A lot of progress has taken place in the domain of cloud computing over the last few decades. And it’s not surprising just how much the technology evolution is out there when you consider the way a lot of businesses operate in modern times. Leveraging the best technology on the market can be integral to the success of your business.
But, businesses like yours also need to be able to do so without breaking the bank. This is why the “as-a-service” sector is thriving. Organizations have access to all the resources they need for significantly less than what it would cost for an on-premises infrastructure.
Seeing the need to ensure clients can get even better service is why Microsoft brought us Windows 365. It’s design revolutionizes what you can get from a desktop-as-a-service platform. Today we’ll be going over the most frequently asked questions about Windows 365. So you can discover how it can benefit your business model.
What exactly is Windows 365?
The best place to start is with questions about definitions. A lot of people have heard about Windows 365. But not everyone understands its capabilities and purpose. Familiarity exists especially because Microsoft also announced Windows 11 in 2021.
Initially, there is some confusion about the two Windows solutions. However, these two are completely different products. Unlike Windows 11 which is an operating system that you install on your device, Windows 365 is a cloud-based service. The latter creates Windows virtual machines for your end users. It is these virtual machines that Microsoft calls Cloud PCs.
So the goal for Windows 365 is to enable business clients to access these Cloud PCs from anywhere. As mentioned above, Microsoft wants the Windows 365 Cloud PC to be the next step in the evolution of desktop-as-service.
Using Windows 365, clients can access their ‘desktops’ on devices running macOS, iOS, Linux, and Android. Ultimately, this means that Microsoft will no longer provide the operating system only. Now it will now be offering ersatz hardware with Windows virtual machines running on its Azure servers. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella had this to say:
“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.”
Each Cloud PC created will then be assigned to an individual user and thus becomes their dedicated Windows device. Clients will also be able to benefit from the productivity, security, and collaboration provided by Microsoft 365.
As for accessing your Cloud PC, it’s a simple matter of navigating to the Cloud PC website. From there, users sign in using any modern browser. Alternatively, you can also use Microsoft’s Remote Desktop app.
What’s different about Windows 365?
For businesses that already have experience with various VDI platforms, you may rightly be wondering how Windows 365 is different from all the other platforms out there. For starters, simplicity. That’s what Microsoft is aiming for with the Windows 365 service.
When you consider traditional VDI platforms, you’d be looking at setting up servers, installing the necessary applications, and then giving users access. Windows 365 just about eliminates all of the above.
By offering you a Cloud PC, this means that Microsoft alone will take care of the virtualization. Ultimately this will make the deployment of operating systems a lot faster. Moreover, you won’t have to deal with the hassle of hardware and software configurations.
The automation of the various processes also means that there is no need for additional VDI expertise or resources. Microsoft will ensure that you can scale the service as necessary to meet your organization’s needs. And as organizations start to reap the benefits of a highly productive remote workforce, the need for a solution like Windows 365 grows even more.
The ability to customize and provision a desktop based on the users’ needs is beneficial. It means that for the most part, it doesn’t really matter what device an individual is using. It also doesn’t matter whether it’s a corporate-owned device or a personal one. The security measures that come with Windows 365 ensure that end-users can securely access corporate resources on personal devices.
How much will it cost me?
Microsoft’s Windows 366 Cloud PC service provides clients with a range of different fee options. This ensures there is flexibility available for different enterprises. From the small company, only needing a handful of PCs, to the larger enterprises that may require unlimited options, there’s an affordable solution for everyone.
The pricing ranges starts at $20 per user per month for the lowest-end SKU. Fees can go up to $162 per user per month for the most expensive setup.
Clients will also notice that unlike with the consumption-based pricing model that you get with Azure Virtual Desktop, Windows 365 gives you fixed monthly subscriptions. And if you need to scale, then you have the option to choose a different subscription, as well.
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 helps clients 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 similarly to the previous one, without Windows Hybrid Benefit the cost goes up, this time to $162.
Clients that need the Windows 365 Enterprise edition will also have a similar range of pricing. At the lower end, you’ll get a single virtual core along with 2GB of RAM and 64GB of storage for the same $20. However, if your computing needs are a lot greater, then you can choose the option that offers eight virtual cores, another 32GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage at a cost of $158 per user per month.
What about licensing?
Licensing for services similar to Windows 365 is typically where things start to get complicated, and expensive. Although Windows 365 will not attract everyone, Microsoft has tried to make their offering reasonably accessible.
Both Windows 365 Enterprise and Windows 365 Business are going to provide a complete cloud-based offering with multiple Cloud PC configurations depending on the needs of the various organizations.
Clients will be able to buy Windows 365 as a separate license per user for a fixed monthly fee to access and use each Cloud PC. However, in some cases, you may incur additional costs based on your network usage.
Windows 365 Enterprise
For this edition of Windows 365, clients can make their purchases directly from Windows365.com or from their account representative. After this, you can then proceed to provision and manage your Cloud PCs using the fully integrated Microsoft Endpoint Manager.
It’s also worth noting that before an individual can use Windows 365 Enterprise, they need licensing for the following: Windows 11 Enterprise or Windows 10 Enterprise, Microsoft Endpoint Manager, and Azure Active Directory P1. Even though these licenses can be available separately, you’ll also find them included in:
- Microsoft 365 F3,
- Microsoft 365 E3,
- Microsoft 365 E5,
- Microsoft 365 A3,
- Microsoft 365 A5,
- Microsoft 365 Business Premium,
- Microsoft 365 Education Student Use Benefit subscriptions.
So for those who are interested in using Windows 365 Enterprise, but don’t meet the licensing requirements, head over to the Windows 11 Enterprise page or the Microsoft 365 page. There is more information there, along with the ability to purchase the ideal plan to meet your needs.
Windows 365 Business
Similar to the above, clients interested in purchasing Windows 365 Business can also do so directly from Windows365.com. Upon purchase, you can then set up your account without a domain. As for provisioning and management of the Cloud PCs, you can do that directly from the Windows 365 homepage on the web.
Moreover, clients should be happy to note that there are no additional licenses that will be required with only your credit card necessary to get you started. If you’re already a client of Microsoft 365, the purchase will complete through the Microsoft 365 admin center. All you simply need to do is get in touch with your global administrator. Alternatively, your billing administrator can assist in completing the purchase.
What are the device requirements?
One of the major benefits Microsoft intends to provide businesses is a reduction in IT costs, especially related to hardware. 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. And you can do so using just about any device.
Accessing this Cloud PC is easy. You can use any modern browser or the Remote Desktop app. A setup like this is going to be extremely beneficial for organizations, too. More specifically, it’s a game-changer for those with a sizeable remote or seasonal workforce.
Additionally, 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 are expectedly going to 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, iPadOS, 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.
Which configuration is right for me?
Choosing the right configuration for your business is going to be key. If you want to get the most out of Windows 365, you’ll need to understand your needs. After all, you don’t want to select a configuration that eventually proves incapable of meeting your computing load.
But, you also don’t want to pay for access resources that you do not need. The best way choose is to get in touch with Microsoft Support. From there, you can get advice on how best to set up your environment.
However, there are some examples that we can look to get a good idea of what you may require:
- 1vCPU/2GB/64GB – the first configuration is ideal for call centers, frontline workers, and education/training/CRM access.
- 2vCPU/4GB/64GB – in this scenario, the offer is ideal for short-term and seasonal users, those working from home, customer services, mergers and acquisitions, and Bring-Your-Own-PC situations.
- 2vCPU/4GB/128GB – suits the same scenarios as above.
- 2vCPU/4GB/256GB – also suits the same scenarios as above.
- 2vCPU/8GB/128GB – ideal for market researchers, working from home, Bring-Your-Own-PC scenarios, and government consultants.
- 2vCPU/8GB/256GB – suits the same scenarios as the previous configuration.
- 4vCPU/16GB/128B – ideal for Bring-Your-Own-PC scenarios, working from home, healthcare services, government consultants, and finance.
- 4vCPU/16GB/256GB – same as previous configuration.
- 4vCPU/16GB/512GB – same as previous configuration.
- 8vCPU/32GB/128GB – ideal for content creators, engineers, software developers, and design and engineering workstations.
- 8vCPU/32GB/256GB – same as previous configuration.
- 8vCPU/32GB/512GB – same as previous configuration.
Is it the same as Azure Virtual Desktop?
Any business that has previously considered cloud-based solutions will be aware that Microsoft already has another service that it offers called Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD). There are probably plenty of businesses that already use AVD. So understandably they would want to know the advantages of switching. Or is Windows 365 the same as Azure Virtual Desktop?
The simple answer is no. These two products are quite different. Although they do have several similarities. For starters, both of them aim to give clients the latest in what cloud technology has to offer.
This means you’ll have high-end security features, a flexible work environment, and premium remote work experience. And you’ll get this at a relatively affordable price. There are some differences, however. AVD is a cloud VDI that customizes the infrastructure of clients and also manage the resources that support the virtualized infrastructure.
On the other hand, Windows 365 gives you a fully managed desktop-as-a-service solution. It offers you the great Windows experience that you have to come to expect. All without having to deal with the management of infrastructure.
When it comes to the technical side of things, there are several differences that you need to know for you to decide which service is right for your business. Some of the differences are as follows:
- Design – Windows 365 has been designed to be simple and easy to use whereas AVD has been designed more for flexibility.
- Desktop – clients get personal desktops for Windows 365 and AVD (single session). For AVD (multisession) there are pooled desktops.
- Pricing – the pricing structure for AVD follows a consumption-based model whereas Windows 365 offers a fixed per-user per-month pricing.
- Subscription – subscriptions are customer-managed for AVD and fully Microsoft-managed for Windows 365 Business. Windows 365 Enterprise is also Microsoft-managed with the exception of networking.
- VM SKUs – Windows 365 has various optimized options for multiple use cases. On the other hand, AVD offers any Azure VM including GPU-enabled SKUs.
- Backup – AVD clients will get to use Azure backup services while Windows 365 users get local redundant storage for disaster recovery.
Looking at the different services helps us to know that AVD will get you the best price on Windows 10 with Windows 10 multisession, exclusive to AVD. Azure Virtual Desktop is fully customizable and runs on Azure. It would be ideal for you, if you already have experience with VDI solutions. It’s also a good fit if you require industry-leading technology that gives you the flexibility of a fully customized environment.
On the other hand, Windows 365 gives you a solution that is simple and easy to provision. It’s simple to deploy without requiring special IT skills and has predictable pricing. It also gives you the option to scale in either direction, according to the needs of your business.
Therefore, if you have no previous experience with Azure Virtual Desktop, as well as a hybrid or seasonal workforce that needs PC management, then Windows 365 is the choice for you.
How secure is Windows 365?
Arguably one of the biggest concerns for businesses regarding cloud-based solutions is cyber security. Cloud solutions enable businesses to have their employees working from home while using personal devices. This means the risk of compromise is very high if security is lacking.
There are plenty of areas in the network that could be potentially very vulnerable to security breaches. However, Microsoft is well aware of these concerns. And it offers several guidelines to help improve the security of your Cloud PCs. These are as follows.
Using Conditional Access policies is highly recommended to maintain strict control over the devices and apps that can access company resources. Conditional Access also helps you to secure end-user access to Windows 365. Another way to further enhance that security would be to use Azure AD multi-factor authentication to verify users.
Microsoft advises connecting Microsoft Defender for Endpoint to Cloud PCs devices to help you identify threats and set devices as non-compliant. In addition, you’ll be able to apply device compliance policies to Cloud PCs as well as use Conditional Access for threat identification.
Devices with a high-risk level need to be blocked from accessing corporate resources until the issues are resolved. And you can easily do this by using Intune compliance policies with Conditional Access policies to identify the high-risk devices and users.
Keeping your OS up-to-date is a key aspect of maintaining high levels of cyber security. Updates bring you enhanced security measures and other new features that serve to improve the user experience while fortifying your corporate network. And when it comes to your Cloud PCs, IT admins can use Endpoint Manager to configure Intune Windows 10/11 updates and policies for Windows Update for Windows.
Another security measure that Microsoft has put in place is that Windows 365 Enterprise end-users will not be admins of their Cloud PCs. This particular feature comes as a default setting.
Lastly, Microsoft has created an integration of Windows 365 with Microsoft Defender for Endpoint. What this does is give you a scenario that allows security and endpoint admins to work together managing the Cloud PC environment similar to how they would manage a physical endpoint. Consequently, subscribed Cloud PCs will:
- Send data through to Microsoft 365 Secure Score.
- Appear on the dashboards of both Microsoft Defender for Endpoint
- Security Center and threat analysis when unhealthy.
- Similar to how other managed devices function, Cloud PCs will also respond to the various remediation measures.
What features does Windows 365 Business have?
Windows 365 Business is the edition made for smaller organizations. More specifically, it is meant for businesses that need to deploy no more than 300 Cloud PCs. As far as technology prerequisites go, Microsoft has made it very simple for businesses.
All you’ll need to do is use the Windows 365 cloud portal to purchase, deploy, and manage Cloud PCs at any time.
Furthermore, because everything works with Azure natively, Windows 365 Business clients aren’t going to require an Azure subscription or domain controller. Your workload will be lighter, as all the components will be running inside the Microsoft cloud and managed by Microsoft.
Purchasing Windows 365 Business can be done directly from the Microsoft 365 admin center. Upon purchase, you can then set up your account without a domain. And you can provision and manage cloud PCs directly from the Windows 365 web portal.
Another advantage that comes with Windows 365 Business is that no other licenses are needed. So getting started is very easy and may only require a credit card.
The self-service capabilities on offer enable end-users to perform maintenance on cloud PCs via the Windows 365 web portal. The actions supported include Restart, Rename, and Reset (which allows you to remove your personal files, apps, or changes that you may have made to settings).
It’s also important to note that you’ll need to backup all your important files to a cloud storage service or external storage before resetting. This is because the process will delete these files. Windows 365 Business also has native Azure AD support. This means clients aren’t going to require an existing Active Directory domain or Azure subscription.
In addition to Windows 365, Microsoft also announced the successor to Windows 10 in 2021. And given that Windows 11 is the ideal operating system to optimize hybrid work, it’s great to know that new Cloud PCs will come with this OS installed by default. So organizations will benefit from all the new improvements to Windows. They’ll additionally enjoy the enhanced security features that come with it.
What features does Windows 365 Enterprise have?
Windows 365 Enterprise is the ideal edition for larger organizations. Unlike with Windows 365 Business ,which tops out at 300 users, Enterprise clients won’t have any such limits.
If the objective for your business is to manage Cloud PCs with MEM and leverage the integrations with other Microsoft services, then you’d be smart to purchase Windows 365 Enterprise.
By doing so, you benefit from other services such as Azure Active Directory and Microsoft Defender for Endpoint. Although this edition may not have a license limit, users will still require a license for Windows 11 Enterprise, Windows 10 Enterprise, Microsoft Endpoint Manager, and Azure Active Directory P1.
Purchasing and Setup
When it comes to purchasing channels and license assignments, the former will be done via Web Direct, Enterprise Agreements (EA), CSP. And the latter via the Microsoft 365 Admin Center. Clients using Enterprise will have networking through their Azure VNet, since it isn’t included in the license.
As for the administration side of things, the provisioning can be configured and customized to meet the specific needs of your organization. Your admins can set up the VNet, configure user permissions, and then assign the policy to an Azure AD group.
After that, the admins can proceed to provision the Cloud PCs with a choice of either standard gallery images or custom images. Clients using this version also get support for Group Policy Objects (GPO), Intune MDM, and application deployment.
End users can restart, rename, and troubleshoot their Cloud PCs on the Windows 365 homepage. In addition, users get assigned standard user roles on the Cloud PCs and this is by default.
However, when the need arises, admins can change this setting in the Microsoft Endpoint Manager admin center. And as with Windows 365 Business, users can access their Cloud PCs via the Remote Desktop app or on windows365.microsoft.com using any modern browser.
Furthermore, you enjoy great security measures with Conditional Access that can be implemented using the MEM admin center or Azure AD. In addition, there is support for per-user multi-factor authentication and integration with Microsoft Defender for Endpoint.
How do you deploy Windows 365?
Once you have purchased the Windows 365 licenses that your organization needs, the Windows 365 node in Microsoft Endpoint Manager becomes active for management. So now you can begin provisioning your Cloud PCs. Setting up your system to provision Cloud PCs will require you to follow the steps below.
For a user to have access to a Cloud PC, they will need to have a Windows 365 license assigned to them. You can use the following methods to assign the licenses:
- For individual users, you have the option of using the Microsoft 365 admin center.
- For group license assignments, you have the option of using the Azure AD admin center.
- Lastly, for the assigning of direct licenses to a list of individual users, navigate to Assign licenses for Windows 365 or alternatively go to Assign license.
Create an on-premises network connection
An on-premises network connection (OPNC) is the crucial element that allows you to provision Cloud PCs that are attached to a virtual network that is under your management. Microsoft allows you to have 10 OPNCs per tenant. Creating an OPNC requires you to meet a few criteria:
- You need to be an Intune Admin in Azure AD.
- You also should have Owner permissions on the Azure subscription that contains the VNet with connectivity to your on-prem domain controller and network.
- Finally, you should have a PowerShell execution policy that is set up to enable RemoteSigned scripts. And for those that use Group Policy to set execution policy, you’ll need to ensure that the GPO targeted at the Organizational Unit defined in the OPNC is configured to allow RemoteSigned scripts.
Provide users a localized Windows experience
A great way to improve end-user comfort and potentially productivity levels, is by presenting Windows with a language that the user is comfortable with using. Setting up a localized Windows experience can be configured as a provisioning policy or by creating a custom device image.
One of the announcements made by Microsoft in February 2022 regarding Windows 365 Enterprise, talked about an important update that will enhance the user experience for different users from across the globe. The objective is to enable you to configure a Language & Region pack that can be installed on the Cloud PCs during provisioning when you are creating your provisioning policy.
At present, there are 38 languages available. And Microsoft will allow you to change the configured language for existing provisioning policies and subsequently reprovision any desired Cloud PCs.
Add or delete custom device images
Microsoft enables you to use a custom device image by simply adding it into your Azure subscription. From there, you can use it for Cloud PC provisioning. The standard Azure Marketplace gallery is where you’d navigate. Or you could also create your own custom-managed image. For those with a Shared Image Gallery in Microsoft Azure, they can convert one of those images into a managed image.
Create a provisioning policy
The last step in this process will require you to create a Provisioning Policy so that you can provision the Cloud PC with an image of your choice and is based on Azure AD security groups. Provisioning policies hold key provisioning rules and settings, allowing the Windows 365 service to set up and configure the right Cloud PCs for your users. Once the provisioning policies have been created and assigned to the Azure AD user security groups or Microsoft 365 Groups, the Windows 365 service will then:
- Check the appropriate license for each user.
- Configure each Cloud PC as necessary.
Why should our organization be interested?
Remote work has been a major topic of discussion, especially over the last few years. Therefore, Windows 365 is available at the best time. The concept of the Cloud PC will help your organization by simplifying the process of having your staff working remotely.
By having a PC running in the cloud, your workforce can access their desktops from anywhere without difficulty. This kind of flexibility is something that can make your organization more attractive when it comes to attracting and retaining talent.
Not only is Windows 365 going to allow you to take advantage of hybrid work. But it’s also going to address what is probably your next concern – security. When using Windows 365, your data will store on the cloud where Zero Trust Principles are in effect.
Moreover, Microsoft Endpoint Manager solutions will help fortify the platform for greater cyber security. Thus, organizations can rest easy knowing that although their workers are not on the premises, they can still remain productive without compromising the security of your data. And if you need to scale, it’s equally simplified without hassle.
Windows 365 enables you to configure the size, CPU, and RAM of your Cloud PCs according to your needs. This versatility means that if the need arises to increase or reduce the computing resources that you require, you’ll be able to do so.
Windows also aims to help your organization lower your expenses in the hardware department. Because users will have desktops running in the cloud, you won’t face any significant costs regarding purchasing high-end devices.
In addition, you potentially won’t have to refresh your organization’s hardware as frequently. The Cloud PC will be handling the heavy computing on the Azure servers. Your organization may also save costs during the setup process.
Since Microsoft designed Windows 365 for ease of use, setting it up is not going to require you to bring in specialist IT professionals onto your team. Your IT people will be able to deploy and manage the configuration of any PC, much like they have been doing all along.
What kind of support is available?
Undoubtedly every organization that wants to sign up for Windows 365 would like to know about support. The last thing you need is to run into the kinds of problems that could prevent your organization’s staff from accessing their Cloud PCs. Microsoft has availed support for Windows 365 clients in various ways. Each level of support is available, depending on how your Windows 365 subscription was purchased.
If you made your purchase via the self-service feature, you can request support through the Microsoft 365 admin center. For those who would have made their subscription purchases through volume licensing, they will need to contact their Microsoft account managers for assistance.
And lastly, if your Windows 365 subscription was purchased through a Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider (CSP), the latter can submit support requests for you. These requests, which can be for non-technical issues such as enrollment, membership, billing, subscription, and user management, can be submitted in the Microsoft Partner Center.
Can I use my apps on Windows 365?
According to Microsoft, Windows 365 was designed with compatibility in mind. This falls in line with the goal of trying to make clients’ apps compatible with the latest versions of Microsoft software. So if you have apps that you were using on Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows 10, then you’ll be glad to know that they will work on Windows 365, as well. And if you have any challenges with your apps, Microsoft can help you address them for free with an eligible subscription through the Fast Track App Assure program.
Windows 365 is a service that has plenty to offer your organization. Although it may not be the first such product in the domain of virtualization technology, it intends to perform like no other before it.
One of the key goals is to avail cloud computing technology to as many as possible and make it easy to use. The recent global pandemic showed us what can happen to countless organizations if adequate solutions aren’t available.
Going forward, I believe that the remote workforce will continue to grow and businesses will need to find ways to take advantage of this. Sometimes the ideal person for a particular task may be on the other side of the globe. And by leveraging Windows 365 and its communication channels, collaborating with anyone anywhere can be safe and easy.
And if there’s anything else that you may need answers to, Microsoft will be hosting monthly Windows 365 Ask Microsoft Anything events, on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Now, there’s no denying that the Windows 365 Cloud PC may not be for everyone. But, it’s certainly a product that’s worth taking a good look at.