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MJFChat: Windows 365: What You Need to Know

Mary Jo Foley

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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 focused on Microsoft’s Windows 365/Cloud PC service. My special guest for this chat is Scott Manchester, Director of Program Management for Windows 365. Scott talked about the past, present and future for this service and answered a number of reader and listener questions during this chat.

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…

Transcript:

Mary Jo Foley (00:00):
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 are readers and listeners want to know about. Today’s chat is gonna be all about the Microsoft Cloud PC service officially known as Windows 365. My special guest for this chat is Scott Manchester, who is Director of Program Management for Windows 365. Hi Scott, thank you so much for doing this chat today.

Scott Manchester (00:35):
Well, thanks for having me, Mary Jo.

Mary Jo Foley (00:38):
I thought it would be fun to start this chat off by talking a little bit about the past, meaning the history of Windows 365. A lot of my listeners know this was code named Deschutes, because I talked a lot about this since Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA is one of my favorite beers. But long before that Microsoft have been pioneering the idea of games and apps, streaming games and apps via a service. I think that was code named Arcadia. I’m curious, wasn’t this the original way, way back when predecessor to Windows 365?

Scott Manchester (01:13):
Well, I shouldn’t be surprised you’ve done your homework on some of the early incubation projects on virtualization at Microsoft. Of course, I was a member of that small incubation team working on a consumer game streaming service that we code named Arcadia. And though this may not have been the direct predecessor of Windows 365. We developed a number of technologies that have carried forward into many of the virtualization solutions we have today, including our latest Xbox game streaming and Azure Virtual Desktop, and of course, Windows 365. We target Arcadia at consumers. So we were trying to solve problems to make it simple for end users, to be able to get this game streaming experience without any central IT to manage infrastructure. And nobody there to kinda explain the differences of virtualization versus real, you know, running applications locally. So there was a lot of learnings that have carried forward into what we have now with Windows 365 Cloud PC.

Mary Jo Foley (02:03):
Nice. Okay, I think you told me about Arcadia one time, way back when, when Windows 365 first was announced and we were chatting and I was like, wow, it goes way back to that. That’s just crazy. So that’s cool.

Scott Manchester (02:17):
Yeah, there was some even earlier incubation projects prior to that, we had another project code named Rio that was also a game streaming service.

Mary Jo Foley (02:23):
Right.

Scott Manchester (02:23):
So we had a number of times we’ve really looked at bringing these kind of capabilities to a much broader market.

Mary Jo Foley (02:30):
Nice. Okay. Next I’ve gotta talk with you about Ignite 2021, the Fall Ignite because there are quite a few Windows 365 announcements there, and I am curious what your top three might be. I can guess a couple of them probably. I’m guessing Windows 11 support, and Win 365 Business might be one, and also no domain controller required, if people use Azure AD Join. Am I right? And anything else you might call out.

Scott Manchester (03:00):
You nailed it.

Mary Jo Foley (03:01):
And anything else you might call out?

Scott Manchester (03:01):
No, you absolutely nailed it. I might include a fourth one here, but I’ll walk you through a little bit more detail around those three as they are my three favorite as well.

Mary Jo Foley (03:09):
Okay.

Scott Manchester (03:09):
Day one support for Windows 11 was really exciting for us to be able to enable customers to get a Windows 11 experience delivered from the cloud. Right, on the day one that we released it. And of course, as you mentioned, Azure Active Directory Join for Windows 365 Enterprise is a huge you know, customer value. And in fact it was our top requested feature from our customers. And that now enables customers to provision cloud PCs on a Microsoft hosted network. So they can no longer require them to build their own Vnet. Some customers will still choose that option.

Scott Manchester (03:44):
So if they still require hybrid join, for instance or they have other needs to have a Vnet that they can set their own network security group policies for, but it certainly opens up the market considerably more now for organizations that may not have that need to manage their own own Vnet. And of course you mentioned the Windows 365 Business portal experience. This can’t be understated the importance of this, because we now have an experience where I can discover, purchase, provision, manage, and consume Windows 365 Business through a single pane of glass. And it’s done in a way that’s just as simple as provisioning a cloud PC, as it is ordering a Windows laptop, you know, from an online store, for instance. And the last one that I’d like to mention is the new Windows 365 web client. We characterized it as blazingly fast because it uses a whole bunch of optimizations to run the RDP stack natively inside the browser. So we get much faster response times and it’s a much cleaner experience for our Windows 365 customers. Of course the AVD web client still continues to work and customers can easily switch between those as they need as well.

Mary Jo Foley (04:52):
Hmm. Nice. Okay. Curious how you, at this point, even though it’s still early days would characterize the interest and uptake in Windows 365?

Scott Manchester (05:04):
Yeah, obviously we’ve seen a huge amount of interest for this. We can’t share specific numbers at this point in time, but one anecdotal data point was, you know, when we launched this in August, you know, we had put a budget aside and a forecast for the amount of interest we might see in trials. And we had allocated a certain of trial licenses for a year. We literally hit our entire year allocation in the first 24 hours. Now you could argue, we probably should have seen this coming. But, it certainly was a lot more people that were ready to jump on this right out the gate that caught us a little off guard.

Mary Jo Foley (05:37):
Okay. I can’t wait till you release some numbers, cause I’m super interested how this is doing. I feel like there’s so many people who are interested and beyond just the I want to know more like they actually want to be out there using it at this point, but they’re still, you know, a little bit unsure. How does it work? How does it make sense for me or not financially? So yeah, once you guys have the numbers out, I’m super curious about that. Okay, I asked for some questions for you on Twitter and I got a number of them. So let’s take a few of those. I’ve got a question from Robert McLaws, who asked on Twitter about the SMB experience. Here’s exactly what he said. He said, we are a growing startup who recently tried Windows 365, but our maintenance options were too limited at the low end and the network management was too complex at the high end. So he would like to know what’s on the roadmap this year, that you can talk about, at least, to help SMBs standardize on desktops without the hassle.

Scott Manchester (06:43):
Yeah, I found that question very interesting. And in fact, I actually had a chance to reach out to Robert directly and,

Mary Jo Foley (06:49):
Oh, nice.

Scott Manchester (06:49):
Get a little more color about his experience with Windows 365. So what he told me is that he initially tried out Windows 365 Business, which was appropriate for the size of the deployment he was trying to build. But he had really specific needs about image management. So he switched over to Windows 365 Enterprise where we have very advanced image management capabilities. But then he found that requirement of setting up a Vnet and doing hybrid AAD Join to be a little overly complex. So we’ve made a lot of progress in both areas. You know, we talked about the new business portal experience with Windows 365 and also the fact that now with Windows 365 Enterprise, you can deploy it without the need of setting up a Vnet. So I think with these new advancements, I think Robert would find this much more applicable to his needs and other organizations like Roberts that have needs like that.

Mary Jo Foley (07:41):
Good. Okay. Next question is from Bernd G, who wanted to know whether Microsoft plan to support virtualization technology so that devs can run Linux, WSL2, and Docker in Windows 365.

Scott Manchester (07:58):
Yeah, Windows 365 uses the latest generation of Azure VMs that ensure that users get the best performance and the highest level of security and support for nest virtualization, the core technology that enables these things to run in, in a cloud PC. This configuration and support for this is in development now. So this will be coming.

Mary Jo Foley (08:20):
Oh nice, okay, great. Ariffin, wanted to know whether there will be a point when Windows 365 Cloud PC will be pure Azure Active Directory. Sorry, let me say that again, tongue twister, will be pure AAD only. I mean,

Scott Manchester (08:37):
Yeah, that’s a great question. So, with Windows 365 Business, we went out the door with support for pure AADJ support because most small businesses, of course don’t have domain controllers or the need for that level of complexity. And the recent, you know, thing we announced at Ignite, support for Azure Active Directory Join will enable customers to deploy either in a native AAD model, where they don’t need any domain controller, either on a Vnet that they create and manage on their own or on a Microsoft hosted network. And they can also continue to do hybrid join. In fact, we have customers that are on our preview program now that are using both, right. Some parts of their organization, they’re doing hybrid join and other parts of their organization they’re doing native AADJ. So we’re really close to announcing public preview of this. And then customers can start to try this out. And then shortly after that, we’ll be ready to go GA.

Mary Jo Foley (09:28):
Hmm, great. Rory Monaghan said, could you provide an estimate as to when the offline feature will be available? And I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, like what offline feature?

Scott Manchester (09:40):
So, we announced Windows 365. We also announced a whole new class of computing that we call Cloud PC. It’s a pretty bold position to hold right, this entire new class of computing. And there are lots of, you know, related technologies available today, you know, traditional VDI and desktop as a service. And then now this new entrance with Windows 365, and we wanted to help customers understand why this is so different, not only in the features that were available when we announced GA, but where we can take this in the future. So one of the concepts that we communicated at the time we released the product was this idea of taking your cloud PC and being able to run it either in the cloud as we do today. And also to be able to synchronize that instance of your cloud PC and be able to run it locally.

Scott Manchester (10:29):
And then if you take that even one step further, you can have this automatic switching mode where let’s say I had a surprise disconnect my router went down or, you know, whatever someone turned off the wifi, or I hopped on an airplane, that we would seamlessly transition to running that workload locally. And then when connectivity was restored, we’d move the workload back up into the cloud and maintain that consistent experience for the end users. So some of that is, you know, all that technology to support this is actually available today. And we are actively working on delivering on that complete scenario, but there’s a number of click stops along the way that we’re actively working on. And you’ll start to see these things roll out later this year, and some other features next year, couple examples, some teasers for you.

Scott Manchester (11:12):
Imagine a scenario where I’m opening a file on my cloud PC. So let’s say it’s Word doc, or something that’s stored in my OneDrive. We’re working on logic that would say, okay, if I’m connecting up from a Windows device that could also run that application locally or access that file locally, we’ll synchronize that file on the OneDrive automatically. So the behavior of OneDrive today is based on most recently used files on the physical device you’re running at that moment. So, this is a change in behavior where we would use insights from files you open in the cloud to affect what files would be cached locally. So if you had a disconnect and if you were running the same applications on the local Windows device, you could continue to operate on that file locally. Those are all, as I mentioned, ideas and click stops along the way to this full, you know, offline mode for cloud PC.

Mary Jo Foley (12:00):
This may be a question out of left field, but does that technology, you were just describing have anything to do with something called Project Nucleus that Jeff Teper talks up a lot. It sounds kind of similar, like the idea, if you have a spotty connection or you have something you’re uploading a huge file or a huge list and suddenly your connection goes down, it’ll keep everything in order and then fix it when you reconnect again.

Scott Manchester (12:26):
It’s highly related, right? Similar kind of scenarios when you have these, you know, connectivity issues or surprise disconnects, to be able to recover gracefully from that. So it’s definitely related.

Mary Jo Foley (12:37):
Okay. Now, I have a few questions of my own, I wanted to throw in here. One is, I feel like there are a lot of different Windows, 365 SKUs. There’s all different ones with different cores amounts of storage. I know at the very highest level you’ve got Business and Enterprise, but I’m wondering if there’s any kind of a plan to either add more SKUs or try to make this cleaner and simpler from a licensing and a pricing point.

Scott Manchester (13:07):
Yeah, that’s a great question. So, you know, today we’ve already created a highly curated list of Cloud PC configurations. So certain memory, compute, and storage options, and it’s easy for customers to, you know, choose between the various options we have now. And we have some great tools on our website to help people decide what best fits their needs. We’re continually adapting that whole experience of discovering and procuring the right size machines. And then we’re also evaluating, based on customer feedback, additional SKUs we might want to add in the future. And even concepts of like add-ons where you could buy a specific machine and then just simply add on additional storage or add on additional capabilities. So I think, we’ve done a really good job of creating a good set of curated lists now, and we’re continuing to listen to customers both in terms of feedback and helping them find the right size machine.

Scott Manchester (13:59):
I’ll also point out that we have some really advanced tools with Windows 365 EEnterprise that measure the performance of a user’s experience on a cloud PC. And what we have today is we’ll give you a score of any individual user, or any group of users, and it gives an admin a great insight as to whether that’s the right size machine for them. Are they using up all their memory, all their, you know, storage and makes it really easy for them to, just to instantly resize that machine for any particular user or group of users. That logic will continue to advance forward and will have machine learning and other things that will make it even easier to even auto resize a user if their compute needs evolve over time.

Mary Jo Foley (14:39):
Oh, that’s cool. Okay. I have to ask at least one Azure Virtual Desktop vs. Win 365 question, because this seems to be a topic that comes up a lot. So, I know multi-session, which means multiple users sharing the same VM is a feature in AVD. So I’m curious, is that something that makes sense to ever come over to Win 365? Or is that just one of those examples where these two products are aimed at different targets?

Scott Manchester (15:08):
Yeah, and I’ve had the great honor of being able to be the product leader of both of these technologies. And, you know, when we set out to build Azure Virtual Desktop, multi-session was a really great tool that enable admins to build very cost effective virtualization solutions. And of course, with the Windows 10 multi-user, we made that multi-user experience even more consistent with the traditional Windows experience people have on their desktop. And we’ve seen great adoption of this, like just tremendous amount of uptake, especially, you know, it was readily available when COVID first hit. And a lot of of our customers turn to this technology, and something they’re sticking with as kind of a permanent solution to meet their needs. And as you pointed out, multi-user shares a single instance of Windows and multiple people can use it at the same time. With Windows 365, we wanted to create an experience that was more consistent with the Window experience users have today on their laptops and the admin experience that they have managing physical devices.

Scott Manchester (16:06):
So to accomplish this, we focused on providing personal desktop, you know, one desktop for one user. Where the end users have their own dedicated cloud PC that’s always available, is right where they left it. So if they were in the middle of composing some complex email where they had a Word doc and PowerPoint opened on a Friday five o’clock, they check out, log back in on Monday it’s right, exactly where they’d left off. Those type of experiences you don’t typically see in a multi-user environment because they’re scaling services and things operating on the back end, to spin down and spin up resources as needed. With Windows 365 that machine is always available and always accessible, right where the users left off. And of course it means that admins now can manage these devices in the exact same way they do physical devices, the same tools, the same images, the same apps, the same security baselines.

Scott Manchester (16:50):
So it opens up, you know, new opportunities for customers that may traditionally have not looked at virtualization because some of the complexities that they find in managing those environments on their own. In fact, if you’ve got time, I’ve got an analogy that I like to use when I talk about the difference between AVD and Windows 365.

Mary Jo Foley (17:07):
Yeah.

Scott Manchester (17:07):
So, imagine that for a second we’re on an airplane and the pilot up in the cockpit has all these flight controls, the rudder pedals, the gauges, radars, and other critical instruments they need to control that plane with precision. Well, that’s the experience of Azure Virtual Desktop. You’re the pilot of your virtualization environment. With Windows 365, it’s more like being the passenger on the plane. You arrive at the same destination and you’ll have some controls. You can slide the window up and down, control the airflow, turn the lights on, or you can call the you know, flight attendants if you need. But, ultimately you get to the same destination, but without all the overhead of managing your own virtualization environment.

Mary Jo Foley (17:48):
Okay, that’s good. Actually, that’s very helpful. Is there, so now that you’re describing this, the personal experience vs. the shared experience, do you think there’s ever a case where this could come to consumers? I mean, is this completely a work technology, or could there be a day when consumers also could make use of it?

Scott Manchester (18:12):
Yeah, I mentioned that we have this this site that customers can go to, to request their favorite features. And it’s, there’s a short link for it, it’s aka.ms/w365feedback. And AADJ, as I mentioned, was our number one requested feature. Consumer version of Windows 365 is like number three.

Mary Jo Foley (18:32):
Wow.

Scott Manchester (18:32):
So, there’s clearly a lot of interest in it. When we look at the Windows 365 Business offering, as I described it to you before that this portal experience is designed for someone who doesn’t have any, you know, IT admin experience. It’s designed for someone that just drew the short straw and they’re responsible for procuring and managing the Windows environment, you know, for their organization.

Scott Manchester (18:52):
And we built that to support this very simple model where you can go through and, and provision a cloud PC with the same level of expertise required to order a laptop online. And, it scales down to the smallest organizations, what we call VSBs or very small businesses, that are anywhere from 1 to 10 employees. So, this is really the first entrance in the virtualization space that scales down to organizations of one. Which obviously pattern matches the consumer experience. I’d say the one next step is this bring your own identity concept where whatever email address I have, I can just take that and that becomes my identity for my cloud PC. That’s the next real step in bringing this to a full consumer type of offering.

Mary Jo Foley (19:36):
Hmm. Interesting, okay. Well, thank you so much for the time today. I know our listeners over at Petri are really interested in this topic and they are continuing to try to figure out how, and when, and where it makes sense for them.

Scott Manchester (19:51):
Well, let’s keep the conversation going on Twitter and happy to rejoin at a later time as well, Mary Jo.

Mary Jo Foley (19:56):
Great, thank you so much. For everyone else, who’s listening to this right now, or reading a transcript of this chat. I’ll be posting soon who my next guest is going to be. And 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.

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