What is Windows 365?
At the beginning of August 2021, Microsoft launched their Cloud PC service, branded as Windows 365.
A subscription-based service, operated in much the same way as Microsoft 365, that enables spinning up a Windows 10 PC in minutes (Windows 11 coming as a second option soon) that is hosted on their servers, and streamed to any device (PC, Laptop, Mac, Chromebook, iPad & other Tablets, Smartphone) via a browser (Chrome, Edge Safari etc.) or via an RDP (remote desktop protocol) connection. It gives full Windows 10 functionality, allowing apps to be installed and data to be stored. So instead of your new PC/Laptop being a physical device, it is a Cloud service.
You can choose the specification of your Cloud PC from a range of pre-set options, starting at a very low-end specification of 1vCPU/2GB RAM/64GBSSD through to a top end specification of 8vCPU/32GBRAM/512GBSSD. The monthly cost is based on the chosen specification. The lower the specification the lower the monthly cost, the higher the specification, the higher the monthly cost.
The Windows 365 service comes in two offerings: Windows 365 Business and Windows 365 Enterprise. What’s the difference?
Windows 365 Business:
This option is aimed at individuals and businesses that don’t have in-house server-based networks, or the need to connect to them even if they do. The Cloud PC will effectively be standalone and the process of spinning one up is simple. If you or your business is a Microsoft 365 User, then the associated productivity apps and connection to data held in OneDrive and SharePoint can be installed/configured on the Cloud PC.
Windows 365 Enterprise:
This option is aimed at businesses that have an internal server-based network and want the Cloud PCs to be incorporated into that, along with the ability for their IT department to configure and manage the Cloud PCs in the same way as they would with physical devices (for example via Microsoft Endpoint Manager). In fact, the process of spinning up Cloud PCs via this option requires full integration with Azure Active Directory and is more complex to do than via the Windows 365 Business option because of the Azure pre-requisites. As with the Windows 365 Business option, If your business is a Microsoft 365 User, then the associated productivity apps and connection to data held in OneDrive and SharePoint can be installed/configured on the Cloud PC.
Why opt for a Cloud PC instead of a Physical PC/Laptop?
Let’s talk cost first.
As an example, we’ll work with a specification of 2vCPU/8GBRAM/128GBSSD which is the sort of specification required to run Microsoft 365 Apps, Microsoft Teams, Outlook, Excel, Access, PowerPoint, OneDrive, Adobe Reader, Edge, line-of-business app(s) etc.
The once-off spend required to buy a quality PC of that specification pre-loaded with Windows 10 Pro would be in the region of £600.
The monthly subscription cost for the equivalent Cloud PC is £38.30 (discounted to £34.90 the primary device it is accessed from has a valid Windows 10 Pro licence installed).
If we work on the principal that PCs are replaced every 3 years, then 3 years of the Cloud PC subscriptions would total £1,379 or £1,256 (discounted). Both costs are more than double the price of a physical device.
If it’s not cost, what other reasons justify opting for a Cloud PC?
Comparing Physical PCs/Laptops to a Windows 365 Cloud PC purely on price is misleading. Cloud PCs come into their own as a great solution in many other ways, here are a few:
We all know about the panic businesses endured at the start of the pandemic scrabbling around putting the infrastructure in place to enable their staff to work remotely, mainly from home. PCs that resided in company premises were shipped to the homes of the workforce, or in other scenarios staff were asked to use their own PCs/Laptops for company business.
Those emergency actions raised all sorts of issues relating to risk.
However, the ‘working from home’ paradigm has now emerged as a result of the pandemic as attractive to both employers and employees and all indications are that it will not only remain but grow in adoption.
Rather than supplying home workers with expensive high-end PCs, the Windows 365 service offers a very attractive alternative. Home workers can now be supplied with a Cloud PC, that they can access by a low spec company-owned PC/Laptop or they can use their device instead to stream the Cloud PC. This approach not only greatly reduces risk, it also ensures that the Cloud PC is the only device that is used for company business and can be secured to prevent misuse.
Short Term Staff:
Many businesses make use of short-term staff, who for their period of employment need to be provided with a PC or a laptop. The ability to spin up a Cloud PC with a lifespan the same as the period of employment of the short-term staff member, either streamed their own device or to a low spec company device is a big cost saver and a very attractive option.
The notion of BOYD (bring your own device) has been around for a log time. As an IT professional my concern with BOYD has always been security. That concern goes if that the only company business undertaken on that device is to access a company Cloud PC.
Cost Of Ownership:
Owning physical PCs & Laptops comes with a cost of ownership over and above the purchase price. They have to be managed, maintained and, of course, they break. Cloud PCs are managed by Microsoft and they don’t breakdown.
As already discussed, PCs and Laptops owned by businesses are usually replaced every 3 years (4-5 years at a stretch). By adopting a Cloud PC strategy, the new physical devices can be of a much lower specification than the ones they are replacing and so, much cheaper.
Blistering Internet Speed:
As long as your broadband speed will support streaming videos, you will be able to stream a Cloud Pc. So you don’t need superfast broadband. However once you are connected to your Cloud PC, the internet speed you will experience when using it blistering, in the region of 10GB!!
What are the downsides to Cloud Pcs?
There is one overriding downside. Cloud PCs are streamed over the internet. The obvious downside is what happens when your internet connection goes down or you are somewhere with no internet connection? Simple, you lose access to your Cloud PC until the internet connection is restored.
This could be a showstopper for some and not a major issue and acceptable for others. Businesses need to mitigate this issue when deciding whether or not to adopt a Cloud PC strategy. Major internet outages are few and far between these days, but short outages are still quite common.
Windows 365 is, without doubt, an exciting new service. Coupled with Microsoft 365 for productivity apps, collaboration through Teams and secure data storage, the next generation of affordable IT provision for multitudes of businesses has arrived. This is especially true for those business that are embracing hybrid working.
Cloud PCs, in my opinion, are not a replacement for physical PCs in all cases. The term “horses for courses” springs to mind. They do, however, provide a solution that many businesses will find useful and attractive.
The way ahead is to identify scenarios when deploying Cloud PCs is going to be of use to your organisation and then use the free trail to test them out.
Please note: At the time of writing this article, the free trials have been temporarily suspended due to high demand. Those free trials will restart soon though.
About the author….
Owner - Pennine IT Services
Written by Sean Warde, Owner of Pennine IT Services and Microsoft Partner. Over 35 years’ experience of delivering IT solutions to the corporate, public and small business sectors.