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Windows 365 vs Azure VDI: What’s the Difference?

By: Joshua Beitler on August 17, 2021

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Windows 365 vs Azure VDI: What’s the Difference?

Cloud Productivity and Collaboration  |  Networking

Adopting a new technology tool can sometimes feel like more trouble than it’s worth because of the steep learning curve. It’d be nice if everything you already knew how to use was simply ushered into the next tool.

You’re used to current workflows, but you can’t completely forgo the efficiencies that come with the latest in cloud technologies, especially when growing your business. Luckily, Microsoft Windows 365 combines the power and security of the cloud with the versatility and simplicity of the PC.

With the recent preview of Windows 365, this new virtualization tool has me wondering… “What is the difference between Windows 365 and the traditional Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) environment?”

To answer that, we need to know what Windows 365 is and is not.

Okay, So What is Windows 365?

To quote Microsoft, Windows 365 is your PC in the cloud. More on that in a bit.

Windows 365 is Microsoft’s new, easy to use, easy to deploy, virtual PC. Just as 365 has easy subscription-based models for mailboxes (Exchange Plan 1, Exchange Plan 2 if you have a large mailbox), Microsoft has a plethora of 365 licenses to pick and choose from to get cloud services that suit your needs. Enter the cloud PC.

In this new subscription-based model of Windows PCs, you can pick and choose what specifications your cloud PC will have. Now Billy can have a virtual PC with 2 CPUs (central processing units), 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, and Johnny can have a virtual PC with 8 CPUs, 32GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD.

Each will have a different cost; that’s the first big difference between Windows 365 and Azure VDI. With VDI, you technically have a server with specs that are divvied up between the users, or you share all the resources.

Ease of Access and Ease of Use

From a pricing standpoint, Microsoft made this easy. PC specs = $.

Regardless of how long Windows 365 runs or what your bandwidth is, it’s one flat cost. With VDI, you have to pay for power on time, bandwidth, compute size, VPN gateway, etc.

Microsoft makes Windows 365 easy to understand in terms of cost. And because this is a 365 product, it’s pretty easy for admins to manage and deploy.

What’s even cooler is the ability to “stream” your PC to any device. Of course there’s an app for that.

But once you have the app you go to cloudpc.microsoft.com (at the time of this post), hit connect and you can instantly be back on your PC from a Mac, iPhone or Android device, or a Windows based PC. When you’re done, just close the app. Next time you connect it’ll be in the exact same spot you left it.

Security

This platform was built from the ground up, all with a zero-trust model. Authentications will require the username and password, multi-factor, etc. Because this technically runs in Azure, you still can configure conditional access policies to require addition authentication under certain conditions. For example, if you’re more than 100 miles outside the office, you may have to provide even more proof to verify your identity. This is all configurable by the administrator.

Always Up to Date…What!?

Just as Office 365 updates and patches its mailbox environment for you, the same thing occurs with Windows 365. It is constantly patched in the background. We don’t know all the details on how this works, but it’s certainly a welcome feature!

Productivity

Windows 365 is always available, always on, on any device, but what about productivity?

Well, because it exists in the Microsoft ecosystem, it is fully integrated with Office 365. All your OneDrive files, emails, Office Suite, and more are instantly at your fingertips. Get this - because you are technically in the Microsoft data center, Windows 365 download speeds will be up to 10 Gbps down and 4 Gbps up! You can certainly collaborate with massive files with that kind of bandwidth.

But you must be thinking… “How am I to use my two monitors with this?” Do not fret! You can use up to 16 monitors with Windows 365 (and Azure VDI to be fair). With the app I mentioned earlier, you will be able to use your USB thumb drives, video and audio from your laptop/phone, redirected printing and (on Windows machines only) you’ll be able to use your local scanner in Windows 365.

What Limitations Does It Have?

There are some caveats with Windows 365 - first, for any of this to happen, you must be online. Just like Netflix. No internet, no Netflix.

At this point, working on your cloud PC while flying in a plane is pretty much a no go. However, Microsoft is working on something, which can allow for some “offline” work to be done. I imagine this to be similar to the good ole offline files which get resynched when you reconnect, but more modern.

Who Is This Really Built For?

Windows 365 is for just about anyone. You can have one license or you can have thousands of licenses. It’s primarily built for small businesses (up to 300 users) but can easily scale to corporate environments as well (unlimited users). Users who require more than 32GB of RAM or more than 512GB SSD may find it limiting. These users may want to opt into more traditional VDIs that can scale larger.

How Similar Is This to Azure VDI?

It’s very similar. In fact, Windows 365 is built on Azure VDI. You can still have custom images deployed or pick from Windows 11 or any other image they have in the gallery. You can still deploy your custom apps and packages. It is tied to Azure Active Directory so that is one thing you must have in place for this to work. There are some other cool hooks into the application. For example, you can automate who is a local admin on their machine by security groups and other policies. Admins can still assign VNETs and such.

How Much Does Windows 365 Cost?

There are two non-Windows Hybrid Benefit tiers. The Small Business tier, which is less than 300 licenses, starts at $24 per user per month and goes up to $162 for the crème del la crème model. The Enterprise tier, which is 300 or more licenses, starts at $20 and goes up to $158.

You may be thinking “I have an E3/E5 license that includes Windows 10. Does that mean Windows 365 is included in my subscription?” The answer is no.

While it’s true that you have a Windows license in your E3 and E5, it doesn’t give you a virtual environment, but it does give you a discount! With your E3 and E5 licenses you may engage the Windows Hybrid Benefit which means you pay less on the monthly fee, but you still have to pay for the virtual environment. The pricing here starts at $20 and goes up to $158 regardless of how many Windows 365 licenses you have. Now that’s not to say that Microsoft won’t create a new license code that includes Windows 365, but at this time you will need to add the extra license.

In summary, the biggest two differences between Windows 365 and Azure VDI are:

  • Instead of having a one-to-many VDI environment, it’s 1:1
  • Windows 365 gives you simple pricing so you won’t have surprises at the end of the month

Need Help?

Our Technology Solutions Group includes a team of cyber security experts. We’re happy to meet with you for a free cyber security assessment of your organization’s IT infrastructure. Or, you can contact us online or call 410.685.5512 with any questions.

 

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About Joshua Beitler

Josh monitors, updates and troubleshoots network and server systems for clients. He works primarily in Windows Server, Microsoft Office and Office 365 environments, but also has experience with automated network monitoring and data backup solutions. Outside of work, Josh is a wine enthusiast. His technology background resulted in Josh creating an app to log the different wines he’s sampled.