Azure Virtual Desktop or Windows 365 – what is the difference and what should you use?

The launch of Windows 365 has prompted many organisations and small businesses to compare it with Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) and assess their options.

At first glance, you would be forgiven for thinking the two solutions are the same, and yes, it’s true there are many similarities and feature overlaps. In fact, Windows 365 builds on top of the AVD components and platform under the hood. However, there are several key differences which need to be taken into consideration when choosing the right solution for your business needs.

Key differences

Some of the main differences highlighted by Microsoft are:

  • Windows 365 prioritises simplicity where Azure Virtual Desktop focuses on flexibility.
  • Windows 365 is a product that makes it easy for your teams to collaborate with each other by allowing them to stream their windows screen from the cloud to any device. This allows them to share apps, data, content, device settings and storage.
  • Many organisations will find Windows 365 more intuitive than AVD, it is easier to set up and IT administrators don’t need to go through the complicated process of setting up a Virtual Desktop environment in the Azure cloud.
  • Both solutions offer a personal desktop mode however only AVD can configure multi-session (a.k.a. pooled) desktops.

Which one do you need?

The option you choose for your business will depend on a few key factors:

  • What is the size of your organisation?
  • Do you have a dedicated IT team?
  • What is the number of employees and level of input and control you want to have over your environment?

How’s the Control infrastructure?

When looking at input and control for organisations, the Microsoft mobile management service Intune is required when using Windows 365 Enterprise. Intune, a cloud-based service, allows users to determine how their organisations devices such as tablets, mobile phones and computers can be used.

This allows you to implement rules around the functionality of certain apps. AVD on the other hand, does not require Intune to be used – but Intune and Microsoft Endpoint Manager suite may be used to manage the AVD devices to provide a uniform control plane.   

On the other hand, the Windows 365 Business SKU is not required to be managed via Intune. You can very much think of this as an alternative to giving your users a JB Hi-Fi coupon / order and allow them to BYOD their device.

What are the cost differences?

Windows 365 will have a subscription system with predictive pricing while AVD follows consumption-based pricing or pay as you go so, simply put, you pay for what you use, nothing more, nothing less. There are some interesting considerations to work out here though. With AVD, you are somewhat in the control of your destiny. As Forrester Research identified in their total economic impact assessment, AVD cost for surveyed organisations was around USD $20 / user / month (compute, storage, and network). This can vary significantly depending on your environment, security posture, disaster recovery approach and so on – and will also depend based on the level of automation, auto-scaling, optimisation, and self-service that you offer.

On the other hand, Windows 365 offers a fixed subscription price per user for a personal virtual desktop that is always available and has several tiers ranging from $32 / user / month to $170 / user / month.

Our partners at Nerdio have done a detailed comparative analysis of AVD and Windows 365 pricing which is really insightful. In general, their analysis shows that Windows 365 is 11% cheaper than a comparative AVD solution when they are always on, while a little bit of automation of shutting down VMs when not in use will make AVD 9% cheap. On the other hand, moving to pooled desktops and applying automation at scale and reserved instances will make AVD 53% – 58% cheaper. This is consistent with our experience – the more fine tuned the environment is – the higher will be the pay-off, but there is obviously an implementation cost to keep in mind as well.

The big decision

So, which is the best program for your business? An important consideration in the decision making is the current COVID-19 situation still unfolding globally.

With hybrid and remote work becoming ever more popular, many organisations must consider that they may not have the resources available to cope with the current level of demand for virtual PCs. There are plenty of smaller businesses that find Azure too complex. On the other hand, large enterprises with stringent security policies may have concerns of their user disks residing in a Microsoft subscription, even when the network card and traffic can be audited inside their own subscriptions.

Windows 365 and AVD are both designed to coexist with physical PCs to help organisations who are supporting a hybrid workforce, including remote and seasonal workers like contractors or interns.

The competition for global talent is fierce and people want to be able to use the devices they want, they want to be able to work when and where they want and still be able to be very productive, collaborative, and secure. Windows 365 allows remote workers to log in and out from any device and pick up where they left off with all their content, settings, and data. AVD allows remote workers to perform all their tasks while the enterprise IT exercise stringent controls over the desktop and their backend infrastructure. In the end – the answer will lie in your individual situation, security policies, IT capability and capacity, and workplace strategy. Reach out to us for an open conversation and assessment of your options – putting you and your users’ requirements first.

At Eighty20 Solutions, our goal is to deliver technology transformations in a fast, simpler, and more collaborative manner working with our clients. If you are looking at an AVD or W365 deployment and are looking at partners who get in the trenches, work shoulder to shoulder with your team, and stay the course, while you help your organisation to sustain long-term, strategic technology investments, embrace change, and realise benefits – as opposed to leaving the teams grappling with shiny new technical debt – reach out to us today!