You know, devices and new stuff are always fun. But what if you would provide a kick-ass, safe, Windows experience on any device without having to invest in infrastructure or administrative work? To semi-quote on of my all-time favourite TV-show: “Haaaave you met W365” (it’s supposed to be Ted, not W365).
I remember hearing about the new Windows Virtual Desktop at Ignite 2018 and thinking “Wow, this is sooo cool! Finally, someone simplified the complexity of VDI solutions a little!”
It was not perfect, but it had potential! Up until then Azure hadn’t really provided any good solutions for Windows 10 based clients. You could run Windows clients if you imported an image, but it was far from great. It was more for playing around with Windows.
Windows Virtual Desktop later became Azure Virtual Desktop, but it required a decent amount of work to set up initially. Don’t get me wrong, it’s super awesome given the flexibility it provides you could run anything on it. But it comes with a big challenge, especially if you are not familiar with VDIs. It requires a decent amount of configuration before you can get going. The Azure Virtual Desktop is however GREAT for scenarios where users don’t need a dedicated machine, their session can run in a host pool to make the most out of your Azure resources!
Windows 365 enters the stage
Microsoft announced Windows 365 during the summer 2021 (I remember noticing it during my summer vacation). I had a really hard time positioning this compared to the AVD solution, when should I pick what?
But finally, the coin dropped for me. Windows 365 is for when you just need a virtual computer with no super specific needs (since the configurations are a set list). Like for instance you have a consultant working in your company who already has their own device which they can run a Windows 365 machine on, instead of you having to source and ship a physical device.
It also has the quite nice feature of being simple to assign and setup since you assign a provisioning policy and a license to the end user, and you are good to go! This is truly VDI made for the masses if you ask me.
Of course, there are things you need to setup if you are running this in an enterprise, such as the network connectivity and on-premises domain connection (yes you sadly still need an on-premises AD and hybrid join for this in the enterprise setup, but AAD only is coming). You would also need to setup management profiles in Microsoft Intune or just reuse the ones you have for your physical machines. In Microsoft Intune, the Cloud PC is just a computer amongst all the others, but model will be Cloud PC instead of e.g. Surface Laptop.
Coming from a device management background, I also really love that you manage everything from the Microsoft Endpoint Management portal, no other fancy tools needed or a need to find your way around the Azure portal!
Who should use a Cloud PC?
So, who is the Windows 365 Cloud PC for really? Saying everyone is not the wrong answer, but when you face reality and leave the marketing slides behind, you will notice that most of your users don’t need this. But some absolutely do, and those are in this case the interesting users.
In the perfect of worlds, you could easily “only” have Cloud PCs and let your users use whatever device they want to access those. In an enterprise scenario, with a lot of history, which would not be feasible. At least not for your FTEs to start with unless you provide them with more lightweight devices and provide a beefier Cloud PC to do their work on.
In the scenarios I mostly have seen and discussed, there is one main use case we are discussing, and that is consultants who already has a computer (or device for that matter) and instead of providing them with a 5-year-old computer which got put in the spare pile you give them a virtual machine which they can access from their PC. This scenario is also valid for providing consultants with a more basic PC and “beef” it up using a powerful Cloud PC.
One thing I find useful is that you can run either Windows 10 or Windows 11 on it, you select the image yourself. This means that you could potentially have your physical machine on Windows 10 but run your virtual machine with Windows 11. This could be beneficial in a transition period from Windows 10 to 11 if you want to do some application testing without needing to re-install computers.
I’ll keep exploring Windows 365, and I’m really hoping Ignite will bring more cool stuff around for it!