Microsoft has taken a major step into the realm of streaming desktop computing with the introduction of Windows 365. The new service, based on Azure Virtual Desktop, gives businesses a way to stream the Windows desktop to any device.
In a blog post, Wangui McKelvey, general manager, Microsoft 365, discussed the advent of a new PC form factor, dubbed cloud PC, which uses Windows 365 to provide access to Windows desktops in the cloud for hybrid workers.
“The ability to work whenever, however and wherever it’s needed has become the new normal,” he wrote in the blog. “All employees want technology that is familiar, easy to use and available across devices. And in the most complex cyber security environment we’ve ever seen, businesses need a solution that helps their employees collaborate, share and create while also keeping their data safe and secure.”
McKelvey said Windows 365 takes the operating system to the Microsoft Cloud and securely streams the full Windows experience, including applications, data and settings, to personal or corporate devices. “This approach creates a fully new personal computing category, specifically for the hybrid world: the cloud PC,” he said.
According to Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index, based on a survey of over 30,000 people, almost three-quarters (73%) of workers want flexible remote work options to stay, but two-thirds (67%) say they also want more in-person collaboration post-pandemic.
This hybrid approach to work creates unique challenges for IT departments. McKelvey said: “Our vision for a Windows 365 cloud PC is to deliver a new way to experience Windows through the power of the cloud – while solving both novel and traditional challenges for organisations. This new paradigm isn’t just about allowing and securing remote access. The user experience is more important than ever for attracting and retaining talent, improving productivity and ensuring security.”
From an IT management perspective, McKelvey said cloud PCs on Windows 365 can be managed in the same way as physical hardware using Microsoft Endpoint Manager. The Endpoint Analytics dashboard is used to identify the cloud PC environments that are not delivering the performance needs of a given user. “Not only can you get recommendations, but you can also upgrade them at the touch of a button, which is immediately applied without missing a beat,” he said.
There is also a new Watchdog Service, which continually runs diagnostics to help keep connections up and running. McKelvey said: “If a diagnostic check fails, we’ll alert you and even give suggestions for how to correct the issue.”
Multifactor authentication is also supported, which works with Azure Active Directory to provide login security for cloud PCs.
Microsoft said Windows 365 can be accessed from Macs, iPads, Android devices and Linux machines. The current pricing for an Azure Virtual Desktop with a Windows desktop licence is $68.12 a month with an annual upfront charge of $644.04. Each 30Gbytes of uplink bandwidth within the UK is charged at $0.50. Hard disk-based storage is charged at $1.69 a month for 32Gbytes of data.