One of the many big-ticket items to be announced during Microsoft’s Inspire 2021 event, which kicked off this week, was the impending release of Windows 365, a cloud service designed to introduce a new way for users to experience Windows 10 and Windows 11.
Set to become available later this calendar year for businesses of all sizes, Windows 365 takes the operating system to Microsoft’s cloud, streaming what the vendor claims will be the full Windows experience, including apps, data and settings, to any device.
“With Windows 365, we’re creating a new category: the Cloud PC,” said Satya Nadella, Microsoft chairman and CEO. “Just like applications were brought to the cloud with SaaS [software-as-a-service], we are now bringing the operating system to the cloud, providing organisations with greater flexibility and a secure way to empower their workforce to be more productive and connected, regardless of location.”
With Windows 365, Cloud PCs can be provisioned in minutes from the Microsoft Endpoint Manager dashboard, according to Microsoft, with no virtualisation experience.
With provisioning policies, a group of Cloud PCs can be provisioned within minutes – including defining the version of Windows to be used, assigning specific users or groups and more, noted Jared Spataro, Microsoft 365 corporate vice president, and Alysa Taylor, corporate vice president of industry, apps and data marketing, in a joint statement.
According to Spataro, there are three components to Windows 365 that users can choose: CPU, RAM and storage. Top spec for each of these components is eight core virtual CPU, 32GB RAM and 512GB storage, respectively.
It is important to note that Windows is already accessible in the cloud via Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD), launched in 2019 as Windows Virtual Desktop, which provides users the flexibility to create and run their own virtualisation service and, most importantly, opportunities for partners to help them with that.
Windows 365, however, is a new virtualisation technology for Windows that is designed to be easy to set up and deploy for the ‘login-from-anywhere' workforces that the world is birthing in vast quantities amid the wake of the global pandemic.
According to Scott Manchester, the director of program management for Windows 365 in Redmond, Washington, Windows 365 is for the “approximate 80 per cent” of the marketplace that lacks the need for full customisation or the resources for dedicated IT.
As Spataro and Taylor flagged, Cloud PC is not just for enterprises, but has been designed to be approachable for businesses of all sizes.
“In fact, for small to medium sized businesses, there are simple to use tools for helping citizen admins choose and configure their own cloud environments, ensuring everyone gets the opportunity to pick the right PC and bring the power of the cloud to their users,” the pair noted.
Seems easy, right? Well, that’s the point.
“It is different from Azure Virtual Desktop,” Spataro said. “If you think of AVD as a platform, this [Windows Cloud PC] is a SaaS offer.
“You access your Windows 365 Cloud PC through any HTML5 compliant browser. There’s nothing new that needs to be built out on the end-point,” he added.
So far, so good.
What the Windows 365 Cloud PC offering doesn’t do, however, is offer a rich, deep platform for integration partners to build onto, such as that offered by Azure Virtual Desktop, despite the similarities between the two.
But in terms of partner opportunity, Windows 365’s simplicity means that most partners aren't likely to have much to do with the offering beyond simply selling it to clients as part of a broader digital transformation or cloud migration effort.
“Let me talk about the grand digital transformation we're all involved in right now,” Spataro told ARN. “There’s more demand than we’ve ever seen before [in the digital transformation space], and this gives you another tool as you think about scenarios...it gives [partners] this wonderful opportunity to walk in and talk about digital transformation.
“What do we not support for partners? It really is a SaaS offering, so it’s not designed for partners to build on top of, like AVD. It is a finished service,” he added.
That said, there may be some ways partners can dig at least a little bit deeper into the new offering.
“We expect people to do interesting integrations, so there are some interesting options there, but it doesn’t offer that platform build opportunity that AVD does,” Spataro said.
From the perspective of Nick Parker, Microsoft global partner solutions corporate vice president, the biggest opportunities for partners arising from the Cloud PC offering revolve around building for, and extending, customers’ Windows assets against the backdrop of digital transformation.
“Systems integrators (SIs) and managed service providers (MSPs) can help organisations get the most out of their entire Windows estate,” Parker said. “Independent software vendors (ISVs) can continue to build Windows applications and deliver them in the cloud to support their customers’ ongoing digital transformation journeys.
“Device and silicon partners gain an opportunity to integrate Windows 365 into their broad portfolio of services alongside their devices’ robust features and secure hardware,” he added.
Regardless, the best play here for partners is likely the one suggested by Spataro: further underpinning customers’ digital transformation projects. If the latest industry research is anything to go by, this is an area that has seen a major surge in demand over the past several months as businesses turn to cloud infrastructure as a way to better manage dispersed workforces.
On this front, Microsoft has plenty to offer.
Along with the Windows 365 Cloud PC product, Microsoft has also used this year’s Inspire event to talk about how it is expanding programs and extending security updates to streamline and simplify cloud migration and modernisation, core elements of the digital transformation journey.
For example, the Azure Migration and Modernisation Program (AMMP), previously called Azure Migration Program, now covers a wider breadth of migration and modernisation offerings across apps, infrastructure and data, including support for Azure Arc.
The (AMMP is designed to help partners accelerate their customers’ cloud journeys with a mix of best practice guidance, resources and expert help at every stage.
Moreover, Azure Migrate App Containerisation now supports deploying containerised apps to the Azure App Service – Web App for Containers tool.
The App Containerisation tool helps modernise existing ASP.NET and Java web apps by packaging them as containers and deploying the containerised app to Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) or Azure App Service Containers.