MJFChat: Windows 365 vs. Azure Virtual Desktop: How to Choose

We’re doing a twice-monthly interview show on Petri.com that is dedicated to covering topics of interest to our tech-professional audience. We have branded this show “MJFChat.”

In my role as Petri’s Community Magnate, I will be interviewing a variety of IT-savvy technology folks. Some of these will be Petri contributors; some will be tech-company employees; some will be IT pros. We will be tackling various subject areas in the form of 30-minute audio interviews. I will be asking the questions, the bulk of which we’re hoping will come from you, our Petri.com community of readers.

Readers can submit questions via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and/or LinkedIn using the #AskMJF hashtag. Once the interviews are completed, we will post the audio and associated transcript in the forums for readers to digest at their leisure. (By the way, did you know MJFChats are now available in podcast form? Go here for MJF Chat on Spotify; here for Apple Podcasts on iTunes; and here for Google Play.)

Our latest MJFChat is for IT pros and admins trying to decide whether Microsoft’s Windows 365/Cloud PC or Azure Virtual Desktop makes more sense for their orgs as a VDI solution. My special guest, Vadim Vladimirskiy, CEO of Microsoft partner Nerdio, has a lot of tips and tricks to share regarding how users can compare costs, licensing requirements, infrastructure requirements and more when evaluating these two solutions. Nerdio has published a number of white papers on both products.

If you know someone you’d like to see interviewed on the MJFChat show, including yourself, just Tweet to me or drop me a line. (Let me know why you think this person would be an awesome guest and what topics you’d like to see covered.) We’ll take things from there…

Thank you to our sponsor for this MJFChat, SmartDeploy. Check out smartdeploy.com/MJFChat for a special offer just for MJFChat listeners.


Mary Jo Foley (00:02):
Hi, you’re listening to Petri.com’s MJF Chat show. I am Mary Jo Foley, AKA your Petri.com community magnate. And I am here to interview tech industry experts about various topics that you, our readers and listeners want to know about. Today’s MJF Chat is meant to help users figure out whether Windows 365, Cloud PC, or Azure Virtual Desktop is best suited to their VDI needs. My special guest today, who knows all about this topic is Vadim Valdimirskiy, who is the CEO of Microsoft partner. Nerdio. Hi, Vadim, thank you so much for doing this chat with me today.

Vadim Vladimirskiy (01:26):
Hi, Mary Jo, thanks for having me. It’s great to be back.

Mary Jo Foley (01:30):
I know, I’m glad. A repeat guest is always a good thing. So before we even start this chat, I want to plug a resource that’s on the getnerdio.com site. I know that you folks have done a lot of research and provided information around both, Azure Virtual Desktop and Windows 365, but I found this whitepaper there that’s titled “Windows 365 vs. Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) – Comparing Two DaaS Products”. DaaS, for people who don’t know, is Desktop as a Service. So anyone who hasn’t checked this whitepaper out should definitely do so go down to the website and download it because this is a really good guide for anyone who’s trying to figure out how these two products intersect and overlap. So I wanted to use this chat to elaborate on some of the points that are in that paper. First off, I want to talk about the architecture. I think it’s important for people to understand a bit what is similar and what’s different between Windows 365 and Azure Virtual Desktop. Because Microsoft, when they first announced Windows 365, said that service, Windows 365 was built on top of AVD. So I guess I want to start in there Vadim, and say, how would you talk about the architecture? And is it actually accurate to think about Win 365 being built on top of Azure Virtual Desktop?

Vadim Vladimirskiy (03:07):
Yeah, that’s definitely a very common question that we hear from customers. I guess, one of the reasons that we were prompted to write some of that content that you mentioned Mary Jo, about the differences, both from a technical perspective and on a pricing and cost perspective. But it is accurate that Windows 365 is built on top of the Azure Virtual Desktop, or if you hear me say AVD that that’s the acronym for Azure Virtual Desktop. It is built on top of that technology stack. So the differences in the two services really come in the things that are above the actual infrastructure where it’s running, both services are running in Azure, both services are using a similar client or the same really client application. So the end-user experience is almost identical. So someone logging into a Windows 365 Cloud PC will have exactly the same experience as someone logging in to an AVD desktop.

Mary Jo Foley (04:10):
Hmm. Okay. That’s interesting. So a question I get a lot, is people don’t want to really try to grasp all of this because there’s so many facets and technical details. So they say, just give me the biggest difference between Windows 365 and AVD. Like, if I’m just going to think about one thing, how do I decide which of those is right for me? What would you say if you just could give one difference or similarity, a way people can kind of focus on which one they should be thinking about?

Vadim Vladimirskiy (04:42):
I will give you the one that you asked for, and then I will give you two more to kind of complete the picture. So, so the one difference that most people should be focusing on is the fact that Windows 365 is a fixed per user, per month price, unlike AVD, which is consumption-based sort of cloud utilization type of pricing, I would say that’s the single biggest difference between the two products. And it’s important, I think for market adoption, because one of the reasons, you know, AVD, isn’t a mass market product, meaning, you know, you don’t see everyone using it. There’s just a certain subset of the market, is because it’s fairly difficult to estimate, and then, you know, optimize. There’s the whole cloud utilization piece that creates some of the commercial complexity around AVD. Whereas with Windows 365, Microsoft made it as simple to buy and budget for as you would buy Office 365 or really any other Microsoft 365 product. So that would be the number one difference. But if you want to get a little bit deeper, I’ll give you two more.

Mary Jo Foley (05:58):
Okay, give us two more.

Vadim Vladimirskiy (06:00):
So, the other difference is that many of the deployments on AVD are done in a multi-session way. Meaning you have multiple users that are sharing the same virtual machine, which obviously improves the per user cost because you’re sharing the same infrastructure across multiple users. With Windows 365, that’s not an option. Windows 365 and as Microsoft refers to it, the Cloud PC is a dedicated virtual machine that’s assigned to each and every user on a permanent basis. So it’s a permanent machine made to look and feel like someone’s local physical device would be. And I would say the third difference is how you actually go about buying it. So I mentioned it’s fixed price, but the way you would go and purchase Windows 365 is the same way you would buy Office 365, which is through all of the Microsoft 365 channels. Whether it’s the CSP program directly from Microsoft on the website or whatever other ways Microsoft has of buying Microsoft 365 SKUs.

Mary Jo Foley (07:08):
Okay. That’s great. I think another thing that may be adding a layer of complexity when people are looking at these two solutions is there are multiple versions of these products. So we’ve got Windows 365 Enterprise, and we’ve got Windows 365 Business. On Azure Virtual Desktop, we’ve got Personal and Pooled. So is there an easy way for customers to think about who the target audiences are for each of these?

Vadim Vladimirskiy (07:40):
Yes, I think so. So let’s start with the Windows 365 Business versus Enterprise, first. I think the delineation that Microsoft is drawing between the two, you know, the two products is one is for smaller organizations. They even have a limit of 300 licenses or 300 SKUs of the business version per Azure AD tenant. Whereas Enterprise is obviously unlimited, and the differences come in, in the fact that with the business version of Cloud PC, you have zero Azure prerequisites. There is no Azure subscription that’s needed. There’s no Azure networking to manage. There’s no Azure piece to it. It’s literally like buying an Office 365 or an Exchange Online license. You assign it to a user, and a few minutes later that user can log into a desktop with Enterprise. Well, before I get onto Enterprise, you know, and that’s both a positive and a negative. It’s positive in that it’s simple and doesn’t require any technical skill to set it up.

Vadim Vladimirskiy (08:49):
But the challenge is you don’t have control over, for example, the networking. So, you can’t control which network or what IP address that machine is using. You can’t set up VPN tunnels and all the kinds of things that organizations with IT departments typically need, which is where the enterprise version comes in. The enterprise version requires an Azure networking infrastructure to be plugged into. So when you buy an Enterprise Cloud PC, you need to specify which Azure network that PC will be connected to, which creates a bit more complexity in terms of setting it up, because you need to Azure Footprint, but then also gives all the flexibility that organizations with IT departments need to manage those devices.

Mary Jo Foley (09:39):

Vadim Vladimirskiy (09:40):
Now, on the Pooled versus Personal side of things, which is an AVD concept, Azure Virtual Desktop concept, there, it’s more of a question of the use case. What type of user are you giving this desktop to? If you’re giving this to a, you know, high end, let’s call it a power user, a super user, maybe a developer, an engineer, someone who needs a lot of resources and dedicated resources, you will give them personal desktop, which means they get the machines or machine all to themselves. Versus if you have people like knowledge workers or task workers that are doing basic application type of work, you would use a pooled desktop, which takes multiple users and puts them on the single or a group of machines, a pool of machines where they can share that infrastructure among multiple users in that pool.

Mary Jo Foley (10:34):
Okay, so if I’m an IT Pro and I’m trying to just start out by saying, does AVD even make sense for me? How do I even start thinking about that? Should I start with price, or do I have enough expertise, or the types of clients that are going to be using the service? Like, if you’re saying to someone, okay, does this make sense for you? What’s the first thing they should think about when they’re trying to compute that?

Vadim Vladimirskiy (11:03):
I guess it depends if they’ve already decided they need some sort of desktop virtual desktop, and now they’re deciding whether they should go with Windows 365 or AVD, or if they’re just deciding, well, do I need a virtual desktop to begin with, right? So, you know, if they need, the reason someone would need the virtual desktop in our current world, it’s a very easy thing to envision, is if you need work from home, remote work, hybrid work type scenarios. Virtual desktops are perfect to enable that because you don’t have a big device, you have to carry around. You don’t have all the security threats that come along with having devices that, you know, employees take home and work on unsecured networks. So if someone is trying to enable a hybrid work or remote work scenario, they need a virtual desktop. Then the question becomes, well, what kind of virtual desktop should I get?

Vadim Vladimirskiy (11:57):
You know, Microsoft now has two options. We have AVD desktops and we have Windows 365 desktops. And in that scenario, you know, we’ve created a little bit of a decision flow diagram, which is also available on that site that you’ve mentioned, where you can ask yourself a few simple questions. You know, number one, if you are a small organization that has a very, you know, limited number of desktops and you don’t have a current Azure environment set up, and you’re not really planning to set one up, there’s no need for you to do that. Then Windows 365 Business edition is going to be the clear winner. That’s definitely the way to go. It’s simple. It doesn’t require any Azure expertise, super easy to manage. So that’s an easy one. If you are already, if you’re an enterprise, for example, and you don’t have a ton of VDI experience, but you do have experience with Microsoft Endpoint Manager because you’re using it to manage all of your existing endpoints, the existing windows devices that are physical. Then again, Windows 365 is just a simple extension of that existing management platform that you’re already using.

Mary Jo Foley (13:12):
Hmm. Okay. It seems like at the beginning, you mentioned remote work, work from home as a big reason to even think about using a virtual desktop. It also seems to me like, and you did just mention this, security and compliance, all those things are pretty key too. Like if that’s something as an organization you’re trying to make sure is applied across all your workers, it makes a lot of sense to use a virtual desktop for that reason. Right?

Vadim Vladimirskiy (13:40):
Absolutely. I mean, it really makes, it reduces sort of the surface area of what’s exposed and it lets IT administrators and security teams have better control and visibility of their data, of applications, of who’s connecting, where they’re connecting from. Because desktops, which is the user’s portal into the organization’s data becomes fully managed and centralized from the cloud, in contrast to a physical device that’s much more difficult to manage. And the network it connects to is even more difficult to manage, especially if those are home-based networks.

Mary Jo Foley (14:21):
Okay. All right. Let’s, let’s take a quick break so we can have a word from our MJF Chat sponsor, SmartDeploy. With Windows 11’s release just around the corner, flexible deployment options are key. When legacy solutions can no longer support your hybrid workplace, try SmartDeploy. Grab your exclusive free software, which is worth over $570 at smartdeploy.com/mjfchat. Okay, back to Win365 versus AVD. I want to ask another IT admin question. So I’ve had some IT admins ask me, is it actually possible to just say Windows 365 or AVD is better or easier. From an IT admin point of view, are there certain criteria they in particular need to consider when thinking about these two services? And I think you just touched on this a bit when we started talking about Endpoint Manager.

Vadim Vladimirskiy (15:25):
Yeah, I definitely think from an IT admin perspective there’s a lot to consider when making that decision. I guess the way I would categorize it is Windows 365 is optimized for simplicity and Azure Virtual Desktop is optimized for flexibility. And obviously flexibility, the flip side of it is more complexity than Windows 365. So with Windows 365, you get something that’s well-defined, you get more of a software as a service offer, rather than a platform as a service, which is what you get with Azure Virtual Desktop. And you know, you have an easier way to price, transact, deploy, and manage with Windows 365, but you don’t have as much flexibility to maybe do certain things that you may need to do. Whereas with Azure Virtual Desktop, you can do anything and everything, but you have to contend with a bit more complexity in getting it configured, ongoing management, as well as the ongoing pricing, because it’s consumption-based, as we discussed.

Mary Jo Foley (16:31):
Right. So, I wanted to talk about pricing and that’s always opening a Pandora’s box, right? Pricing and licensing. But when, when users are trying to figure out which of these services are going to be cheaper for them, I mean, how do you suggest to people they start thinking about that. I mean, obviously, there’s consumption pricing versus non, but is there kind of a quick calculation customers can do right up front to be like, okay, I’m going to probably go with one or the other based on this price.

Vadim Vladimirskiy (17:03):
Yes, I think so. So, we spend a lot of time doing that analysis for each and every Windows 365 SKU. So there are now 12 SKUs that Microsoft released and I think more are coming. And, you know, we’ve done some analysis on this and what we came away with is, let me take a step back first. So there’s multiple pieces to the price puzzle. The one we’re going to talk about is the cost of infrastructure, right? There is also the Windows licensing, there is the Intune license, the Office license. All of those additional licensing and software components are really the same across the two products. The Win365 and AVD use the same set of M365 SKUs. So the only difference comes in between Azure infrastructure on the AVD side versus a Cloud PC SKU on the Windows 365 side.

Vadim Vladimirskiy (18:05):
And what we found is that if you need a personal desktop, which means, if you need to give a user a dedicated VM, a dedicated machine, then Windows 365 wins pretty much in every case. If you compare the cost of Windows 365 to a pay, as you go VM of the same size in Azure, it’s going to be way cheaper to do Windows 365. Even if you buy a three-year reservation where Microsoft gives you a 60% discount on the cost of that Azure VM, Windows 365 is still cheaper in that scenario. So personal desktop look at Windows 365, that’s going to be more cost effective.

Mary Jo Foley (18:49):
That’s great.

Vadim Vladimirskiy (18:50):
On the other hand, If you’re doing a pooled desktop where you’re assigning multiple users to the same VM, then it’s difficult to beat Azure Virtual Desktop on price. You know, because Windows 365 just doesn’t do that. It’s a one-to-one assignment. Whereas with AVD, you can do a many to one assignment and get a per user cost that’s lower compared to Windows 365.

Mary Jo Foley (19:17):
Okay. That’s great. That’s a good rule of thumb. This is a related question, I think. When Microsoft announced Windows 365 earlier this year, they made a big deal, at least to me, out of the ability for users to get access to software and services that are much more resource intensive than what their local PC or device could actually handle. Do you think that is a real advantage? And are there examples that you’ve seen with your customers where this may be a big thing that figures into which product they go with?

Vadim Vladimirskiy (19:54):
Yes. I think it is a big deal or at least it could be a big deal for certain use cases. You know? So imagine, you know, you have someone who is an engineer, or a designer, or, you know, kind of a CAD user that needs to use very intensive resource, intensive software. Now the GPU SKUs from Windows 365 aren’t out yet, but you know, they’re supposedly going to be coming out shortly. And once those are out, I think the ability to give someone a GPU enabled Cloud PC to be able to have them do the type of work, they normally would need a large workstation at their desk in the office for, but now they can do this work remotely on a Cloud PC, that’s enabled for GPU. I think that’s pretty unique and that’s pretty to enable that again, that hybrid work or remote work scenario. There could also be other use cases like developers, for instance, who can have, you know, maybe they don’t need a GPU, but they need lots of CPU and Ram, that Cloud PC delivers those types of SKUs as well, even today, you know, those have launched.

Vadim Vladimirskiy (21:09):
So the biggest VM you can get is an 8 virtual CPU, 32 gigabytes of Ram, with 512 gigabytes of SSD storage, which is a pretty beefy machine that’s running in a data center, right, running in the cloud. So I think there’s some powerful use cases there for those types of users that need a lot of resources.

Mary Jo Foley (21:31):
Okay. I’m curious what you think so far about the learning curve and the training that is required for Windows 365 and for Azure Virtual Desktop, is that something that’s very significantly different and would figure into customers when they’re doing their evaluation?

Vadim Vladimirskiy (21:52):
You know, I guess it depends on what the starting point is for customers and, you know, being the CEO of Nerdio, being in the business of simplifying both of these technologies, I’ll preface by saying my view is biased. But I guess If I try to be as unbiased as possible, I would say for someone who’s already familiar with Microsoft Endpoint Manager, who already knows how to manage physical devices with that platform, Windows 365 is not a significant learning curve.

Vadim Vladimirskiy (22:25):
Whereas, Azure Virtual Desktop, if they had to learn that as a net new technology would be more of a learning curve than just adding Cloud PCs into their existing MEM instance.

Mary Jo Foley (22:37):

Vadim Vladimirskiy (22:37):
Now, for someone who doesn’t know MEM and doesn’t know, Azure Virtual Desktop, which is easier to learn, you know, I would say probably Windows 365, it has fewer dials and fewer knobs that you need to turn. Whereas, Azure Virtual Desktop is very flexible. So maybe Windows 365 is simpler for that scenario as well. But what we try to do at Nerdio is provide an overlay to both products that make them both simple.

Mary Jo Foley (23:03):
Okay, great. I’m curious, does it ever make sense for a single company to use both like Windows 365 and part of the company in AVD in part, or when you’re advising customers, do you just say, go all in with one or the other and make a choice.

Vadim Vladimirskiy (23:19):
It definitely makes sense to use both. And we’re absolutely seeing companies moving in that direction. You know, as I mentioned, Windows 365 is a clear choice when dealing with personal desktops and AVD is the clear choice when dealing with pooled desktops. And an organization will have both use cases. Most organizations will have both use cases, where you have some users that need dedicated VMs and some users that don’t. And because of that, you will see most deployments using both technologies within the same organization for different use cases in different groups of users.

Mary Jo Foley (24:01):
Okay, great. All right. Last question here. I always ask people this because I want to make sure I haven’t overlooked anything very obvious to you, but anything we didn’t talk about that you think should be top of mind of someone evaluating Windows 365 versus AVD, any areas I haven’t yet asked you about that you want to make sure that people think about when they’re looking at these two services and pitting them against each other?

Vadim Vladimirskiy (24:30):
You know, I think we’ve covered quite a bit, obviously, you know, there’s a lot more depth to go into on all of those topics, but I think, you know, we covered all the main areas. There’s the economic decision about, you know, which is more cost-effective, there is the IT admin experience question that we talked about, and there’s several differences that your listeners can look into. You know, and then there is the end-user experience and from an end-user experience, the nice thing is that they’re really the same. So the end-user won’t know whether they’re on a Cloud PC or they’re on AVD desktop, that’s personal, obviously. So, no, I think we’ve covered all the areas at a high level.

Mary Jo Foley (25:10):
Okay, great. Well, thank you so much for helping us decipher this. I think both of these two services are going to be really interesting to watch going forward, and I appreciate your insights on all of this.

Vadim Vladimirskiy (25:22):
Thanks for having me, it’s my pleasure.

Mary Jo Foley (25:24):
Great. for everyone else who’s listening right now, or reading the transcript of this chat, I’ll be putting up more information soon about who my next guest is going to be. Once you see that you can submit questions directly on Twitter using the #MJFChat. In the meantime, if you know of anyone else or even yourself who might make a good guest for one of these chats, please do not hesitate to drop me a note. Thank you very much.