When Windows 365 was unveiled by Redmond at its Microsoft Inspire 2021 event in July, there was expectedly a lot of buzz around it. And as always happens with such announcements, there were a lot of questions mixed in with the excitement. Questions to which there have been more speculation than clear answers. Until now.
With the launch of Windows 365, clients can start to look into what exactly Microsoft is offering and why their businesses may need it. You can now take Windows 10 or eventually Windows 11 with you on your travels, wherever those may lead.
As the workplace environment continues to evolve, this capability offers businesses a better solution to some of the challenges they have been facing. So, with that said, let’s take a deeper look into Windows 365.
Getting set up
Windows 365 Business: You’ll have to start by accessing the virtual operating system and acquiring Windows 365 licenses. To do that, you would need to go to the admin center in the Microsoft 365 account, navigate to the ‘Billing’ section, and select ‘Purchase services’. Once there, proceed to select the configuration that is most ideal for your needs. You can then complete the ordering process as you would when purchasing other Microsoft services.
With that done, head back to the Microsoft 365 admin center console and begin assigning licenses to users. Go to the ‘Users’ section, and select ‘Active users’. From here, you can assign users in your organization a Windows 365 deployment.
For each user, select ‘Licenses and apps’ on their profile, assign a Windows 365 license and then save the changes. After this, users can start using Windows 365 by going to the Windows 365 web portal and logging in with their details.
Windows 365 Enterprise: For the most part, the process for setting up the Enterprise version is not a lot different. But, because this version has extra features and tools that the Business version does not have, the process does have some variations.
To start, once you have purchased and assigned licenses, you’ll need an on-prem network connection to create Cloud PCs, join them to your specific domain, and allow you to manage them via MEM.
After that, you need to create a group policy in the Microsoft 365 admin center. Then, choose an image, select the Windows 10 Enterprise version, and assign the Azure AD group to apply to the provisioning policy. After this, you can save these settings and create the policy.
It’s at this point that the Azure AD group members that you’ve assigned to the policy will directly receive the Cloud PC licenses that you add. The Cloud PCs will need about 30 minutes before they are ready to use. And then, just like the process for the Business edition, users can start using Windows 365 by going to the Windows 365 web portal and logging in with their details.
Plans and pricing
Over the last few weeks, this has been one of the areas of great interest. Despite all the information about Windows 365 that Microsoft had made public, this key area had not been addressed. But now, with the product having been launched, that confusion has been cleared up.
There are two subscription options on offer, Windows 365 Business and Windows 365 Enterprise. The former is targeted at companies with no more than 300 employees while the latter is meant for larger organizations. However, they both share the same range of features with a total of twelve Windows 365 cloud PC configurations to choose from.
At the lower end, is a subscription aimed at frontline and call center workers that costs $20 per user per month. On offer is 1vCPU, 2GB RAM, and 64GB storage. This should be adequate for the lightweight computing tasks that this group performs.
And at the other end of the pricing spectrum you get support for 8vCPU, 32GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, and 70GB of outbound data as an option. This will cost $158 per user per month and is for users that need to perform compute-heavy tasks.
The pricing and configuration options are consistent across both Windows 365 Business and Enterprise.
The launch has gone well
If the first few days after the launch are any indication, then Microsoft may potentially have a winner on their hands. As expected, there were doubts as to whether clients would be interested in Windows 365 when they already had Azure Virtual Desktop. But, the demand for free trials has already been so overwhelming that Microsoft has had to press pause. After only a single day of sign-ups, the service had reached maximum capacity.
Thus, Microsoft has had to come out and address the situation. “Following significant demand, we have reached capacity for Windows 365 trials,” reads a statement from the Microsoft 365 Twitter account. “We have seen an unbelievable response to Windows 365 and need to pause our free trial program while we provision additional capacity,” explains Scott Manchester, director of Windows 365 program management. It obviously would be far too premature to call Windows 365 a success, but if it delivers what it has promised then we can expect interest in the service to grow even more.
Business or Enterprise?
As already mentioned, Windows 365 has two versions on offer, Business and Enterprise. But, is the difference as simple as one is targeted at smaller businesses and the other at larger organizations? Truth is, it’s a little more than that.
Windows 365 Business is the simpler version of the two and is aimed at businesses with no more than 300 users. Because everything works with Azure AD natively, and all the components run inside the Microsoft cloud, prerequisites are kept simple. There are no technological prerequisites and no need for an Azure subscription or a domain controller.
Windows 365 Enterprise, meanwhile, is meant for larger organizations and offers a wider range of tools and features for maintenance and security. As a result, it’s more complex and requires greater technical expertise to deploy and manage. Features that come with the Enterprise version include the following:
- self-serve upgrades,
- universal print integration,
- partner and programmatic enablement,
- custom images and image management.
Impact of Windows 365
Windows 365 is designed to be a simple, secure, and versatile solution that can transform your IT operations for the better. It utilizes the power of the Windows operating system and the strength of the cloud to offer businesses greater peace of mind in three key ways:
Powerful: Users can instantly boot on to their personal Cloud PCs to stream apps, tools, data, and settings from the cloud across any device. This will give you the full PC experience in the cloud. And because of the capabilities of the cloud, you’ll get versatility in processing power and storage and this enables IT to scale up or down, based on their needs.
Simple: Windows 365 provides an all-around simplified cloud computing experience. Users can log in and pick up right where they left off across devices. And for IT pros, deployment, updates, and management are a lot less complicated to perform. Mostly because Windows 365 doesn’t require any virtualization experience.
Since the service is optimized for the endpoint, it makes the job easier for IT to procure, deploy, and manage Cloud PCs for their organization just as they manage physical PCs through Microsoft Endpoint Manager.
Secure: By leveraging the power of the cloud as well as Zero Trust, Microsoft has made Windows 365 a highly secure platform. This enables businesses’ data to be kept secure on the cloud and not on devices.
Additional user information
Before signing up for Windows 365, there are a few things that clients need to be aware of. Things that they can and cannot do. For instance, you only get allowance for 1 user per license and so there is no support for multiple users on a single Cloud PC.
Another thing is that if you need to cancel your Windows 365 subscription, all you need to do is go to the Microsoft 365 admin center. However, you should know that when you cancel a subscription, all associated data will be deleted.
If you are an Enterprise client and you want to upgrade to another Windows 365 plan, use the Resize feature to upgrade RAM, CPU, and storage size to meet the users’ needs. This can be a great benefit for users who may need a more powerful Cloud PC to run CPU-intensive apps.
On the other hand, though, you cannot as yet perform a downgrade. Also, if you have a Windows 365 Business license, you cannot convert it to Windows 365 Enterprise. The only way around it would be to purchase the Enterprise license.
Microsoft also offers another feature known as Windows Hybrid Benefit that is meant to make the Windows 365 experience even better. The former is a licensing benefit that helps reduce the cost of Windows 365 Business. In actual figures, what Windows Hybrid Benefit offers clients is a discount of up to 16 percent. And this will apply to your Windows 365 Business subscription for clients that are already using Windows 10 Pro on a device.
Therefore, Windows Hybrid Benefit is a feature that you have access to if you have devices with valid Windows 10 Pro licenses. A couple of things are necessary from all users that are assigned a Windows 365 Business license with a Windows Hybrid Benefit license:
- The user must be the primary user of a Windows 10 Pro licensed device,
- The device in question needs to be their primary work device.
However, you’ll need to maintain your discounted pricing during the subscription term in which you access the Windows 365 service. And to do that you must access the service from your Windows 10 Pro licensed device at least once during that term.
What about Microsoft partners?
Over the years, Microsoft partners have played a key role in the delivery of Microsoft services to clients across the globe. The broad range of products and services in Microsoft’s portfolio has meant that partners have the power to build innovative, industry-specific solutions. And Windows 365 should continue that trend.
The new Cloud PC offers Microsoft partners plenty of opportunities to deliver new Windows experiences in the cloud. Whether you’re an independent software vendor (ISV), managed service provider, or an original equipment manufacturer, there are opportunities to take advantage of.
Businesses still need systems integrators and managed service providers to get the best from their Microsoft products. ISVs can still create Windows apps that can enhance how businesses operate while OEMs have the opportunity to better integrate Windows 365 into their wide array of products and services. By doing this, Microsoft partners can facilitate the creation of innovative, new ways of doing business that can bring about digital transformation. Therefore, the decades-long partnership that has benefited clients so immensely will not be ending.
Microsoft is looking for ways to constantly improve the work experience by leveraging the power of the cloud. And with Windows 365, the idea is to provide employees with technology that is secure, efficient, and easy to use. All this while enabling employees to remain productive anywhere and using any device.
Also, by giving users a familiar experience and IT simple processes for managing and deploying Cloud PCs, this cloud-based service will optimize IT operations for everyone. However, as a recently launched service, only time will tell how exactly and to what extent Windows 365 will affect the way businesses operate.
Once most clients have had an opportunity to use and review it, then conclusions can be made. But, the early signs point towards a positive, modern transformation that will boost most businesses.