Understanding Windows 365 Government

The interest in cloud computing technology has grown significantly over the last few years. Although it has been around for at least a couple of decades, a lot of businesses simply lacked interest in adopting the technology.

But, since the COVID-19 pandemic, many now recognize just what value cloud computing brings to their organizations.

Among the many potential benefits, it can enhance the security of your corporate data, it can reduce IT expenditure, and it can also contribute to greater employee satisfaction. As a leader in this space, Microsoft wants to offer clients a platform that can deliver the best of cloud computing. And this is where Windows 365 comes in.     

What is Windows 365?

Windows 365 is a service that Microsoft designed to offer clients an operating system on the cloud. This means that you can stream a Windows 365 PC to your PC, tablet, or even mobile phone. According to Microsoft:

“Windows 365 is a cloud-based service that automatically creates a new type of Windows virtual machine (Cloud PCs) for your end users. Each Cloud PC is assigned to an individual user and is their dedicated Windows device. Windows 365 provides the productivity, security, and collaboration benefits of Microsoft 365.”

So, what that ultimately means is that all those that are subscribed to the Windows 365 service will get access to all Microsoft apps and can access them using the Cloud PC on their device of choice. This allows Microsoft to address the growing need for hybrid work models as well as a platform that can offer flexible access to the Windows operating system.

And Microsoft assures prospective clients that their data will be extremely secure regardless of what device an individual may be using or where they may be working from. This is because all processes run on the highly secure network of Microsoft servers.

As a result, your IT environment gets an excellent degree of protection that comes with all the benefits of the Windows Enterprise model.

Microsoft offers Windows 365 under two subscription models. Windows 365 Business which is aimed at organizations with 300 employees or fewer, and Windows 365 Enterprise which is meant for much larger organizations.

However, it’s worth noting that these two models both have the same range of features. As far as configurations go, we get twelve Windows 365 Cloud PC configurations with the cheapest one offering one vCPU, 2GB RAM, and 64GB storage, and setting you back $20 per user per month. At the other end of the spectrum, users that perform compute-heavy tasks have the option of purchasing a subscription that gives them 8 vCPUs, with 32GB RAM, and 512GB storage for $158 per user per month.

Analyzing Windows 365 Government

Microsoft wants to ensure that its Windows 365 Cloud PC offering is available to all organizations that require it. And this includes the federal government of the US. With this service, US government users can have Cloud PCs automatically created for them.

As a version of the Cloud PC that is designed for federal employees and contractors, Windows 365 Government will be offered for Government Community Cloud (GCC) and Government Community Cloud High (GCC High). According to Microsoft, this offering provides a full Windows 365 experience that is designed to meet the extremely high security and compliance requirements of the US government.

This will allow US government users to benefit from the power and security of the Microsoft Cloud to enhance the user experience through flexibility and innovation.

This service is going to extend to US government agencies, contractors, partners (State, Local, Federal Civilian, Defense), and native Indian tribes (US only). The users who will have access can stream their Windows apps, data, content, and settings from the Microsoft cloud to any supported device at any time in an extremely secure environment. Microsoft promises to deliver the complete Windows experience by offering the following advantages:

  • Personalization – you can easily stream all your apps, content, and settings to any supported device from the Microsoft cloud.
  • Powerful – Microsoft has made a point of emphasizing that the Cloud PC is a scalable service that brings you the complete Windows 10 experience on the device of your choice. And as of December 2022, clients will also have the option of Windows 11.
  • Simplicity – potential clients can provision and deploy Windows on a Cloud PC at their convenience using either Microsoft Intune or going through windows365.microsoft.com
  • Secure – the Cloud PC already has some great security benefits but those will be even further enhanced with the new security features that you can expect to get with Windows 11.

As one would expect, the cloud environment that US government users have access to is understandably different from what’s available to other organizations. For most other organizations, there is Microsoft 365 Commercial which is the standard Microsoft 365 cloud.

This is where we will find Enterprise, Business Essentials, Academic, as well as home Office 365 tenants. It comes with a comprehensive list of tools and features, widespread availability across the globe, and a very competitive pricing model. As far as the Government Community Cloud is concerned, we can look at it as a version of the commercial environment specifically designed for government use.

We’ll find that the majority of the features available are generally the same but the biggest difference is that in this case, the data centers can only be found in the continental United States. This is so that the environment complies with the FedRAMP Moderate and adheres to the following requirements:

  • DFARS 252.204-7012 (As of February 2021 Microsoft will now attest to compliance)
  • DoD SRG Level 2 (with no provisional authority)
  • FBI CJIS (Criminal Justice Information Services)
  • FedRAMP High

Importance of the Government Community Cloud

The government cloud environment has to meet stringent security and compliance requirements some of which do not apply to the commercial environment. This is why Microsoft has found it necessary to create several, different cloud environments that can meet the various needs of the US government. Therefore, we find that there are 3 types of government clouds that Microsoft offers. These are:

  • Government Community Cloud – this particular type is meant for local, civilian, and federal government agencies.
  • GCC High – this type is similar to the previous one but is designed for highly classified government users as well as those that they have business dealings with.
  • DOD cloud – this one is a level higher than GCC High and is specifically for intelligence agencies.

Microsoft has several cloud services and solutions that uniquely serve government employees. These are the services that we’ll find:

Microsoft Azure Government

This cloud gives you a platform that is designed with the key principles of security, privacy and control, compliance, and transparency at the heart of it. Because of this, government entities will benefit from a physically isolated instance of Microsoft Azure that provides the highest level of security services to ensure that US government systems and applications can run seamlessly.

There are hundreds of different services available for businesses, organizations, and agencies that are looking for cloud computing services. Among these services, there are full virtual machines, services for mobile and web apps, file storage, backups, and databases to name a few.

What Microsoft Azure offers organizations is the ability to leverage the resources provided by the vast network of highly secure Microsoft servers. Doing this eliminates the need to host your own infrastructure which would come at great expense to both purchase and maintain.

By using Azure, on the other hand, you can pay for what you need and no more. And if the need arises to scale your environment, then you don’t need to worry about purchasing even more hardware to do so.

With Azure, organizations can host email servers, user directories, web servers, databases, virtual machines, and file storage servers among other things. Taking advantage of what Azure has to offer means that organizations can basically hire a very secure data center that doesn’t cost as much as on-premises infrastructure.  

Office 365 US Government

Office 365 is undeniably one of the key productivity tools for plenty of organizations. And Microsoft ensures that this service is also available to the US government. The Microsoft 365 for US Government Cloud offering for clients will include Windows 10, Office 365, and Enterprise Mobility + Security features for US government customers.

Additionally, to cater to the varying needs of different organizations, Microsoft offers several versions of this service. This means that educational institutions, nonprofits, customer service employees, and more can all get a version that meets their needs. It also goes without saying that the service is built to adhere to the strict security and compliance requirements of the US government.

Microsoft avails this service to various organizations including tribal entities and governments at the local, state, and federal levels. Those in the defense sector along with the contractors they work with can also benefit greatly from using Office 365 for US Government.

Dynamics 365 Government

The US public sector has a large number of very unique requirements that are constantly changing. So, to cater to the needs of qualified US government entities Microsoft came up with Microsoft Dynamics 365 Government. This service represents the continuing progress of the highly protected environment that was previously named Microsoft CRM Online Government. With the evolution of the service, Microsoft offers protections to the government community cloud in the form of eight separate functions:

  • Customer Service
  • Customer Voice
  • Field Service
  • Finance
  • Guides
  • Omnichannel Engagement Hub
  • Project Service Automation
  • Remote Assist on HoloLens or HoloLens 2
  • Sales
  • Supply Chain Management

The service is available for several different organizations including the following:

  • Federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government entities in the United States.
  • Private organizations that are using Dynamics 365 Government to provide solutions or services to various government entities.
  • Private organizations that deal with customer data and use Dynamics 365b Government to meet the government’s regulatory requirements.        

Familiar experience

One of the best things about Windows 365 Government is how it aims to offer the same Windows experience to government users that all other clients are used to. When using this platform, all Cloud PCs will be provisioned within a US government data center.

But, for those familiar with the Cloud PC, the experience will remain largely the same. If you’ve already experienced Cloud PCs in the commercial cloud then the experience you’ll get in the Government Community Cloud environment will offer you familiar tools and provisioning policy configuration.

This makes getting up to speed with Windows 365 Government significantly easier because there is no need to train users to use a completely new service. Additionally, clients that use both Commercial and GCC environments will get the convenience of using the same identities and credentials.

Cloud computing using the Windows 365 Cloud PC is meant to eliminate as much as possible the complexities that have been previously associated with virtualization technology. End-users get a transparent platform that is easy to use but also extremely secure.

But, using Windows 365 Government is also great for IT admins because they don’t need to worry about meeting the stringent security and compliance requirements of the US government. Ultimately, this gives Windows 365 clients a service that enables them to potentially reduce their operational costs while effectively managing their hybrid environments as well as both legacy and modern applications.      

Are all the available features supported yet?

One of the key things that government users would like to know is how extensive are the features available for Windows 365 Government. Especially for individuals that are already familiar with the Cloud PC experience. However, it’s worth noting that there are features that aren’t as yet available. These include the following:

  • Configure installed language and region for provisioning Cloud PCs
  • Digital forensics and placing a Cloud PC under review
  • Unified dashboard
  • Virtualization-based workloads
  • Endpoint analytics support (this is supported in GCC)
  • Windows 365 Security baseline
  • RDP Shortpath for public networks
  • Windows 365 System based alerting on Microsoft Endpoint Manager for Cloud PCs
  • User initiated feedback in End User Portal and Windows 365 Web Client
  • Resize VM

How does it compare to AVD?

This is, as you would expect, one of the most frequently asked questions by people considering Windows 365. Windows 365 offers clients virtual desktops known as Cloud PCs that come at a fixed per user per month cost whereas Azure Virtual Desktop uses a consumption-based pricing structure. Windows 365 Cloud PCs are dedicated to a single user, unlike AVD which is a more traditional VDI setup accessible to multiple users.

When it comes to management, Windows 365 offers a simplified system that resembles the management of physical devices. However, AVD is heavily reliant on Azure management concepts. Ultimately, what you get with Windows 365 is a platform that is built to fully enhance the user experience while AVD is geared more towards flexibility.

Setting up users

Microsoft has put in place a system that makes it relatively easy to set up users with Cloud PCs. Even when you need to onboard thousands of Windows 365 devices you aren’t going to necessarily require an entire team of admins to get the job done. One of the key areas of focus when it comes to Windows 365 is simplicity and that applies to the onboarding process as well. This means that the ease with which users can be set up allows a single admin to be able to onboard hundreds or even thousands of devices.

As Microsoft has explained, the tools available to admins and the management of Cloud PCs are very much similar to how admins handle physical devices. So even for federal government clients who want to bring their own image the simplified, accelerated onboarding process remains the same.

Regardless of whether you’re talking about a handful of devices or a thousand. The admin can easily upload a custom image to the provisioning policy and can then assign groups to it with each group having a single user or a thousand.

Establishing ease of use

Windows 365 aims to make the use of Cloud PCs a simple process for all its clients. But, working in a regulated US government cloud is typically not the easiest of things. This is why Microsoft is determined to extend the ease of use of Windows 365 to its government clients. For instance, GCC customers that want to have their data and Cloud PCs to be hosted in the government cloud can use the same identity and credentials as for the commercial cloud.

So, by doing this, Windows 365 Government makes it significantly easier for clients to access their Cloud PCs on the secure government cloud. On the other hand, admins will still be able to meet the very high security requirements of the US government. Also, organizations can potentially run their operations more cost-effectively as they adopt an increasingly cloud-based approach.

End-users have their experiences made simpler because of the potential to have one identity that can authenticate both to on-premises resources as well as provide easy access to their Cloud PCs in Microsoft Azure for Government.

And users can do this through the Windows 365 portal at windows365.microsoft.com or through the remote desktop app on Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android. There is also a recent addition to this list with the Windows 365 native client app which has recently been put in public preview and can be found in the Microsoft Store.

Looking at the admin experience

Administrators will find that the cloud-native Windows 365 architecture for GCC is delivered to customers FedRAMP compliant.  This means that admins will not need to make any other configurations thus keeping in line with the concept of simplicity. Admins can also stay in Entra (AAD) and Intune in Azure Commercial for the provisioning and administration of Cloud PCs in Microsoft Azure for Government (MAG).

Microsoft has also addressed the issue of clients who are already invested in the Microsoft Azure Commercial environment. Trying to rebuild everything in MAG would be a huge task that would probably come at a significant cost.

Therefore, Microsoft came up with the idea of a dual cloud execution that would see the identity and management planes remaining in the Azure Commercial environment. On the other hand, all the Cloud PC resources would be provisioned and accessed in the Azure for Government environment.

Management tools

One of the reasons why Windows 365 can repeatedly highlight how easy it is to use is the availability of the same tools that you use to manage physical devices. This means that end users and admins can operate in the same familiar environment that they have become accustomed to over the years.

Therefore, clients don’t need to learn how to function in a completely new environment and admins can keep the same controls and tools that they want. So, the way that you have been using tools for Endpoint Configuration Manager is going to translate to Windows 365 Cloud PCs. And this is regardless of whether you are operating in the commercial cloud or the government cloud.

Wrap Up

The modernization that we are seeing in the modern workplace is not only limited to the commercial sector. It goes beyond that and we can now see that government agencies are also leveraging cloud services at a faster pace than in the past.

As a result, this is having a massive impact on the way these entities operate. But, to do this effectively there is a need for a platform like Windows 365 Government that can provide the services needed for optimal operation.

Not only that but Windows 365 Government meets the stringent security and compliance requirements of the US government. This allows government entities to take advantage of the vast array of tools that Windows 365 offers to commercial entities without compromising security.