup. Because there are so many threats – internal and external – to data security, having your data backed up is a must. Using the Microsoft 365 Cloud Backup comes with several benefits that you simply cannot ignore. And these include:

  • Protection against accidental deletion of data which is something that will happen occasionally.
  • Protection against data losses resulting from cyberattacks.
  • Threats don’t always come from outside actors so backups will also protect you from the nefarious actions of internal actors.
  • Backups can help you to manage legal and compliance requirements.

Working from anywhere

One of the key selling points of Microsoft 365 is how it enables people to collaborate on various projects from just about anywhere. And this is made possible because the responsibility of your data’s security lies with Microsoft.

Businesses can rest easy knowing that their data is highly secure on the OneDrive platform or when shared across Teams and SharePoint.

What this also means is that you have fewer expenses by eliminating the need to maintain expensive hardware.

Furthermore, built-in security features such as the robust data loss prevention policy, Advanced Threat Analytics, and Exchange Online Protection will enable your employees to work remotely as securely as possible.

Secure access to data

The Microsoft 365 stack ensures that even when employees are using personal devices, the security of your data is still maintained. This is possible because of features like multi-factor authentication (MFA) that add a layer of protection to the sign-in process.

So users will have to provide additional identity verification, such as scanning a fingerprint or entering a code received by phone.

Also, you can add solutions like Microsoft Intune to use advanced capabilities that can enforce mobile device encryption and enable the use of PIN numbers. Microsoft ­365 has several threat protection tools that all businesses should know:

  • Microsoft Defender ATP: offers clients excellent endpoint protection and prevents cyberattacks and data breaches. With the increase in use of personal devices, this feature works great on mobile devices, which are particularly vulnerable to attacks.
  • Office 365 ATP: this feature aims to secure your communications by dealing with phishing attacks, zero-day threats, and other types of malware that users may encounter in emails and links.
  • Microsoft Cloud App Security: detects abnormal usage and incidents, alerting you to threats to your cloud apps.
  • Azure ATP: makes use of on-site active directory to keep your identities secure and also reduce the attack surface.

Simplifying update processes

One of the major advantages of having cloud-based software is the ability to have regular updates. This is particularly necessary when we consider the sophistication of the constant cyber threats that businesses have to contend with.

And the great thing about these updates is that Microsoft allows organizations to sign up to an update schedule that is convenient for them. By doing this, regular updates will stop being a nuisance that people sometimes ignore.

Especially given how important they are for bug fixing and patching up security issues. When organizations can have the most up-to-date software versions in their hands, this can significantly enhance their cloud security.

Securing your business

Cyber threats are targeting all kinds of organizations and small businesses are no exception. Without effective solutions in place, you are at risk of being shut down by cybercriminals. But by using Microsoft 365 Stack, you get a robust solution that is designed to provide companies with all the features they need to run a more secure and efficient business.

All the available tools and features will help you to address the data security and compliance issues that you are bound to encounter as time goes on. It may just be time to utilize the enterprise-grade service and protection of the M365 stack. 

Microsoft Launches Windows 365

An argument could be made that the need for tools that not only simplify but improve remote work has never been greater than it is today. In an increasingly connected world, leveraging cloud computing can be the answer to a lot of the challenges that businesses are currently facing.

With Windows 365, Microsoft is aiming to improve on existing technologies to make the cloud experience even better. By enabling the computing to be done remotely in a data center and then streamed to users’ devices, Microsoft can offer something that can be compared to game streaming.

As a new way of using a computer as hybrid Windows for a hybrid world, there’s plenty that we need to look into.

What are we looking at?

Just when people were thinking that Windows 10 would be the last in the line of Windows versions, Microsoft gives us another one.

A platform that in Microsoft’s own words is going to take the operating system to the Microsoft cloud and stream the full Windows experience to personal or corporate devices.

This will include settings, data, and apps. It’s what Microsoft calls the Cloud PC. Simply put, this is a service that allows business clients to access cloud PCs from anywhere.

So technically speaking, we should not look at this service as a new version of Windows. Rather, we should take it for what it truly is — a platform that is designed to stream the full experience of Windows 10 or 11 to any browser.

Regardless of which operating system your device may be running. If we are to consider how Microsoft’s Software-As-A-Service (SaaS) model has evolved over the last decade, this move was probably going to be the next step.

Launch date

The announcement from Microsoft was made on the 14th of July and in that statement, it was made known that we should expect Windows 365 on the 2nd of August. This, however, will be for businesses. Chances are that at some point, Microsoft may eventually avail the service to consumers and small shops — sole proprietorships.

Giving clients virtual PCs

By providing this service, Microsoft can potentially cut partners out and provide virtual PCs directly to its clients. Rather than only offering operating systems, applications, productivity suites such as Microsoft Office, etc. Windows 365 can give Microsoft an even bigger slice of the pie. Because of the massive cloud system available with Azure servers, Microsoft won’t have a problem running virtual machines.

This can provide a great tool for the evolution of the Desktop-As-A-Service (DaaS) offering. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement, “Just like applications were brought to the cloud with SaaS, we are now bringing the operating system to the cloud, providing organizations with greater flexibility and a secure way to empower their workforce to be more productive and connected, regardless of location.”

How does it work?

According to the information that has been made available so far, we know that there will be two versions of Windows 365 — Business and Enterprise. Both of these will be powered by Azure Virtual Desktop. Users will be able to use Windows 365 on any modern web browser or through Microsoft’s Remote Desktop app.

What this means is that users can gain access to their Cloud PC from a variety of devices. In a statement by one of Microsoft 365’s general managers, Wangui McKelvey, he says, “Windows 365 provides an instant-on boot experience.”

This capability simplifies how users can easily stream their Windows sessions. And Windows 365 enables them to do that with all of their same apps, tools, data, and settings across Macs, iPads, Linux machines, and Android devices. As McKelvey goes on to explain, “You can pick up right where you left off, because the state of your Cloud PC remains the same, even when you switch devices.”

Advantages to businesses

Windows 365 can enable your businesses to create Cloud PCs within minutes and assign them to employees. And this can be done without the need for expensive, dedicated physical hardware.

Without a doubt, this could prove to be a very attractive option for plenty of businesses. Especially those that may need to hire remote workers or even temporary contract staff that need to securely access a corporate network.

Because your entire Windows PC is in the cloud, your employees can work comfortably on a very secure platform. Furthermore, they won’t need to navigate VPNs or worry about security on personal devices.

Other advantages that you can get include lower maintenance costs, better protection against cyberattacks and malware, faster provisioning, less downtime in case of cyberattacks, easier patching, and far less disruptive updates.

Licensing concerns

Expectedly, clients are going to have some concerns with regards to how this will affect their current licenses. Will you have to pay more, for potentially the same services? The way Microsoft puts it, that’s not what will happen.

For instance, if you already have a Microsoft 365 E3 license, then you have paid for that service and you won’t need to do so again. This means that you can continue to use the software you have paid for and that includes Windows 10.

When it comes to Windows 365 licenses, what you’ll need to pay for is access to the virtual PC service. The latter will be maintained by Microsoft on its vast network of servers with the aim of running the software that you already have.

In a way, you could consider it similar to purchasing a computer and then purchasing the operating system and applications that you need. As a new offering, things are still hazy but hopefully, Microsoft will further clarify the concerns and confusion that people may have.

One thing that we do know are the licensing requirements and they are as follows:

  • On Windows Pro endpoints: Windows 10 Enterprise E3 + EMS E3; or Microsoft 365 F3, E3, E5 or BP (Business Premium),
  • On non-Windows Pro endpoints: Windows VDA E3 + EMS E3; or Microsoft 365 F3, E3, F5, or BP (Business Premium).

In addition, you also need to know the non-licensing requirements:

  • Azure subscription,
  • Virtual Network (vNET) in Azure subscription,
  • Hybrid Azure Active Directory (AAD) join-enabled.

Cost of service

With the licensing issues out of the way, clients need to know just how much they will need to pay to use Windows 365. Unfortunately, despite the service launching so soon, Microsoft has yet to officially provide a guideline with regards to how much clients will pay. But, during a session at its Inspire partner conference, Microsoft did inadvertently mention how much Business plans would cost. And that came down to $31 per user, per month.

For this, you will get support for 2 CPUs as well as 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. However, it is worth noting that we can expect at least one other plan that will cost less. Clients can look forward to having an option for 1 PC, 2GB of RAM, and 64GB storage, aimed at small businesses.

Furthermore, there will also be Enterprise plans that can offer support for 4 or 8 different PCs, in addition to 8/16/32 GB of RAM and 128/256/512GB of storage. For now, however, clients can only guess how much they will have to fork out to access these plans.

Enhancing the capabilities of hybrid work

The global pandemic has changed the way that enterprises look at some of their business practices. With people having had to spend long periods of time at home, businesses had to increase their dependence on virtual processes and remote collaboration. It was necessary to keep businesses running and retain employees.

Although the situation is getting under control in several regions across the globe, the way businesses operate may potentially change. With Windows 365, businesses can tackle head-on the challenges that cloud computing and remote work has often presented.

Organizations will be able to provide employees with greater flexibility and more options to work from different locations. All of this while still ensuring the security of the organization’s data. This is because by taking advantage of the Cloud PC, you get hybrid personal computing that can turn all of your devices into a personalized, productive, and secure digital workspace.

Having this capability will simplify the process of managing seasonal workers without the challenges of issuing new hardware or securing personal devices. As said by Microsoft itself, Windows 365 offers you a better, more modern way to deliver a great productivity experience with increased versatility, simplicity, and security.

Are we getting two Windows versions?

As mentioned above, most people were of the belief that Windows 10 would be the last version we would get. And then in June, Microsoft announced Windows 11. Barely a few weeks after that announcement, along came Windows 365. So not one, but two new versions? But, it’s not quite as simple as that.

Windows 11 is the actual successor to Windows 10. It’s a new operating system packed with new features such as a brand new Start menu that no longer uses Live Tiles. It also comes with new system requirements such as CPUs based on the x64 architecture since there is no 32-bit version of Windows 11. That’s in addition to the 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage you’ll need to install Windows 11.

So basically, Microsoft has only actually provided one new product, Windows 11 to succeed Windows 10. Windows 365, on the other hand, is something of a hybrid between a virtual machine and Microsoft Remote Desktop.

It’s the subscription service that allows you to create Cloud PCs that run Windows 10 or eventually Windows 11. So the platform is not tied to a particular operating system version therefore you pay a monthly fee based on the hardware configuration you want your PC to have.

What about Azure Virtual Desktop?

Another point that requires clarification is with regards to Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD). Why does Microsoft feel the need to have another VDI? For starters, Windows 365 appears to be more user-friendly than AVD.

Navigation has been made easier and the process of setting up an Azure Virtual Desktop system in the Azure cloud is also significantly less complicated. This is because Windows 365 focuses more on simplicity as compared to Azure whose goal is flexibility.

With Windows 365, you can let Microsoft handle the core infrastructure and platform piece. This is because the platform comes in the form of Software-As-A-Service. On the other hand, with AVD, clients need to manage a supporting Azure subscription, configure and implement the platform services required to allow a thin-client or Remote Desktop client to connect in.

So basically Windows 365 is an automated version of AVD that is aimed at companies of all sizes, including small businesses. Unlike AVD which targets the enterprise market. Below are some guidelines that Microsoft provides for you to choose the product that best suits you.

Azure Virtual Desktop:

  • Windows 10 personalized and multi-session desktops and remote app streaming.
  • Full control over management and deployment plus options for Citrix and VMware integration.
  • Flexible consumption-based pricing.

Windows 365:

  • Windows 10 personalized desktops.
  • Management and deployment with familiar desktop tools and skills.
  • Predictable per-user pricing.

Wrap Up

Windows 365 is introducing a whole different concept to both the Software-As-A-Service and Desktop-As-A-Service environments. This new platform seeks to set the tone for a more modern computing experience that can benefit businesses as well as individuals.

It’s still early stages and there is still a lot that we don’t know.

However, what is certain is that this is more than just a cloud-based version of Windows and can offer ersatz hardware as well. All of this is definitely going to make the future of cloud computing a lot more interesting.