Applications & OS News

Microsoft Unveils Windows 365, A Web-Streamed Virtual Desktop Service For Hybrid Work

Kyle Alspach

The company is pointing to major partner opportunities around Windows 365, which will let users access their Windows desktop from any browser on any device, including Apple and Android devices.

Microsoft on Wednesday unveiled its new cloud-based Windows 365 service, a simplified virtual desktop solution aimed at meeting hybrid workforce computing needs while creating opportunities for managed services providers and other cloud partners.

Windows 365 is a “cloud PC” solution because the virtualized operating system and apps can be streamed in any web browser, and will be available on any PC or mobile device, Microsoft said.

The offering is not meant to replace Microsoft’s Azure Virtual Desktop, but should make desktop virtualization an option for a far greater number of businesses, due to its simpler IT deployment and management capabilities, the company said.

In particular, the solution should be ideal for small and medium-sized businesses as well as for larger businesses that have a shortage of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) expertise, Microsoft said.

[Related: Microsoft Partners: Windows 11 Is An ‘Important’ Update For Security, Productivity, Collaboration]

“We wanted to make sure that we were creating something simple enough for an endpoint manager to be able to use—so you don’t have to have that Azure expertise or that VDI experience in order to be able to use Windows 365,” said Melissa Grant, director of product marketing for Microsoft 365, in an interview with CRN.

Windows 365 will be generally available on Aug. 2 and will be offered as a monthly subscription, including through Cloud Solution Provider partners. To underscore the partner opportunity with Windows 365, Microsoft is announcing the solution at the company’s virtual Inspire 2021 partner conference this week.

Windows 365 is intended to represent a major expansion of the options for personal computing in the workplace, Grant said.

The ability to access a virtualized Windows desktop through a web browser is new with Windows 365, she noted. So is the ability to run a virtualized version of Windows on any PC or mobile device—including Apple’s Mac, iPad and iPhone devices, as well as on Android and Linux devices. (Along with HTML browsers, Windows 365 can also be accessed through the Microsoft Remote Desktop app.)

“We see [customers] using more devices for more scenarios—and wanting to have an ability to have globally distributed workforces, recruit people from all around the world and help them to do work securely and collaborate securely,” Grant said. “So we really think there’s an opportunity to bring a Windows experience to all of those people on the device of their choice.”

Windows 365 will be offered first with Windows 10, and will be offered with Windows 11 when the new operating system debuts later this year, she said.

Azure Virtual Desktop is expected to continue to be a good fit for certain organizations—especially those that have virtualization expertise on staff and have specific customization needs, Grant said.

Windows 365, however, is aimed at the “approximate 80 percent of the marketplace that lacks the need for full customization or the resources for dedicated IT,” Microsoft said in a blog post.

IT professionals can deploy and manage Windows 365 with Microsoft Endpoint Manager, the same tool that’s used for managing physical PCs. From an IT perspective, Windows 365 should appeal to businesses of many sizes because endpoint management specialists are far more common than virtualization specialists, Grant said.

In terms of security, Windows 365 works with Microsoft’s Azure Active Directory identity authentication service, multi-factor authentication (MFA) and the Microsoft Defender for Endpoint security solution, Microsoft said. And through using Endpoint Manager, MFA can be paired with conditional access policies that are specific to Windows 365, while encryption is used “across the board” with the service, the company said.

From a security standpoint, Windows 365 is an ideal solution at a time of increased interest around doing work on personal devices, Grant said. “There has been huge demand [from businesses] to give people this level of access when they’re not on their corporately owned machines,” she said.

Other key capabilities of Windows 365 include “instant-on” booting and the ability to keep the same state of a cloud desktop even after switching between devices—meaning that users can pick up where they’ve left off on their other device, the company said.

Windows 365 appears to offer a number of advantages for partners and IT professionals, while bringing features to meet key customer use cases, said Phil Schwan, manager for end user computing at Netrix, a Bannockburn, Ill.-based Microsoft Gold partner and No. 188 on CRN’s Solution Provider 500.

Compared to other VDI options, “the benefits of an as-a-service model apply [with Windows 365] in alleviating the need to dedicate significant resources to just keeping the lights on for the virtual desktop environment,” Schwan said.

Windows 365 should work well for highly mobile users, contract and seasonal workers, and bring-your-own-device scenarios, he said.

“The persistent nature of the virtual desktop makes it easy to resume work while switching locations and devices. For example, we’ve worked with several clients that have had to put creative—and often less-than-ideal—solutions in place to allow contractors access to a managed desktop from a variety of locations,” Schwan said. “Windows 365 will give them a simple and secure method of providing a digital workspace that can be scaled and sized to meet their individual needs, while also avoiding the costs of company-owned infrastructure and endpoint hardware.”

Microsoft pointed to numerous opportunities for solution provider partners with Windows 365, including resale and services.

For instance, managed services providers will have “a great opportunity to really incorporate Windows 365 into their broader Microsoft estate. A lot of MSPs are already helping our customers do things like adopt cloud management. That’s obviously going to be key for Windows 365. So it’s really about adding that to their portfolio,” Grant said.

“And as they do things like adopting a zero trust infrastructure, Windows 365 will work with that,” she said. “So they can really start to build on the existing work that they’re doing—helping our customers become more secure, become more modern in their approach—and then be able to also provide that Windows experience across devices, all integrated with their overall managed service offering.”

Ultimately, “we think this new category affords a ton of opportunity to our partners,” Grant said.

Windows 365 will be available in two editions—Windows 365 Business for customers with fewer than 300 users, and Windows 365 Enterprise for larger customers. Enterprises can purchase Windows 365 through CSP partners as well as through the Microsoft Enterprise Agreement, Microsoft said.

Windows 365 will offer different options in terms of compute power and storage capacity, Grant said. There will be a number of SKU offerings, ranging from lightweight app use up to high-scale computing that requires large amounts of CPU, she said.

Ryan Williams, partner and director of sales engineering at Netrix, said it’s the “right time” for a solution like Windows 365 to hit the market—as workforce needs have changed during the pandemic even as performance for virtual desktop solutions has improved dramatically.

“If [desktop virtualization] is something an organization hasn’t done before, I think they will see that this is the time to embrace something like this,” Williams said. “I think they’ll see that it’s going to have a world of benefit for them.”

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