In my most recent post, I looked at why the use of hosted managed desktops makes sense to an organisation at a high level. In this post, I’ll drill down further as to why MSPs should be looking into offering such capabilities to customers.

Microsoft has recently released the pricing for its hosted virtual desktops under the Windows 365 banner. There will be a range of offerings from two virtual CPUs, 4GB memory and 128GB storage, to 8 virtual CPUs, 32GB memory, and 512GB storage. The cost model is via fixed, per monthly charges, with some constraints around network volumes.

Windows 365 works by hosting the desktop on Microsoft’s Azure Cloud. As such, performance is provided at data centre speeds – memory, storage, and CPUs should operate at an optimised level. The endpoint acts only as a means of providing access to the digital desktop – only a very small amount of network bandwidth should be required for most workloads. This also means that the user can use pretty much any device – PC, Mac, thin client, tablet, or mobile phone – to gain access to the desktop.

Through using stateful management, users can move from one device to another and pick up where they left off. Windows 365 also addresses many of the issues related to differences in user experience between native apps – particularly between PC and Mac versions of Office.

Windows 365 provides access to other parts of Microsoft’s portfolio

Office 365 has become Microsoft 365, expanding to include Teams, OneNote, and OneDrive to provide capabilities for distributed groups to work together on content. Enterprise apps, such as sales and marketing support, are offered via Dynamics 365. Data analysis and reporting are provided via the Microsoft Power Platform.

Where Microsoft does not offer functionality that a user wants, or where what Microsoft offers does not meet the end user’s needs, Microsoft AppSource is an on-line cloud portal, also hosted on Azure, that provides a self-service capability for users to source third-party applications to meet their enterprise needs. Again, many of these apps will be hosted on Azure and operate at data centre speeds. Those that are not hosted on Azure may also be hosted on equally fast data centre fabrics connected to Azure via high-speed interconnects managed by Microsoft, called ExpressRoute.

For organisations worried about data sovereignty, the use of Azure regions will meet most needs, and data security is enhanced through the data being held within the Azure platform.

Dealing with the challenges of hosted managed desktops

Although the Business version of Windows 365 is pretty straightforward as to its licensing, the Enterprise version is less so. On top of the requirement for the monthly subscription, comes a need for existing licensing of Windows 10 or 11 Enterprise for each user, along with Microsoft Endpoint Manager, and Azure Active Directory P1.

To begin with, the presence of these existing licenses does result in a discount on the ‘standard’ business subscription pricing, but it essentially means that for those organisations looking to move away from full PCs as access devices, the need for this license becomes an overhead cost. Sure – Endpoint Manager means that there is less need for a full support team looking after the PC estate, but moving a large number of users from PCs to less power- and support-hungry thin clients may be attractive to many users. This will become even more so when Windows 11 kicks in and enterprises find that a large proportion of their PCs do not meet the basic (and very difficult) requirements for the upgrade to go ahead.

Next is the ‘all eggs in one basket’ problem. Although third-party apps can be installed directly or used via the AppSource portal, the basic desktop will not only be Microsoft (something which is not really a change for the majority of organisations), but also where access comes down to both the availability of the organisation’s own , as well as Azure’s. Overall, Azure’s uptime is admirable, but problems have been known to occur. Should Azure go down, an organisation’s entire computer capability may be out of action until it comes back up again – and no matter how loud an organisation shouts, the time to coming back up is purely in Microsoft’s hands.

From the enterprise connectivity point of view, this means that internet connectivity from its side must be rock solid. For MSPs, this presents another opportunity: the provisioning of enterprise-grade, managed connectivity.

Currently, access to the Windows 365 portfolio is only currently available via the Cloud Solutions Provider (CSP) programme. However, this may change as Microsoft sees how market demand is for hosted managed desktops or other similar offerings. For CSPs, Windows 365 offers a simple and effective means of offering customers a fully managed and widely accessible desktop experience.

For those who are not CSPs, there are still options to offer hosted desktops via existing technologies using virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), such as Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops (XenApp and XenDesktop) and VMware Horizon. Both of these options can also run on Microsoft Azure, providing many of the benefits of Windows 365. Indeed, Citrix and VMware are cloud agnostic, so MSPs wishing to retain greater control of what they offer could create their own virtual desktop offering within their own data centre or on a third-party platform.

Overall, more control, greater security, continued manageability, a far more predictable cost structure, and the forthcoming need to upgrade PCs to accept the Windows 11 update, make the offering of virtual desktops a sweet spot for MSPs. Creating a suitable set of messages to prospects and customers, while putting in place the right technical infrastructure and capabilities to meet such needs, should be high on the priority list for MSPs.

Photo: Alex Brylov / Shutterstock

Posted by Clive Longbottom

Clive Longbottom is a UK-based independent commentator on the impact of technology on organizations and was a co-founder and service director at Quocirca. He has also been an ITC industry analyst for more than 20 years.

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