Azure Virtual Desktop vs Windows 365: which is right for you?

Many organisations are increasing their adoption of Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) for their users.

DaaS is commonly used in scenarios such as:

  • Seasonal or temporary workers
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • Significant growth periods
  • Providing access to workloads or software that may be difficult to manage when installed locally on endpoints

DaaS is frequently used in these scenarios, because it might not be feasible to provide those users with a dedicated device, such as a company-owned laptop.

Reasons for this could include the short notice period for those workers to start, the temporary nature of their role and logistical challenges with delivering and retrieving physical hardware, or time constraints meaning it’s not possible to deploy many devices at significant scale in a short period.

Microsoft has two primary DaaS solutions. These are:

  • Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD)
  • Windows 365 (W365)

Microsoft also has traditional Virtual Desktop Infrastructure in the form of Remote Desktop Services (RDS), however it’s clear that Microsoft’s focus for investment is AVD and W365. The key difference between VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) and DaaS is that VDI is where the servers are hosted on your own infrastructure, while DaaS is where the servers are hosted with a cloud provider.

When an organisation is reviewing their DaaS offerings, common questions include “what’s the difference between Azure Virtual Desktop and Windows 365?” and “which Microsoft DaaS solution is best?”.

In this article, we’ll explain the differences between Azure Virtual Desktop and Windows 365, including the pros and cons of each and how the offerings are priced.

What is Azure Virtual Desktop?

Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) was the first Azure-based DaaS solution from Microsoft. If we compare AVD to a traditional RDS environment, with RDS you have several server roles to manage, such as:

  • Remote Desktop Web
  • Remote Desktop Connection Broker
  • Remote Desktop Gateway
  • Remote Desktop Licensing
  • Remote Desktop Session Host

This required extensive experience and effort to deploy, manage and maintain. While it is possible to run RDS with a single server solution, this type of architecture is not recommended for production workloads.

With AVD, Microsoft manage a number of these components as part of the service.

1 – AVD components and responsibilities. Source: Microsoft –

This means that as the customer, your responsibility is to manage the session hosts, user identities and network connectivity. This greatly simplifies the overall approach and reduces cost as there’s no need to deploy server infrastructure for web, broker, gateway, and licensing roles.

AVD is similar to RDS in that you can provide two types of user experience:

  • RemoteApp: A user is presented with an application that can be opened remotely. The experience is seamless, and most users won’t notice that the application isn’t installed or running on their device.
  • Full Session: A user is presented with a full desktop session. The user clearly notices that they’re logging into a remote server. The user can then open any application that’s available on the session host.

AVD shares additional similarities to RDS with user access. Users can access AVD resources using a web browser or dedicated application. The dedicated Remote Desktop application (not to be confused with the Terminal Services Remote Desktop application of mstsc.exe) will also integrate any resources into the user’s start menu.

AVD does also differ from RDS at times. For example, AVD allows you to run Windows Client operating systems such as Windows 10/11 with full support from Microsoft. This is not available on RDS, nor on other DaaS services such as Amazon Workspaces. AVD does allow you to run Windows Server operating systems as well, should you need to.

AVD allows you to provision session hosts and use them in either a shared model, where multiple users connect to the same session host, or in a personal model, where a user is assigned a specific VM.

As the AVD VM runs as a standard virtual machine within your Azure subscription, you have full control of the disk size and tier, as well as VM size. You’re also able to turn it off as/when required to save costs.

What is Windows 365?

Windows 365, often referred to as a ‘Cloud PC’ further simplifies the DaaS offering. With Windows 365, you create a provisioning policy and assign the licence to a user. A Windows 365 PC is then automatically provisioned in the background, and within a few hours, the PC is available for use. Intune is used to deploy any applications and policies to the device, in the same way that you would manage a physical laptop or workstation.

The provisioning policy defines items such as the image, language, and region of the VM. While the VM runs in Azure, it does not run in your subscription, meaning you have no access to modify the CPU, RAM, GPU, and storage. The size of the machine is determined by the license that you purchase. The VM runs 24/7, ready to be used by your users as/when required.

Windows 365 has a few different sub-offerings. These are:

  • Windows 365 Business
  • Windows 365 Enterprise
  • Windows 365 Government
  • Windows 365 Frontline

Excluding frontline worker scenarios, Windows 365 has a one-to-one relationship between a user and their Windows 365 PC in a similar way that an email mailbox does.

If you use Windows 365 Enterprise, there are additional controls in the form of controlling user administrative access, using a dedicated network connection in one of your Azure subscriptions, support for joining the Windows 365 Cloud PC to Active Directory and using a custom image.

Windows 365 and Azure Virtual Desktop use a specific version of Windows 10/11 that’s highly optimised for virtual desktop use.

What are the differences between Azure Virtual Desktop and Windows 365?

  • With AVD, you have full control of the virtual machine as the virtual machine runs in your Azure subscription. You can turn the VM off, resize it and choose very granular storage details such as the tier of the disk. With Windows 365, the VM runs 24/7 – you can restart it using Intune, but you cannot stop it. Resizing is only possible by changing the licence associated to the user and provisioning a new PC.
  • Because of the above, AVD might be more cost effective, as you can set automation processes to turn off the AVD VMs outside of specific times, such as your organisation’s core working hours.
  • Some users may prefer the fact that W365 is available 24/7 – as this is the same experience as a physical device. If a user must leave work early, they may choose to work that extra time in the evening by simply connecting to their cloud PC. This wouldn’t be available with AVD if you turned off the AVD VMs outside of working hours to save cost.
  • AVD is much more technical than W365. When using a multi-session environment, considerations for user identities and profiles, as well as session density to maximise cost efficiency requires detailed technical knowledge and expertise of DaaS and VDI. In contrast, W365 is much simpler and often requires little DaaS knowledge, generally only requiring knowledge and experience with Intune.
  • W365 only supports client operating systems. It does not support Windows Server. If your workload requires Windows Server, you should opt for AVD.
  • Backup and DR is your responsibility with AVD. You’re responsible for configuring backup with the required retention period, as well as configuring DR and related items such as networking in the DR region, plus monitoring. With W365, backup and DR capability is provided by Microsoft, but this does mean you have slightly less control.
  • AVD supports Windows Server session hosts in contrast to Windows 365. Note that both solutions only support Windows operating systems – neither support Linux or MacOS.

How are the offerings priced?

Azure Virtual Desktop cost

If the users that access AVD are licenced with Microsoft 365 Business Premium, Microsoft 365 E3, or Microsoft 365 E5, and you’re deploying a client operating system (Windows 10/11) then you won’t pay for the operating system costs, as this is included in your Microsoft 365 licensing. This means that the items you’ll be charged for are:

  • Compute costs for each session host.
  • Storage costs for the disks for each session host.
  • Any additional storage, such as storage accounts to be used for storing user profiles for profile roaming between hosts.
  • Internet egress traffic from Azure.
  • Any backup and DR costs – note when calculating Azure Site Recovery costs, you need to remember that your disk storage (and cost) is doubled, as a replica disk is created in the region that you’re replicating your VMs to. This should be considered on top of the ASR agent cost.
  • Any networking features, such as public IP addresses, firewalls, etc.

Windows 365 cost

With Windows 365, you pay for a licence and that is largely your single cost. If you use Windows 365 Enterprise, and connect your Cloud PCs to your larger Azure environment, you’ll still need to pay for those Azure costs, but the cost for the Cloud PC is all in with the licences.

Microsoft provide a variety of SKUs for Windows 365. The naming structure for the licences is:

  • vCPUCount/RAM/OSDiskStorageSize

For example, a 2vCPU/4GB/128GB would be:

  • 2 vCPUs
  • 4GB RAM
  • 128GB C:\ drive storage

The SKU’s available from Microsoft range from smaller SKUs such as the above, to much larger SKUs such as 8vCPU/32GB/512GB.
If you have workloads that require GPU, Microsoft announced the public preview of GPU-enabled Cloud PCs in November.

Next steps

If you’re considering using a DaaS solution for your organisation and want to find out more about Microsoft’s Windows 365 and Azure Virtual Desktop solutions, we’re here to make it easy.

Our friendly consultants can discuss best practices, architecture considerations, pricing and licensing, deployment and support.

Get in touch with Chorus today, and we’ll be delighted to help.