Cloud computing has come a long way in the last couple of decades. As a way of delivering various on-demand IT resources over the internet, cloud computing has an endless list of applications. These can then offer individuals and organizations alike access to resources that may otherwise be beyond their means.
As you can imagine, the cost of running an on-premises IT environment can be very steep. This is why cloud computing is being adopted by a lot of organizations as they realize the benefits and convenience you get. And Microsoft has been providing these services for a long time but with Windows 365, the company is looking to make cloud computing even better.
Windows 365 is a Desktop as a Service offering that was introduced by Microsoft in 2021. It is designed to provide both small and large organizations with a cloud computing environment that can adequately meet the various needs. And when you consider that Microsoft already had other virtualization technologies on offer, you can trust that this new service will give you some of the best of those other technologies.
In fact, Windows 365 is built on the Azure infrastructure so that already breeds confidence in the service. Microsoft has basically leveraged its existing products and gone for a new approach to delivering virtual desktop infrastructure. Organizations can use the Cloud PC to increase security as well as productivity. In addition, having a cloud-based Windows PC can also help employees collaborate better regardless of where they physically are.
By using the Windows 365 Cloud PC, users will be able to stream their Windows PC to any supported device. And this is something that you can do using either a browser or a native RDP client.
Arguably the key foundational concept of Windows 365 is simplicity and so Microsoft has designed the service to be relatively easy to set up and use. In line with that, you’ll get to use all your favorite tools such as Microsoft 365, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Microsoft Power Platform, and plenty more.
Furthermore, Windows 365 comes in two editions to cater to both small and large enterprises. The Windows 365 Business edition targets the small to medium enterprise sector that may only need a few desktops. Organizations can get up to 300 desktops and will be charged a fixed rate that depends on the selected hardware configuration.
For larger enterprises, there is Windows 365 Enterprise which can help you to integrate the desktops with your existing Azure virtual network.
Simplifying virtual desktop infrastructure
One of the things that Windows 365 aims to do is to ensure that it can avail cloud computing to as many people as possible. With traditional VDI environments, you would need to set up a server, install applications, and then provide access to users.
But, Windows 365 does away with all of that. Microsoft has designed a product that has all the building blocks automated for you and will take care of all the virtualization. In addition, the service can scale with you in a highly optimized way to use Microsoft 365 apps.
Your organization doesn’t need to worry about the hardware and software configurations of the devices that your users have. Admins will be particularly glad to hear this because it means that deployment will become significantly easier and faster.
Traditional VDI may sometimes have limitations regarding where one can get access. This is not so with Windows 365 as users can access their Cloud PCs from anywhere on almost any device. The kind of freedom that Windows 365 gives its users is what makes it the ideal product for an increasingly hybrid world.
So, before you get started with setting up your Windows 365 environment, you’ll need to find out what the device requirements are. Are there any specific devices that your organization needs to purchase if you want to use Windows 365? Fortunately, there’s not much to worry about in this regard because Microsoft wants to make accessing Cloud PCs convenient and easy.
Therefore, Windows 365 will do this by allowing you to use most devices which Microsoft also hopes will help you reduce your IT costs in the hardware department. Because Windows 365 is essentially PC hardware that runs in the cloud, the importance of your actual physical device is significantly less.
As long as you have an internet connection, you’ll be able to operate a reasonably powerful Windows PC using just about any device. To access this Cloud PC, you can use any modern browser or the Remote Desktop app.
A setup like this is going to be extremely beneficial for organizations that have a sizeable remote or seasonal workforce. Your organization won’t need to make a massive investment in hardware for all those employees. Even better is the fact that they’ll be able to easily access these Cloud PCs anywhere without losing any progress.
In short, all Windows 10 and Windows 11 devices should be compatible with Windows 365. The best part, however, is that clients will be able to easily stream a Windows 365 session to hardware running macOS, iOS, Linux, and Android.
However, for the best experience, Microsoft recommends devices that have a traditional keyboard and mouse. For the most part, as long as your device has an HTML5 browser and a DSL connection or a wireless internet connection capable of streaming a video you will be just fine. The amount of bandwidth that you’ll need, however, will depend on your workload.
How much does it cost?
Microsoft offers Windows 365 at varying prices to cater to the different needs of the target organizations. From the small outfit needing only a handful of PCs to the larger enterprises that may require unlimited options. Not only that but it also helps to ensure that users will only pay for what they need.
So, support staff can get a Cloud PC that works for them, and individuals such as engineers that have heavier computing needs can also get something that suits them. You can get Cloud PCs in multiple configurations from $20 per user per month for the lowest-end SKU, to $162 per user per month for the most expensive one.
This fixed per month pricing model is something else that distinguishes Windows 365 from Azure Virtual Desktop which is consumption-based. And if the need to scale up ever arises then you have the option of doing that by getting a different subscription.
For the Windows 365 Business edition, the $20 per user per month fee is going to get you a single virtual core, 2GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage. Although you will require Windows Hybrid Benefit, which is Microsoft’s Bring-Your-Own license model that is designed to help clients to apply existing (or new) licenses toward the cost of a product.
Otherwise, if you don’t have Windows Hybrid Benefit then the cost goes up to $24 per user per month. At the other end of the spectrum, clients will be able to purchase the Business SKU that offers eight virtual cores, 32GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage for $158. And similar to the previous one, without Windows Hybrid Benefit the cost goes up, this time to $162.
Larger organizations have the Windows 365 Enterprise edition designed for them and the pricing range is similar. Users that have lighter computing needs can get a single virtual core with 2GB of RAM and 64GB of storage for $20 per user per month. And for the other users that require virtual machines that can deliver significantly more, you can get an option that gives you eight virtual cores, 32GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage for $158 per user per month.
The provisioning process is going to create a Cloud PC virtual machine and then set it up for a user. Provisioning also enables the completion of other tasks that will prepare the machine for use as well as the sending of access information to the user. To start the process, admins will have to provide configuration details to set up the process.
Once that’s been done, users that have a Windows 365 license that matches the configuration details will automatically get Cloud PCs provisioned for them. However, each user and license pair can only have one Cloud PC provisioned for them because the provisioning setup works on a one-time per user and per-license basis. The steps of the provisioning process are given below:
- A provisioning policy is created to manage access to the Cloud PCs. These provisioning policies are integral to the process because they are responsible for building, configuring, and availing Cloud PCs to end-users. As such, each policy needs you to provide information about the on-premises network connection, the image used to create each Cloud PC, and an Azure AD user group.
- The provisioning process will begin with the assignment of a Windows 365 license to users in the Azure AD user group. Subsequently, Windows 365 will then proceed with the automatic provisioning of the Cloud PC. And after doing that, the necessary access information will be sent to the user. The automation is performed in 3 phases that will remain invisible to the administrator.
- Once all the above has been carried out successfully, what only remains is for the end user to get the access data that will provide them with access to sign in to the Windows Cloud PC from anywhere.
Improving the setup process
In the first few months of 2022, Microsoft announced that it was implementing a few changes meant to make setting up Cloud PCs even easier. The announcement informed us about how Windows 365 was going to get the “join” feature. Azure AD joined devices are those whose computer object is no longer stored in the on-premises Active Directory Domain Services environment.
Instead, it is now located in Azure Active Directory. By using Azure AD Join you’ll be able to join devices directly to Azure AD without the need to join to on-premises Active Directory. And all this can be done while keeping your users productive and secure. Your admins can easily leverage Azure AD Join for both at-scale and scoped deployments. According to Microsoft, this feature was highly requested by organizations who wanted to simplify the onboarding process.
When Microsoft made the announcement, it was said that Azure AD join had been the most requested feature since Windows 365 reached general availability. So, admins will be glad to know that they now have the possibility of using Azure AD join as a Cloud PC join type option.
Therefore, what this means for organizations is that you no longer need to have an existing Azure infrastructure to use the service but just your Azure AD users. All of this has been done to make it easier for admins to onboard users using Azure Active Directory.
Expectedly, this presents a massive upgrade, especially when looking at how integral Azure AD is to Microsoft’s identity and security services. Bringing the ‘join’ feature to the Windows 365 platform will go a long way in maintaining the theme of ease of use that Microsoft has described for its Cloud PC.
Before this upgrade, the ‘join’ feature had helped businesses that use the on-premises version of Active Directory by functioning as a device-joining bridge. Simply put, adding Azure AD Join to the Windows 365 platform is going to enable admins to enroll devices without the need to have on-premises Active Directory. Now all you need to do is use your Azure AD users.
Accessing your Cloud PC
After everything has been set up it’s time for users to learn just how they can connect to the Cloud PC. We need to clarify what clients can be used as well as what options the end-users will have. Also, we need to know how administrative credentials can be provided to the end-user. Microsoft has provided two ways for users to connect to the Cloud PC:
- Web browser – the first method that users have for accessing the Cloud PC is via a web browser. All you have to do is simply navigate to windows365.microsoft.com. Once there you can log in with the user credentials that have a desktop provisioned and the portal will show you an overview of the desktops available to you. However, to access the Cloud PC using this website, users’ devices need to meet the following requirements:
- supported operating systems: Windows, macOS, ChromeOS, Linux,
- a modern browser like Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, Safari, or Mozilla Firefox (v55.0 and later).
When using windows365.microsoft.com, end users can carry out various tasks on their Cloud PCs by selecting the gear icon on a Cloud PC card.
- rename: doing this will change the name of the Cloud PC that the user sees on the website. But, performing this action doesn’t change any name in Microsoft Endpoint Manager, Azure Active Directory, on the device, or in the Remote Desktop Apps.
- restart: this will restart the Cloud PC.
- troubleshoot: whenever a user is encountering challenges with connecting to the Cloud PC, this will help you to troubleshoot and try to resolve those challenges. A few checks will be run including verifying that all the files and agents necessary for connectivity have been properly installed. There will also be a check for the availability of Azure resources.
- Remote desktop – the second method that Microsoft offers clients for connecting to the Cloud PC is by using the Microsoft Remote Desktop app. This is designed to enable users to access and control a remote PC, including a Cloud PC. So, for those who have been using Azure Virtual Desktop, this is an app they will already be familiar with. Setting up the Remote Desktop is a relatively simple process that requires you to follow a few steps:
- first, you’ll have to download the Remote Desktop app. You can find it on the Download App page at www.microsoft.com/windows-365?rtc=1.
- next, you select Subscribe.
- the next step will require you to enter your Azure Active Directory credentials.
- you will then see the Cloud PC appear on a list. Simply double-click it to launch.
Cloud PC security
Microsoft provides Cloud PCs with good security measures straight out of the box. And just like you have with your physical computers, Windows 365 Cloud PCs will come with Microsoft Defender. This helps to ensure that your device is secure from the first-run experience.
Also, the provisioning of the Cloud PCs is done using a gallery image. To ensure improved security, the image will have the latest updates for Windows 10 through Windows Update for Business. However, there are a few differences between what exactly you’ll get for Windows 365 Business and for Windows 365 Enterprise.
Windows 365 Business
Since Windows 365 Business is a service aimed at smaller organizations, particularly those that may not have IT staff, users on this edition are granted local admin rights to their Cloud PCs. So, this situation basically replicates what happens with a lot of small businesses whereby users purchase computers and retain local admin rights.
For IT departments that want to use Windows 365 Business for particular cases, they need to follow standard security practices if they intend to make those users standard users on their devices. To use MEM for this approach, you’ll need to follow the guidelines below:
- The process starts with device configuration to enroll the devices in MEM
using automatic enrollment.
- The next step involves the management of the Local Administrators group.
This can be done using Azure AD or MEM.
- In addition, it would be a good idea to have Microsoft Defender Attack Surface Reduction (ASR) rules enabled. This would be very useful because these rules are in-depth defense mitigations for specific security concerns, such as blocking credential stealing from the Windows local security authority subsystem.
Windows 365 Enterprise
When it comes to Windows 365 Enterprise, you’ll start to see some significant differences because this edition was designed for organizations that have dedicated IT teams. This makes things slightly easier for IT as you have a system that is molded on the management and security that Microsoft Endpoint Manager provides. All Cloud PCs in Windows 365 Enterprise configure users as standard users by default.
However, admins still have the ability to make exceptions on a per-user basis. Furthermore, all Cloud PCs will be enrolled in MEM with reporting of Microsoft Defender Antivirus alerts. You’ll also get the ability to onboard into the full Microsoft Defender for Endpoint capabilities. Microsoft makes the following security recommendations for users of Windows 365 Enterprise:
- Users should stick to standard Windows 10 security practices. This also means restricting access to your Cloud PC using local administrator privileges.
- You need to deploy Windows 365 security baselines to your Cloud PC from MEM. Furthermore, you should utilize Microsoft Defender to protect your endpoints, especially all Cloud PCs.
- Taking advantage of Azure AD conditional access is a must. With features such as MFA and user/sign-in risk mitigation, you can significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized access to your Cloud PC.
There has been a lot of talk about remote work and hybrid work environments in recent years. And with the interest that is in the market, a product like Windows 365 is perfectly designed to meet the needs of most organizations. The flexibility and scalability of the platform offer an endless list of benefits to users both at home and in the office.
Additionally, Microsoft has built the product to be simple to configure and use even for businesses that don’t have specialist IT professionals on staff. All of these things, among many others, combine to give you an incredible virtual experience that runs on the highly secure Microsoft Cloud.