In-Depth

Microsoft Partner Nerdio Talks Windows 365 and Cloud PC

Microsoft's upcoming desktop-as-a-service offering is "nothing but opportunity" for partners, according to Vadim Vladimirskiy, Nerdio's founder and CEO.

Microsoft ISV partner Nerdio has been talking up the virtues of Windows 365, Microsoft's upcoming desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) offering, ever since it was announced at the Inspire partner conference last month.

Nerdio makes management solutions for Microsoft Azure and the virtual desktops in it, serving enterprises and managed service providers (MSPs). The company offers Nerdio Manager for Enterprise and Nerdio Manager for MSP, plus a free tool for estimating the costs of running virtual desktop environments in Azure.

Nerdio has been posting detailed information about Windows 365, which is expected to become generally available on Aug. 2, in a series of blogs. Windows 365 will be offered with multiple product options, based on cores, memory and disk size, as described in this Microsoft announcement. The two broad Windows 365 product offerings, "Business" and "Enterprise" editions, are surprisingly different in terms of requirements and  management. Nerdio is a good source on these nuances, describing Microsoft's DaaS offerings better than Microsoft itself.

A great overview by Vadim Vladimirskiy, Nerdio's founder and CEO, can be found in this Nerdio blog post. I spoke with Vladimirskiy shortly after Microsoft announced Windows 365. The following Q&A constitutes highlights from the talk.

Be sure to catch Vladimirskiy's Aug. 5 discussion of Windows 365 with Scott Manchester, Microsoft's partner director of program management for Windows 365 (sign-up here).

RCP: Overall, how do partners like Nerdio see the advent of Windows 365?
Vladimirskiy: I'm super excited and super pumped. There are a billion Windows devices in the world, and today only a small fraction of them are virtualized. Windows 365 is going to grow the market. So if virtualized devices are 10 percent currently and grow to 20 percent, then that's 100 million additional devices that we can help manage. From Nerdio's perspective, this is nothing but opportunity.

Did Nerdio work with Microsoft in the earlier development phase of Windows 365?
We've been working with Microsoft just over a year and helping architect, shape and test the product, while at the same time building the integration into Nerdio Manager, both for enterprise and for MSP. So we've been very closely involved on the engineering side in the whole vision for Windows 365 and how to empower MSPs and IT professionals to use it in an easier way. 

Microsoft has emphasized simplicity with Windows 365, even to the point that "citizen admins" could deploy it. Is it really easier to use than, say, Azure Virtual Desktop?
It really is meaningfully easier, but we have to split that question into two parts: how much easier is it for the user, and how much easier is it for the admin. For the user, the experience is identical to the experience with Azure Virtual Desktop, with the same client applications for Windows and mobile apps. The significant changes are felt with the IT admin perspective. With Azure Virtual Desktop, IT admins have to worry about Azure networking, storage, compute, auto scaling, imaging, profiles and performance. All of those things you have to take into account, and that's where Nerdio really helps out because we provide best practices with wizards and with automation orchestration.

"There are a billion Windows devices in the world, and today only a small fraction of them are virtualized. Windows 365 is going to grow the market."

Vadim Vladimirskiy, CEO, Nerdio

With Windows 365, Microsoft made a couple of key architectural changes. First, Microsoft made it into a personal, dedicated, one-to-one desktop service, so there is no concept of having multiple users sharing a virtual machine and getting a virtual session. Each user gets their own instance of Windows with Windows 365. And the reason that's key is because the management of such a device now becomes exactly the same as the management of a user's physical device, with one user and one instance of Windows. So that's change No. 1. Change No. 2 is they eliminated all sorts of complex technologies, such as profile management with FSLogix. All of the things that were necessary to make multisession desktops possible are no longer needed.

Microsoft also based Windows 365 administration on Microsoft Endpoint Manager, the company's desktop management platform for physical desktops, with the aim of managing Cloud PCs in exactly the same way. So, that's where the simplification came in. Now, that's not to say that anybody off the street will be able to do this, but compared to the previous evolutions of the technology, it is fairly simplified.  

You mentioned that Windows 365 has been rearchitected to use a single Windows desktop session in the VDI implementation. Doesn't going single-session with Windows 365 just increase the infrastructure costs?
It's a very good point. So, in Azure Virtual Desktop, there are three ways to deploy. You can deploy a multisession desktop with Windows 10 Multisession. You can deploy a remote app, where instead of seeing the full desktop, users are just getting individual applications. And then you have something called the "personal desktop." A personal desktop is either Windows 7 or Windows 10 Enterprise -- just the traditional version of Windows 10 Enterprise -- where you as the user get that virtual machine all to yourself. So Azure Virtual Desktop always supported that model and still does. It's still pretty popular. In Windows 365, the third option that I mentioned, the personal desktop, is the only supported model today -- meaning that you cannot do remote apps and you cannot do multisession desktops.

Now, you asked, doesn't that increase your infrastructure costs? The answer is it does, but now Microsoft is responsible for those costs. The customer just pays for a fixed Windows 365 license. By reducing the complexity of management and making it a single-session desktop, Cloud PCs may require more infrastructure, but the customer shouldn't care because Microsoft foots the bill for all of the Azure infrastructure required to run those single-session desktops.

When Microsoft releases its Windows 365 pricing, they'll start out with 12 different SKUs, with different sizes of VMs, cores and RAM, all the way up to eight cores and 32 gigabytes of RAM, at different price points. The price is fixed, so organizations don't care if the virtual machine is running 24x7. Microsoft is fixing the price, reducing complexity, and they're saying that if you're an Azure Virtual Desktop customer using personal desktops, take a look at Windows 365 because that may be a better alternative for you.

If you're an Azure Virtual Desktop customer using multisession desktops or remote apps, then you'll still be an Azure Virtual Desktop customer. There is no alternative to that in Windows 365 because that's not the use case it's designed to address.

There are two Windows 365 editions announced, Business and Enterprise. What should we understand about them, generally speaking?
Windows 365 Enterprise edition is a version of Windows 365 that can be integrated with the customer's existing IT environment. They can select what network they connect to and they can manage IP addresses, firewalls -- all of the stuff that's usually done on the networking side. The customer can also control the Active Directory attributes of those machines, such as which Active Directory they join, and then manage them through Group Policy, etc.

The Windows 365 Business product is for organizations wanting to use an unmanaged, self-service Cloud PC. It's analogous to going to Best Buy and buying a computer. It lacks Azure, networking and domain controllers. It's just a standalone computer. Windows 365 Business edition is exactly that. It's a way of going to Microsoft and buying that computer, rather than going to Best Buy. You just go into the Microsoft 365 portal and buy the license and assign it to a user. Within, let's say half an hour to an hour, that user will get an e-mail with a link to their machine. The user will log into the machine, and they will be the only one who can manage it. There isn't an admin interface. There aren't prerequisites. No setup is involved. It's basically just a machine on its own that's designed for someone who doesn't have complex IT system needs.

So people will actually buy Cloud PCs?
Exactly right. So the way Microsoft is talking about it is Windows 365 is the service, and then Cloud PC is the thing within the service. It's a cloud version of a computer. Users will actually go to the Microsoft site and buy a Cloud PC license. They can have a Mac or they can have a Linux-based machine and still use a Cloud PC if it's using the Windows 365 service. The client device may also be Windows, but the real Windows, the one with all the apps and data, is the one in the cloud. That's the Cloud PC.

Does the impending rollout of Windows 365 mean that Azure Virtual Desktop is a dying beast?
Definitely a great question. There are two things to say. First, I do not feel that Azure Virtual Desktop is at any risk of being a dying beast, as you said. As a matter of fact, I think it will see exponential growth as a result of Windows 365. Second, one of the core value propositions Nerdio has is removing that complexity in Azure Virtual Desktop, but there is a lot more that we do in terms of cost optimization for both of those products. Windows 365 will be the right technology for a specific use case within a specific customer. Windows 365 can serve people who need dedicated machines with their own custom software that they manage themselves, but that same organization may need multisession and image-based management. So even within the same customer, you will have different use cases for each virtual desktop service.

However, with Azure Virtual Desktop and Windows 365 being so different from an admin perspective, you're now jumping between portals. It's not a unified experience for the administrator. Where Nerdio fits in is taking and overlaying both products and unifying that management and deployment and optimization, no matter what the use case is. So you create an image, and you can push it out to either Azure Virtual Desktop or to Windows 365, or both. The same Nerdio Manager product will be able to manage both technologies.

Microsoft has indicated that MSPs will be involved with Windows 365. Nerdio Manager still addresses the same MSP support role with Windows 365, right?
Yes. MSPs not only need to manage multiple technologies for one customer, they need to manage multiple technologies across multiple customers. Nerdio Manager provides them a single pane of glass across multiple Azure tenants with all of the technology components, whether it's Windows 365, Azure Virtual Desktop, storage, networking, pricing, deployment, auto scaling -- all of the things that are Microsoft cloud-related are available to MSPs in a multitenant kind of way.

Is Nerdio's cost-estimator product free for organizations considering Microsoft's DaaS options?
Yes. The cost estimator has been updated with all of the Windows 365 technologies and it is available freely on Nerdio's Web site. Nerdio's customers have their own version, where they can save their own quotes and things like that in their product.

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