Microsoft recently hosted its annual partner event, Inspire, where it announced new features for its 365 suites. Many of these new changes are solutions to how the business world has pivoted over the past 18 months to a hybrid remote working environment across all areas of business and enterprise. Last year’s Inspire event was in the midst of the COVID pandemic, and Microsoft was focused on returning to the workforce and schools with inspiring and innovative tools and features. You can read my coverage of last year’s Microsoft Inspire event here.
If you’re a fan of my content, you’re probably familiar with digital transformation technologies that are reshaping businesses quickly and without looking back. The COVID pandemic and the need to work from home (WFH) have both been catalysts to effect full digital transformations in just about every area of business. Microsoft has refined its 365 suite over the past two years and this week announced its new Cloud PC offering for businesses. Let’s see what he is and what he seeks to accomplish.
Windows Remote Desktop is not a new concept and can be done in a number of ways, so I was more interested in what makes Microsoft more unique besides owning the operating system and zero dollar COGS.
Solving the hybrid paradox
Cloud PC is a Microsoft solution to solving the hybrid working paradox, which, in simple terms, is a paradox where workers want flexible remote working options and in-person collaboration simultaneously. This paradox makes it difficult for organizations to quickly provide a secure work platform while giving employees the freedom to work remotely or in the office. After the pandemic, people realized that workflows can be done outside of the office while still being productive. The solutions to this paradox have been to bring a work device home for use or just to work from home. Organizations are then faced with the problem of having their employees work on unsecured networks.
Windows 365 helps solve this paradox by providing organizations with full Windows 10 or 11 platforms to stream from the cloud. Windows 365 gives organizations the ability to provide employees with cloud computers that are securely connected to the work network and accessible anywhere there is a Wi-Fi connection. It’s more secure because no data actually resides on the device. client because video is streaming from the session residing in the Azure cloud. The same working environment with the same apps, tools, settings and custom Windows, and users can take it home and pick up where they left off. Microsoft claims that every Cloud PC offers an instant boot experience. Since the only reliable connection the user needs for the cloud PC is the user’s connection to the PC and not the PC’s connection to the internet, it has fast and reliable speeds. Microsoft says users can stream apps, tools, data, and custom settings from the cloud to PC, Linux, Mac, iOS, or Android platforms, with many of these platforms having apps for them. .
User experience has always been the challenge, whether it’s VDI, RDP, or any other remote desktop or application execution. Connectivity has generally been the culprit as your experience is as good as the connection. This will be important for businesses to consider before committing. Microsoft told me it was creating an offline, container-based mode that would allow users to continue working even in an offline environment. It’s differentiated and new.
Windows 365 is a simpler iteration of Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD). Where AVD is a more flexible virtual desktop infrastructure that gives maximum IT control, Windows 365 is simple with a personalized Windows 10 experience. While AVD’s price is based on consumption, Windows 365 has a per-user pricing. It’s also easier for IT to manage and assign Cloud PCs by categorizing and assigning employees specific Cloud PCs as needed. Administrators can also scale up or down a user’s Cloud PC as needed at any time. I like both options because small businesses want a simpler experience with fewer buttons and gauges.
Windows 365 wants to offer simplicity and security
Windows 365 scales processing power based on a user’s needs with different iterations of compute, storage, and enterprise applications. Microsoft says it will offer a Windows 365 Enterprise edition and a Windows 365 Enterprise edition with IT simplicity to choose and configure the right Cloud PC iteration being the main difference. Microsoft says enterprise IT can use Microsoft Endpoint Manager to manage and deploy Cloud PCs for their organization. Small businesses can use a simple self-service model, so no virtualization experience is required. Cloud PCs and regular PCs are displayed next to each other on Microsoft Endpoint Manager. Microsoft says you don’t have to learn new IT tools to manage Cloud PCs. Windows 365 also offers data analytics to monitor the health and performance of users’ PCs. Microsoft says its Watchdog service is constantly running diagnostic checks to make sure connections are working at all times. It’s new and differentiated.
When I asked Microsoft about the GPU’s lack of configurability, they told me it was coming. This is good because without a GPU you wouldn’t want to provide the service to anyone with a workstation doing complex development, 3D modeling, or even programming. Finally, the IT department can change the configurations on the fly, up or down, depending on how a user uses the service and I thought this was valuable as it saves time. ‘money and provides an optimal experience. I would like to see this feature automatically upgrade or downgrade users in the same way as “auto-balancing” cloud workloads.
Since Cloud PCs have a continuous connection to the work network, so there is no need to worry about the personal device compromising the network while streaming. Windows 365 also follows a Zero Trust architecture by only storing information in the cloud rather than on the streaming device. It also uses multi-factor authentication to ensure login attempts are verified and integrated with Microsoft Azure Active Directory. Microsoft says you can pair MFA with dedicated Windows 365 conditional access policies to instantly assess connection risks in Microsoft’s Endpoint Manager. All data at rest and in transit is encrypted in Windows 365 end-to-end.
Microsoft has addressed many issues and concerns organizations might have when deploying Cloud PC to its users, but not all. I think Windows 365 does a great job of reflecting its scalability with its simplicity. Cloud PCs can be managed and deployed with complex configurations or simply managed with data analytics and Zero Trust Security. Windows 365 is competitively priced and different from other virtualization platforms, priced per user per month rather than per computing resource. Windows 365 is a direct competitor of Amazon’s Workspaces DaaS (Desktop as a Service) solution. You can read more here on Amazon Workspaces, but one of the differences I notice right off the bat is the price difference. Amazon Workspaces pricing is based on minutes used in Workspaces rather than a fixed monthly price for Windows 365. I have tested Amazon Workspaces before and it has been tested in real cases, but will need to get my hands on Windows 365. to better compare the two.
Windows 365 appears to be a powerful tool that responds to the hybrid paradox of wanting to work remotely while working collaboratively in person. Microsoft has focused on the simplicity of its service so that medium and small businesses can acquire the service while still benefiting from a deep integration of a business. I am interested to see the rate of adoption of Windows 365 in the years to come. I think Windows 365 will solve a lot of the issues some businesses are having with digital transformation. Virtual desktops have many advantages over traditional PC setup, and I’ll be interested to see how Microsoft partners evolve and adapt to this new hybrid form of working. The connectivity / QoS ratio has always been important in remote desktops and applications and I am intrigued by how Microsoft is going to help solve this problem.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy Co-operative, Jacob Freyman, contributed to this article.
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