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Windows365 - The MSP Perspective

Microsoft have announced the much anticipated Windows 10 in the cloud - Windows365 (W365).
Having spent what seems like most of the past six months talking to various MSPs about Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) (previously called Windows Virtual Desktop), the question is how does this new service fit in with what they have been working on, have in pilot stage etc. 

It is becoming quite clear though that this is actually really good news for MSPs, particularly those that support the smaller companies of less than 100 seats. 
While AVD is a really good product, and has a lot of good uses, for small companies it doesn't make much sense because of the complexity of setup, configuration and management. 

What immediately came to mind when comparing AVD and W365, was the comparison between a regular Windows Desktop and Remote Desktop Services (RDS).  

RDS has two main uses - providing a standard desktop to a large number of users, or providing a single application on dedicated servers. These functions I see being deployed on to AVD - it feels like the natural replacement. The classic example would be something like a call centre, where the staff are using a small number of apps, but intensely, probably not requiring the full Office suite and other applications. 
However AVD has similar challenges of setup and management complexity to RDS, making it more of a challenge to get right, with the deployment requiring constant tweaking to get the balance between performance and cost just right - as AVD is priced on consumption. 

For many companies though, a full Windows 10 desktop is the better option, because the staff member is using many different apps, needs the full Office suite and other applications. That makes W365 the better option, particularly being priced per user and not on consumption.
If the company is already invested in Office365, with email, OneDrive and SharePoint in extensive use, then having the desktop in the cloud and close to those data points will also bring performance gains. 

For MSPs, it becomes even more clear cut. 

A common challenge, particularly when it comes to taking on new clients is getting any kind of standardisation on the workstations. We all have the horror stories of the customer taking on a new member of staff and then going to the local computer shop, buying a "cheap" desktop then calling their MSP to get it to work (with Windows Home, and other garbage on it). 
The more recent issues of staff working from home and general supply issues have made the end user workstation more of a challenge. 

However if the end user workstation can be pretty much anything that runs an RDP client, then the problem almost goes away. With solutions to use a raspberry PI as thin client, the MSP can almost leave spares at each client for such events such as new member of staff or a system failing. If the Windows session exists in the cloud and their access device fails, they just move to something else and carry on. Power cut? Send them home. Self isolation? Work from home with everything you need available in the cloud PC. No computer at home, then a cheap chrome book or 

I have a client who is getting close to replacing most of their field staff laptops with what would have been a AVD deployment and Samsung mobile phones (using their DEX feature), but that will probably be switched across to W365. That provides not only a consistent experience across all staff, but also provides some degree of data protection, not only from staff stealing content, but also by loss of the device. There are also considerable cost savings - the laptop and its maintenance for a start. 

Yes there will be cases where a desktop is the better solution, but as those could be seen as niche cases the MSP will have a good opportunity to ensure those niche desktops are bought, built and managed in the way that best fits their technology stack. 

From the MSPs commercial point of view, it will also allow the MSP to provide a single price per user which includes everything - Windows, office, AV and other security software, monitoring and support, with the only additional cost being a standard router in the office and whatever is on the desk. Supporting work from home and nomad users will become easier and more cost effective. 

While the goal of a simple serverless environment for these small businesses has been possible for sometime (I did it many years ago for a small marketing company), there were trade-offs in performance and complexity. Windows365 takes away those two main issues, making that goal within reach of more companies (And their MSPs). 

Therefore I simply hope that Microsoft get the pricing right... 
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