Microsoft announced Windows 365 this week at Inspire. With this announcement comes a new way to deliver remote desktops as a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform built on Azure Virtual Desktop and is a significant addition to virtual desktop options in Azure. There is a limited amount of information available about windows 365; in this post and accompanying video, we’ll break down what it is and how it differs from Azure Virtual Desktop. Keep in mind that this is a new service, the information available may not be complete and change once Windows 365 is available.
There are two words used to describe each virtual desktop solution; Flexibility for Azure Virtual Desktop and Simplicity for Windows 365. That’s a good starting point to understand how Windows 365 fits in the product stack.
Azure Virtual Desktop offers flexibility in how its deployed and managed. There are pooled host pools with multi-session OS’s such as Windows 10 multi-user and personal host pools that create a one-to-one relationship between user and computer.
We can deploy Windows 7 in Azure Virtual Desktop or use a server-based OS for the session hosts. That’s helpful for organizations dependent on RDS Client Access License. Also, Azure Virtual Desktop integrates with Citrix and VMware, and its priced based on computer resource consumption. That makes shutting down those idle session hosts so important.
Azure Virtual Desktop
- Pooled and personal host pools
- Windows 7 and server session hosts
- Integration with Citrix and VMware
- Consumption-based pricing
- Software as a Service platform
- Windows 10 (11)
- Microsoft Endpoint Management integration
- Per-user licensing
- Performance analytics
- Watchdog service
So, how does that compare with Windows 365 and provide simplicity for remote desktop environments? As a SaaS offering, Microsoft takes care of management details such as configuring pooled or personal host pools. The majority of the configuration and management tasks are taken care of as part of the Win365 service.
Windows 365 provides desktops based on Windows 10, or Windows 11 once available, and management is integrated into Microsoft Endpoint Management or MEM. Windows 365 is not managed from the Azure Portal like Azure Virtual Desktop, at least that wasn’t shown in any of the examples I found.
The MEM integration is significant because it moves the management away from Azure administration to endpoint administration. A good move on Microsoft’s part and a clear indication of how this product is positioned in the market.
As a software as a service product, Windows 365 is licensed per user. We pay for a user, per desktop just like how Office or other 365 products are licensed. Deallocating idle session hosts to save money is no longer a consideration. Per-user licensing is a predictable pricing model that many organizations will welcome.
Windows 365 also has performance analytics available out of the box and a watchdog service that provides a status of key services to make sure the environment stays healthy.
From a technical standpoint, this is more of an evaluation and not a revolution. However, I do not want to understate the significance of Win365. These are huge improvements for organizations that don’t need the flexibility of Azure Virtual Desktop.
With Azure Virtual Desktop, the added flexibility left organizations to face some significant management issues, like how to patch the computer’s users connect to? Is it best to deploy new, updated session hosts or update in place? And what about application management? Do we include the applications into the base image or use a product like Endpoint Configuration Manager to deploy the applications? Windows 365 gives us an answer to those questions with the integration into Microsoft Endpoint Management, and that is significant.
On the other hand, Win365 still requires a VNet with custom DNS settings and is dependent on Active Directory Domain Services. For many, that will require connectivity to an on-premises network. VNet connectivity and AD Domain Services are two of the biggest hurdles for organizations adopting Azure Virtual Desktops. The AD Domain Services requirement has been one of the biggest complaints.
With that said, Microsoft also announced public preview support for Azure AD Joint with Azure Virtual Desktop. It is easy to see the direction Microsoft is going, and I suspect an Azure AD joined, Intune managed Windows 365 option is in the near future.
That covers the basics of how Windows 365 compares to Azure Virtual Desktop, at least based on the information available. Stay tuned for more to come, much more!