Imagine a world where we can stream desktops and applications as quickly as we can stream a video on YouTube or a show on Netflix — wherever we are and from any device. A life where a work application could be securely delivered to a personal device, or one that could pick up the following day where one left off the afternoon before. Sourcing a device for an employee wouldn’t have to be a complex endeavor of checking specs and requirements. It would just require internet access.
Some of you may rightfully interject that this is not a novel idea, and you’re mostly correct: The idea of the virtual desktop is not new and has been rolled out to employees for the past two decades or longer. The process, however, has typically been expensive, incredibly complex in planning, setup, and maintenance, and as such, out of reach for organizations unwilling or unable to spend the money for the required infrastructure or know-how.
At the end of 2019, Microsoft surprised the world by introducing what is now known as Azure Virtual Desktop and again put itself into the IT world’s spotlight in the summer of 2021 with the introduction of Windows 365 Cloud PC. These products significantly simplify the virtual desktop idea and require little more than a Microsoft Azure subscription.
Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) is very close relative of the virtual desktop as it has existed before, except that Microsoft has taken almost all of the complexity away by providing all the infrastructure needed to access Windows remotely as a service. Using a specialized version of Windows 10 and Windows 11 that provide an actual personalized desktop experience only available to AVD customers, customers remain highly in control of their building environment. They also have full admin access to the machine images to install applications, and tweak and optimize general and network settings. What’s more is that Microsoft uses a consumption-based pricing model, so the more powerful your machines are, the larger their hard drives or, the more memory they have, the more expensive they are to run when they are switched on. Fortunately, there are Microsoft partners that can help further to simplify setup, management, and maintenance of the environment, as well as minimize the cost by switching off unused machines, among other things.
Then there is Windows 365 Cloud PC that comes in two different editions: Business and Enterprise. The Business edition targets smaller companies without many management tools to provide a secure, always-on desktop to their employees. One example could be a small accounting company looking to offer a simple, modern hybrid work setup for their team that provides easy collaboration and keeps their customer’s sensitive data safe in the cloud. With a few clicks, a person without sophisticated IT know-how can commission a set of Cloud PCs that will be set up and ready to use within 30 or so minutes. The initial startup would be much like a PC ordered from Dell or HP except that their use is tied to the company’s Microsoft Azure account and the users therein. Applications are installed for each Cloud PC just as they would be on a physical laptop. Depending on the machine specs, there is a flat fee per Cloud PC per month with no need to turn off a Cloud PC to lower the cost. Unless restarted by the user, they will find it in the same state they left it when they last logged out.
The Enterprise edition works the same but adds more elaborate management options for the Azure Active Directory, network configuration and PC management through Microsoft Endpoint Manager. This enables larger-scale deployments where applications, security or other settings can be rolled out centrally based on a user’s job function to reduce the time and cost of managing the environment and further ensure safety and compliance.
Whichever flavor best suits your needs, Microsoft built a vibrant ecosystem of partners around these three offerings that can help secure and simplify the endpoints that no longer need to run Windows, simplify management, and printing that is just as easy to manage as a Cloud PC.
In the example of printing, hybrid and remote environments can be extremely challenging. Whether working from home, from the office or at a client offsite location, printing can significantly benefit from a look to the cloud. The printer will always have to be where the users are and need to be connected to their cloud desktops and applications.
On top of that, there is excellent potential to truly implement the adaptations we hastily made in early 2020, as well as capitalize on the lessons we have learned since, by removing print servers, connecting home offices to the office or a co-worker’s home office, reducing time spent to manage the print environment, automating processes and much more.
As a semi-skilled IT administrator at best, I make the following recommendation: Azure Virtual Desktop and Windows 365 Cloud PC, along with their partner solutions, are worth taking a look at to determine how their implementation might benefit your own business and its infrastructure, but just as important, provide a relatively easy path to new revenue streams by implementing and managing them for your customers.
Henning Volkmer drives the execution of ThinPrint Inc.’s strategy as an expert in print management. A cloud printing innovator and launch partner for Windows Virtual Desktop, ThinPrint is the technology leader for fully processing print jobs in its ezeep cloud without having to rely on on-premises printer drivers. He has established a broad technological background and has been at the forefront of technology trends for more than two decades.