100 Days of Cloud – Day 89: Windows 365 Cloud PC or Azure Virtual Desktop?

Its Day 89 of my 100 Days of Cloud journey, and todays post is going to give a quick comparison between Windows 365 Cloud PC and Azure Virtual Desktop.

The global Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the demand for cloud-based solutions. Businesses and Educational Institutions have needed to quickly adapt to remote work and distance learning in a hybrid world.

While we’ve all seen or heard of Windows Remote Desktop Services, Citrix would to most of us be more recognizable as the leader in the VDI and Remote Desktop space down through the years. However, Microsoft are playing catch-up and given the integration offerings that are available across the multitude of Cloud Services, they have 2 offerings in Windows 365 Cloud PC and Azure Virtual Desktop. Both solutions allow you to easily support accessibility for users, on any device, from anywhere.

So they both sound like they do the same thing, and when logging on both look the same, but they’re not really. Lets take a closer look at the differences between then, the difference in costs and licencing, and try to determine which one is the best fit for your business.

Windows 365 Cloud PC

Windows 365 is a cloud-based service that automatically creates a new type of Windows virtual machine (Cloud PCs) for your end users. Each Cloud PC is assigned to an individual user and is their dedicated Windows device. Licences are purchased either through the Microsoft 365 Admin center or through the Windows Products site (if you do not have a Microsoft 365 Subscription), and are assigned directly to the user. When you assign a licence, the Cloud PC is automatically provisioned for you.

There are 2 subscription levels to choose from which each have a number of size options:

  • Business: this is for smaller organizations (up to 300 users) that want a simple way to buy, deploy, and manage Cloud PCs. The 3 size options are:
    • Basic (approx €35 per month): Recommended for light productivity and web browsers. Comes with 2 vCPU, 4GB RAM and 128GB of Storage. Supports Desktop versions of Office Apps, Teams and OneDrive
    • Standard (approx $40 per month): Recommended for full productivity and line of business apps. Comes with 2 vCPU, 8GB RAM and 128GB of Storage. Supports Desktop versions of Office Apps, Teams and OneDrive
    • Premium (approx $65 per month): Recommended for high performance workloads and heavy data processing. Comes with 4 vCPU, 16GB RAM and 128GB of Storage. Supports Desktop versions of Office Apps, Teams and OneDrive and also Dynamics 365, PowerBI and Visual Studio.
  • Enterprise: this is for organizations that want to manage their Cloud PCs with Microsoft Endpoint Manager and take advantage of integrations with other Microsoft services. There is no user limit on the Enterprise tier. The 3 size options are:
    • Basic (approx €35 per month): Integrated with Microsoft Endpoint Manager. Recommended for light productivity and web browsers. Comes with 2 vCPU, 4GB RAM and 128GB of Storage. Supports Desktop versions of Office Apps, Teams and OneDrive
    • Standard (approx $40 per month): Integrated with Microsoft Endpoint Manager. Recommended for full productivity and line of business apps. Comes with 2 vCPU, 8GB RAM and 128GB of Storage. Supports Desktop versions of Office Apps, Teams and OneDrive
    • Premium (approx $65 per month): Integrated with Microsoft Endpoint Manager. Recommended for high performance workloads and heavy data processing. Comes with 4 vCPU, 16GB RAM and 128GB of Storage. Supports Desktop versions of Office Apps, Teams and OneDrive and also Dynamics 365, PowerBI and Visual Studio.

So as we can see, there is no difference in the performance levels between the tiers, the only difference is the Microsoft Endpoint Manager integration on the Enterprise tier.

The big differences and advantage that Enterprise offers is:

  • Cloud PCs can be joined to your enterprise Active Directory domain and synced to Azure AD, or Azure AD joined.
  • the ability to connect your Cloud PC to your on-premises resources.
  • allows you to use custom images that you can build yourself as the base images for your Cloud PCs.

If you are not sure which option is best for you, Microsoft provides a Cloud PC Chooser website where you can fill in a number of questions to determine which Windows 365 Cloud PC is the right option for your business.

Azure Virtual Desktop

While Azure Virtual Desktop is similar in many ways to Windows 365 Cloud PC, these are really only on the surface. It also provides a virtual desktop to the user, but there is more flexibility in how this is delivered. However that flexibility comes with a greater need for administration and a larger workload for IT professionals.

One of the major benefits of Azure Virtual Desktop is that it can be delivered as either a personal desktop in the same way as Windows 365 Cloud PC or a pooled desktop where multiple users can access a pool of desktops.

Personal Desktops functions in the same way as Windows 365 Cloud PC but runs in a “pay as you use” pricing model and also allows for multiple user sessions on a single Windows 10 or 11 desktop.

Pooled desktops or personal host pools are a collection of nodes that runs a “user to desktop” relationship. You can create a pool of nodes to whatever sizing specification you require and assign them to users, so for example you could create a pool of 8 nodes and assign 40 users to those nodes. The user settings, profile and data changes are still present after logout as these are abstracted away from the OS Drives of each node to an FSLogix Profile container which holds the user profiles and is mounted transparently at logon to integrate with the User Session.

There is no limit to the number of pools, and these can be easily scaled either manually or automatically allowing you to add or reduce capacity based on demand which can help manage costs.

There is also an option (currently in preview) to run Azure Virtual Desktop on your on-premises Azure Stack HCI infrastructure which can further reduce costs and meet data locality requirements.

Conclusion

So thats an in-depth look and Windows 365 Cloud PC and a brief look at the differences in Azure Virtual Desktop, which I’m going to cover in more detail in the next few posts.

So which is the right choice? Depends on your requirements, Windows 365 Cloud PC gives you recurring monthly costs with very little administration or overheads, while Azure Virtual Desktop gives you more flexibility and a “pay as you use” model, but the administration effort is higher. There are plenty of 3rd party integrators out there to help with this administration load, and Nerdio is premier player in the market at present.

Hope you enjoyed this post, until next time!

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