Cloud-delivered Windows: What Are the Best Options?

It’s a cliché to say, but it remains true: uncertainty is the only constant in today’s working world, and it can be difficult for businesses to know how to navigate. With Q1 in the rear view mirror, we can begin to make some deductions about what the rest of the year is going to hold, and what organisations should be bracing themselves for in terms of economic and financial circumstances going forward.

Simply put, challenges will continue to impact today’s professional landscape. Though the UK just about avoided a recession in late 2022, inflation remains high and the economic environment is unlikely to turn especially favourable anytime soon. We’re already seeing the negative effects of this on a business level, with many organisations starting layoffs and rolling out pay cuts.

The current situation offers a great opportunity for reflection, consolidation, and understanding. The current conditions are pushing leaders to closely interrogate the reasons behind every call they make. As a result, decisions made amid these challenging times should be thoughtful, well-motivated by necessity, and improve the business over the long term. 

Cloud-based virtual desktops: a worthwhile investment

Business leaders and IT decision-makers have to balance the inflationary environment and the need for cost-savings with the continued need for flexibility and changes in workplace scenarios for most people. The cost-of-living crisis is pushing some employees to prefer working from home due to high travel expenses, while at the same time, stricter working conditions are increasing presenteeism at work in some organisations. Other businesses are still unprepared to welcome all employees back on premises full-time, and continue to incentivise working from home.

In such a diverse set of circumstances, the wisest thing for businesses to do is to remain adaptable to any and all situations. The flexibility that cloud-based solutions allow is unmatchable by slow on-premise solutions. Alongside this clear advantage, cloud-based virtual desktops are also more scalable due to the system’s elasticity. If they are rolled out and managed well, cloud-based solutions can also improve security practices across an organisation. Moving to the cloud can come with a fairly significant upfront cost, but considering the long-term effects and diverse advantages, it is well worth the investment.

There are two main groups of options available to businesses. Let’s explore them.

Options for Cloud-delivered Windows

Non-native options: AWS, Google Cloud, Citrix, VMware

While on-premises based desktop virtualisation solutions were market-leading for many years, it is safe to say that they are predominantly becoming obsolete, especially with the advent of native cloud options. In recent years, Microsoft has taken huge steps towards advancing their cloud-based desktop and application infrastructure and management solutions, which are largely preferable from the point of view of IT administrators.

Technologies such as Citrix were originally designed to be deployed in on-premises data centres, meaning that, even if they are repurposed in the cloud, they will cause similar problems that they would in the on-premises environment. They are also difficult to inter-operate with modern cloud infrastructure. And VDI vendors and other public cloud providers like AWS or Google Cloud all can be quite expensive due to the purchases of extra licenses on top of Microsoft – something to bear in mind in the current economic environment.

Considering the complicated infrastructure, higher cost, and difficult scalability of these solutions, we can quite confidently say there are better options out there.

Native options: Azure Virtual Desktop and Windows 365

Many businesses turn to Microsoft when it comes to selecting their cloud-based Windows solutions, and it’s easy to understand why. As a well-known, hugely popular tech giant in the industry, Microsoft has long represented the gold standard in cloud-based practices. They have preserved and perhaps even improved this standing with their latest Azure-based desktop virtualisation services, Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) and Windows 365. These solutions offer the significant benefit of optimised integrations with native Microsoft products such as Teams and M365, which can also result in improved performance, agility, and speed.

Both Azure Virtual Desktop and W365 can be great options for businesses, and both deliver a familiar Windows experience on any device, but there are important differences between them.

Under the hood, AVD and Windows 365 leverage a similar set of cloud technologies. Technically speaking, Windows 365 is built on top of existing AVD components but uses a different transactional model.

There are two version of Windows 365 Cloud PCs. Enterprise Cloud PCs are designed for large-scale organisations who have invested into Microsoft’s Intune endpoint management product and are using this platform to manage existing physical desktops. Business Cloud PCs, on the other hand, are designed for individual users and very small businesses, and are managed entirely by the user, similar to a standalone PC. The key difference between these is that Windows 365 Enterprise SKUs require an Azure subscription, and all management tasks are performed through the Intune portal. Whereas Business Cloud PCs can run without an Azure subscription and an Intune license is not required. With Azure Virtual Desktops, certain elements are required to be contained within an Azure subscription.

Another significant difference is the IT admin experience. AVD relies heavily on Azure management concepts and provides maximum flexibility. Windows 365, on the other hand, aims to simplify management by making it practically identical to managing existing physical desktop assets and leveraging the same set of Microsoft tools to manage physical and virtual PCs.  This is reflected in elements such as the management portal: for AVD, all components are managed via Azure’s PowerShell portal or third-party tools like Nerdio Manager, whereas Enterprise Cloud PCs are managed via Intune, and Business Cloud PCs are not integrated with Intune.

An element that is essentially the same in both Windows 365 and AVD is the end-user experience. Users connecting to AVD sessions and cloud PC sessions using the same client application. In fact, Windows 365 is built on top of AVD global infrastructure, and so this will be familiar to those with AVD experience. This means users have the advantage of a unified experience across Windows 365 and AVD.

Costs are one of the most important factors that come into play when deciding on the right virtual desktop technology for an organisation. License costs vary significantly based on many variables from the number of end-users to the specific hardware specs that a user needs. Overall, Windows 365 cloud PCs are the more cost-effective option when users require dedicated, persistently available desktops for over 50 hours per week. However, AVD is the superior option if users can be grouped together into AVD host pools, as in this case, auto-scaling enables a significant infrastructure cost saving.

All in all, what are the best options?

As we have seen, there are many aspects that require close consideration when it comes to choosing the right form of cloud-delivered Windows. We recommend that each organisation take the leap, given the immense benefits of cloud computing in the current economic and business climate – but that they do so carefully and while taking into account their specific needs. This way, they can unlock the long-term benefits of cloud and make their investment worthwhile.

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Vadim Vladimirskiy is a visionary expert in the creation and evolution of innovative cloud IT management platforms for the remote work era. He is CEO and co-founder of Nerdio and empowers companies of all sizes to deploy, manage, and cost-optimise native Microsoft cloud technologies like Azure Virtual Desktop, Windows 365, and Microsoft Intune.

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