How to Achieve Azure Solutions Partner Designation in the New Microsoft Cloud Partner Program

July marked the start of Microsoft’s new fiscal year. Among a long list of new product features, integrations and initiatives that are expected in the year ahead, the evolution of the Microsoft cloud partner program is one that we are thrilled to see come to fruition.  

We have talked many times at Nerdio about the need to become a modern, cloud MSP (managed service provider) and move your practice and clients to the cloud. Well folks – the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program is the big neon sign, from the most influential vendor in the small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) market, echoing and amplifying that message.   

Our new white paper helps partners fully comprehend how they can fast track their Azure Infrastructure solution provider designation and obtain a competitive advantage in the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program much quicker by leveraging several out-of-the-box Nerdio Manager benefits. 

Download our white paper for the comprehensive guide or read below for key need-to-knows regarding the new partner program changes and Solutions Partner designations.  

What Are the Benefits of Being a Microsoft (Cloud) Partner? 

Microsoft has one of the largest, and most comprehensive partner programs in the software landscape. Over 400,000 partners from all over the world benefit from their partnership with the Redmond-based giant. If you are looking for a place to sign up to become a Microsoft partner, check out Microsoft’s site.  

Becoming part of Microsoft’s new Cloud Partner Program will allow you to stand out from other MSPs who are still living in the on-premises world and who have not committed to building a cloud MSP.  

As part of the program, you also will qualify for benefits including Azure Production and Dev/Test credits and Product Benefits (formerly known as Internal Use Rights (IUL)) for important Microsoft cloud products including Microsoft 365, Power BI, and more. 

Microsoft Silver and Gold Competencies Shift to Solutions Partner Designations  

One of the biggest changes in the new Microsoft Cloud Partner Program is the shift from the well-known silver and gold competencies to Solutions Partner designations.  

Microsoft introduced silver and gold competencies in 2009 to help Microsoft partners grow faster and highlight their unique expertise among the competitive market of providers leveraging Microsoft technologies. When comparing two potential providers, SMBs could use these competencies to easily tell which were experts in the specific technology area they needed assistance with, be it cloud platform and datacenter, business application integration, etc. The same goes for the new Solutions Partner designations that also reinforce that your MSP is an expert in cloud aka the future of IT.  

The new Solutions Partner designations can be obtained on October 3, 2022. However, September 30, 2022 is the last date to renew legacy silver and gold competencies. 

How Do I Attain a Solutions Partner Designation? And Which Designation Should My MSP Pursue?   

The Solutions Partner designation most relevant to Nerdio partners and MSPs who understand the value of having their clients and operations in the cloud is the Infrastructure (Azure) designation. The Infrastructure designation showcases your MSP can help customers accelerate their migration of key infrastructure workloads to Azure. You can find a list of other designations linked here.  

To qualify for any Solutions Partner designation, you must obtain a minimum Partner Capability Score of 70 (of 100 points maximum) across five metrics – Performance, Skilling (Intermediate), Skilling (Advanced), Customer Success (Usage Growth) and Customer Success (Deployments). 

Resources to Help Understand New Microsoft Cloud Partner Program Requirements and Benefits 

In addition to our white paper, explore additional resources including those from our partners Microsoft, Pax8 and Sherweb that help explain the new program benefits and associated partner opportunities. 

Are You Ready for the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program?  

Contact us today to discuss your Azure needs and how we can help you grow your Azure practice and achieve important distinction in the Microsoft partner ecosystem. And don’t forget to download Nerdio Manager for MSP for 30-days free from the Azure Marketplace!  

Employee Spotlight: Get to Know Jenae Gay

  1. What’s your role here at Nerdio? What do you do on a day-to-day basis and how do you help partners/customers?  

I’m an Administrative Assistant for the Events team. On a day-to-day basis I primarily work on our training camp events that take place globally! I mostly focus on coordinating the US training camps. I am responsible for the various event deliverables to make our training camps a success from pre- to post- event! That process entails locating the venue and planning event logistics with the venue staff, managing guest registration and communication of all event details, ensuring event inventory arrives to the venue, and organizing leads from our events to get generated to the marketing department.  

  1. What’s a fun fact about you that most people don’t know/couldn’t guess?  

I grew up singing and dancing! I’ve done pretty much every style of dance my whole life–jazz, tap, ballet, lyrical, you name it– and I used to sing in the church and performed a bit in high school, as well! 

  1. What’s one technology advancement you hope to see or think we will see in the next ten years?  

 I can definitely see an increased advancement in productivity-based technology. A lot of technological advances are based in helping the user save time and use It efficiently, whether it’s for business purposes or everyday household use like Roombas. I can see that continuing for sure over the next ten years.  

  1. What are three albums you’d bring with you to a deserted island?  

If I could bring three albums to a deserted island, they would be: Beyonce’s Renaissance, Rihanna’s Anti, and definitely a Best of the 80’s album. 

  1. In your opinion, what’s the most rewarding part of working for Nerdio?  

The most rewarding part is the culture. I’ve been searching for a company that truly values their employees and works hard, but also emphasizes a work life balance. Nerdio is exactly what I was looking for, in that they really prioritize all three. I also appreciate the fact that we are a smaller team but we continue to produce and achieve a lot within the industry.  

  1. What sitcom family or friend group would you choose to be a part of?  

The Office for sure. Reality TV wise, I would love to be a part of any of the Real Housewives Series 

  1. Besides a standard computer, what is the earliest piece of technology you remember owning? The first piece of technology I owned was an iPod Shuffle, the really small one which didn’t even have a screen. 
  1. You joined Nerdio in April. What drew you to join Nerdio’s team? 

I was looking for a role with more responsibility, so the role itself drew me in naturally. I also really did love my interview with Michele Spirk. I felt like we really connected and had similar experiences in the events industry, and I knew I’d really enjoy working with her and the Events team. Another draw was having a remote position. I wanted to get into the tech industry and keep working in events and wanted to coordinate and plan events with the option of not always attending the events in person. After the lack of job security during the pandemic in the events industry due to the in-person nature, a remote job involving tech and events seemed perfect. I also really appreciated the company values.  

  1. What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned while working in tech?  

The most valuable thing I’ve learned is how important workflows are to maximizing your productivity, as well as the resources we utilize. I’ve learned over the last few months how many things are connected to our partners and customers. I’ve also had a closeup view of how important events are in the tech industry, and the integrations and workflows are a huge component of making our events successful.  

  1. What’s a current technology trend you’re passionate about?  

I’m really passionate about the integration of technology together to increase productivity. The way technology works together, with cloud-based technologies for example, to make different aspects and tasks in life more convenient and allow people to operate more efficiently is really great.  

Windows 365 vs. Azure (Windows) Virtual Desktop – Comparing Two DaaS Products

Windows 365 Cloud PC service and Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) are both Desktop-as-a-Service solutions from Microsoft, but there are several important differences between them.  In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the similarities and differences between the services.  We’ll compare AVD and Windows 365 across several dimensions in detail and then summarize it all together in a side-by-side chart. Let’s take a look at the two services across 5 primary areas:

  1. Technical Architecture
  2. IT Admin Experience
  3. End-user Experience
  4. Licensing and Infrastructure Costs
  5. Cloud PC License Cost vs. AVD Azure Consumption

Azure (Windows) Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

1. Technical Architecture of Windows 365

Under-the-hood, both AVD and Windows 365 leverage a similar set of Microsoft cloud technologies.  Technically, Windows 365 is built on top of existing AVD components but has a different transactional model (fixed price vs. consumption-based).

There are two versions of cloud PCs: Enterprise and Business.

Enterprise cloud PCs are designed for organizations who have invested into Microsoft Endpoint Manager and are using this powerful platform to manage their existing, physical Windows 10 desktops.  Enterprise cloud PCs require an Intune license for each user who is assigned a cloud PC M365 SKU.

Business cloud PCs are designed for individual users and very small businesses who typically go to their local Best Buy when they need a new PC.  Now, instead of visiting Best Buy, they can go to Microsoft and subscribe to a new cloud PC and have it ready to use in an hour.  Business cloud PCs do not require an Intune license and are managed entirely by the user, similar to a standalone physical PC.

The diagram below depicts the deployment architecture of both Enterprise and Business cloud PCs.

Windows 365 Cloud PC ArchitectureEnterprise

Enterprise Cloud PCs are Azure and Active Directory dependent.  An Azure subscription with a properly configured network is required with access to Active Directory that has Azure AD Hybrid Join enabled.  Azure AD DS is not currently supported and cloud-only, Azure AD join is not currently supported either.

The VM itself runs in a Microsoft-managed Azure subscription, which means admins don’t have access to it directly and are not incurring the cost of this VM in their own Azure subscription.  However, the VM’s network interface card (NIC) is “injected” into a vNet in a customer’s Azure subscription.  All network traffic enters and leaves the VM via the customer-managed vNet.  Egress transfer costs are incurred by the customer.

Since admins don’t have direct access to the VM running in Microsoft’s Azure subscription, all management tasks (e.g. software installation, patching, policies) are performed through the Microsoft Endpoint Manager portal.  

Enterprise Cloud PC pre-requisites:

  • Azure subscription with vNet
  • Azure vNet can access Active Directory domain controller (i.e. a PC can be joined to the domain).  Custom DNS servers, necessary routing, and firewall access to AD.
  • Azure AD Connect configured and running within Active Directory with AAD Hybrid Join enabled
  • Intune enabled on Azure AD tenant (each cloud PC user needs and Intune license assigned)
  • Admin setting up the initial deployment must be an Owner of this Azure subscription
  • Azure AD DS is NOT supported

Enterprise Windows 365 Cloud PC high-level setup steps (without Nerdio Manager):

  • In Microsoft Endpoint Manager create an “on-premises network connection” pointing at the vNet and provide AD credentials to join new VMs.  The network connection and AD credentials will be validated automatically.  This process may take a while to complete.
  • Upload an existing custom Windows 10 Enterprise image or use a clean Microsoft-provided gallery image
  • Create a cloud PC “provisioning policy” that combines an “on-premises network connection” with a desktop image.  Assign this provisioning policy to an Azure AD security group.
  • Add users to the Azure AD security group that the provisioning policy is assigned to

Enterprise Cloud PC user entitlement

  • Once the above pre-requisites and setup steps are completed, entitling a user to a cloud PC is very easy.  Simply assign a cloud PC license to the user via the Windows 365 Admin portal.
  • If the user is a member of a security group that’s assigned to a cloud PC provisioning policy and the network connection is “healthy,” a new cloud PC will start provisioning. It will take up to an hour for the cloud PC to be ready for the user to log into.

Windows 365 Cloud PC ArchitectureBusiness

Business Cloud PCs are VMs that run entirely in Microsoft’s Azure subscription, including the network interface cards.  The customer does not need to provide an Azure subscription. There is no Active Directory dependency since Business cloud PCs natively join Azure AD.  There is also no requirement of an Intune license.

Business Cloud PCs route all traffic through Microsoft-controlled network infrastructure and there is no way for admins to control the inbound or outbound connectivity to/from these VMs.  There is currently no way to assign static IPs to Business cloud PCs.  Since these Cloud PCs run in Microsoft’s Azure subscription and are not enrolled in Intune, there is no admin interface to manage them.  They can only be managed directly by the user, just like a standalone physical Windows device.

There are no pre-requisites and no setup steps needed for Business Cloud PCs.  Simply assign a Business Cloud PC license to a user in the Windows 365 Admin portal and the new desktop gets provisioned within an hour.  The user will get an email notification with login instructions to start using their new cloud PC.

1a – Control Plane

Azure Virtual Desktop and Windows 365 share the same global control plane running in Azure.  The control plane consists of things such as the web portal, gateway, connection broker, licensing, and diagnostics service.  All components are hosted and managed by Microsoft and admins interact with them via a portal or API while end users interact with them via the AVD and cloud PC client apps.

An agent application runs on each virtual desktop – AVD session hosts and Windows 365 cloud PCs.  This agent is responsible for communication with the Microsoft-managed control plane.  Microsoft manages the agent and updates it automatically.  The agent for both AVD and Windows 365 appear to be the same.

1b – Azure Subscriptions & Windows 365

Azure Virtual Desktop requires all session host VMs, FSLogix profile storage, and networking to be contained in a customer’s Azure subscription.  Microsoft manages the control plane components, while the customer is fully responsible for everything related to the session host VMs.  Costs are also incurred for all components based on usage at the customer subscription level.

With Windows 365, all compute (i.e. VMs) is contained in a Microsoft-managed Azure subscription.  This means that customers don’t have direct access to manage the VM resources, as they do with AVD, since these resources are not accessible in their Azure subscription.  They also don’t incur the costs associated with running cloud PC VMs at the Azure subscription level (more on this below).

There is a significant difference between Windows 365 Enterprise cloud PCs and Business cloud PCs.  Enterprise cloud PCs run in Microsoft’s Azure subscription, but their network interface cards (virtual NICs) are “injected” into the customer’s Azure subscription.  Business cloud PC VMs reside entirely within Microsoft’s Azure subscription with no components connected to any customer Azure subscription.

1c – Compute

Azure Virtual Desktop session hosts are regular VMs and can be deployed and used in a very flexible way with all the power of Azure.  These session hosts can serve up personal desktops, where a VM is dedicated to a single user, or pooled desktops where a VM can be used by multiple users who move between such VMs daily.  The cost of compute is incurred by the customer since these VMs run in the customer’s Azure subscription.  Since pricing for Azure compute is based on usage, auto-scaling can be used to significantly reduce the cost of VMs in an AVD environment.  Reserved Instances can also be used with AVD session host VMs.

A Windows 365 cloud PC is a VM that’s dedicated to a single user via permanent assignment (like personal desktops in AVD).  These VMs run in Microsoft’s Azure subscription, which means the customer is not responsible for the compute costs.  They are licensed via a Windows 365 cloud PC license and are based on a fixed per-user-per-month price.  Since IT admins don’t have access to these VMs directly from the Azure portal and the cost doesn’t depend on usage, concepts like auto-scaling and reserved instances don’t apply to cloud PCs.

1d â€“ Storage

Azure Virtual Desktop session host VMs must have an OS disk attached to them.  These disks can be any Azure managed disk type (e.g. Premium SSD, Standard SSD or Standard HDD) and even an Ephemeral OS disk.  IT admins have full flexibility when it comes to the size and type of OS disk to use.  Auto-scaling can be leveraged to convert SSD disks to cheaper HDD disks while VMs are powered off. 

FSLogix profiles are typically stored in Azure Files shares, Azure NetApp Files volumes, or file server VMs.  Here too, IT admins have full flexibility around the type of storage and the size of storage to use in the AVD deployment, including what to back up and how.  All storage costs associated with session host OS disks and FSLogix profile storage are incurred by the customer via the Azure subscription.

Each Windows 365 cloud PC comes with a pre-defined amount of local SSD storage.  The cost of this storage is included in the cloud PC M365 license, and the OS disk object is located within Microsoft’s Azure subscription, which means the customer is not responsible for any Azure storage costs.  There is no flexibility around what type of storage to use and using auto-scaling is not possible since the cost is fixed.  FSLogix is not used with Windows 365 cloud PCs and user profiles are “native” and reside fully on the C: drive of the desktop.  This means that no additional Azure Files, Azure NetApp Files, or file server VMs are needed. There are limited backup and DR options available for now with cloud PCs.

1e – Networking 

Azure Virtual Desktop network routing and security is fully under the control of IT admins.  Session hosts are regular VMs that can be created on any virtual network in the customer’s Azure subscription and this vNet can be configured with all the flexibility of Azure networking.  This means that customers have full control of how ingress and egress traffic is routed, what IP addresses are used, VPN connectivity, etc.  They are also responsible for any costs associated with egress bandwidth usage.

The network configuration of Cloud PCs depends on whether they are Enterprise or Business.  Enterprise cloud PCs have the same capabilities, from a networking perspective, as AVD session hosts.  The vNet that they attach to resides within the customer’s Azure subscription and is fully controlled by the IT admin.  Network interfaces of cloud PCs are “injected” into the customer’s Azure subscription even though the VM resources they are attached to are in a different subscription.  Just like with AVD, all costs associated with networking are incurred by the customer.

Business cloud PCs don’t have the same network flexibility as Enterprise ones.  Their network interfaces are not injected into a vNet in the customer’s Azure subscription but are part of a Microsoft-managed network.  This means that routing, firewall security, VPN connectivity, and IP addressing cannot be controlled by the customer.  The costs of egress bandwidth usage are not customer’s responsibility and are included in the cost of licensing a cloud PC  (more on this below).

1f â€“ User Profiles 

Azure Virtual Desktop leverages FSLogix profile container technology.  This allows users to roam from one session host VM to another while their user profile (contents of c:\users\username folder) follows them seamlessly. FSLogix provides lots of flexibility but comes at the cost of having to deploy at least one SMB file share to host the profile container VHD(X) files.  This is typically done with Azure Files, Azure NetApp Files, or file server VMs. 

Because Windows 365 Cloud PCs are single-session desktops dedicated to individual users, Microsoft removed FSLogix from the picture.  A user’s Windows profile is “native”, meaning that it is stored directly on the C: drive of the cloud PC, exactly as is with traditional, physical Windows computers.  This removes the complexity of having to configure and manage FSLogix and the associated overhead of having a SMB file share to store profiles centrally.  It also introduces some unique challenges in protecting users’ data (e.g. Documents and Desktop folders) and moving users from one desktop to another without losing settings.

1g – Identity

Azure Virtual Desktop currently requires Active Directory Domain Services.  This requirement can be fulfilled by using an existing Windows AD environment or by using the Azure AD DS PaaS service.  Native Azure AD join isn’t yet supported, but upcoming support was recently announced.

Windows 365 Enterprise cloud PCs require Hybrid Azure AD join.  This means that you need traditional Windows AD synched to Azure AD with Hybrid Join enabled.  Azure AD DS is not currently supported.

Business cloud PCs are natively Azure AD joined and do not require (or support) Windows AD or Azure AD DS.

Summary (Windows 365 & AVD Technical Architecture)

The IT admin experience varies greatly between Windows 365 and Azure Virtual Desktop.  AVD relies heavily on Azure management concepts and provides maximum flexibility while Windows 365 aims to simplify management by making it (close to) identical to managing existing physical desktop assets and leveraging the same set of Microsoft tools to manage physical and virtual PCs.

2a – Management Portal

All components of Azure Virtual Desktop are managed via the Azure portal, PowerShell, or third-party tools like the Nerdio Manager.

Enterprise cloud PCs are managed via Microsoft Endpoint Manager (MEM) and via the Azure portal for all networking.  Administration of Enterprise cloud PCs can also be unified via a single portal like the Nerdio Manager.  MEM allows management of cloud PCs at the OS level and above.  This means that admins do not have access to make changes to the underlying VM resources, they can only make changes to Windows and applications.  Virtual networking is managed via the Azure portal.

Business cloud PCs are not integrated with Endpoint Manager and do not have a dedicated management portal.  They can only be managed by the end user assigned to the desktop while logged into it.  Actions such as PC restarts can be performed by the user from the cloud PC web portal.  Admins can manage Business cloud PC license assignment with Windows 365 Admin portal and third-party tools like the Nerdio Manager.

2b – Operating System

Azure Virtual Desktop supports all current versions of Windows, including Windows 10 Enterprise (single session), EVD (multi-session) and Server 2012/2016/2019.

Windows 365 cloud PCs only support Windows 10 Enterprise (single session) since they are dedicated, non-multi-user desktops.

2c – Desktop Image Management

Azure Virtual Desktop can leverage all image types.  These include Azure Marketplace images, custom images, and shared image gallery images.  Session host VMs can be created from these images and be kept up to date by updating the image and then re-imaging session hosts to the latest version.  Images can be stored in one or more Azure regions for geographic distribution and resilience.  Images can use any supported operating system and be both Gen1 and Gen2 VM hardware.  There is no limit on the number of Azure images that can be used in an AVD environment.

Enterprise Windows 365 Cloud PC images support Microsoft-provided Windows 10 Enterprise OS or custom images stored in a customer’s subscription.  These images must be Gen1 VM hardware.  There is a limit of 20 custom images per Azure AD tenant.

Business Windows 365 Cloud PCs don’t support custom images and must be deployed from Microsoft provided Windows 10 Enterprise OS.

2d – Applications and Updates

Azure Virtual Desktop session hosts can be updated via Microsoft Endpoint Manager, through a golden image, or manually.  Applications can be delivered to session hosts via image updates, manual installation on host VMs, or using MSIX app attach.  The update and application delivery process in AVD is very flexible and can be fully automated.

Enterprise cloud PCs can be updated via MEM or manual methods.  Image-based software deployments are not typical without third-party tools like Nerdio Manager.  Also, MSIX app attach application delivery is not currently supported with cloud PCs.

Business cloud PCs can be updated with Windows update, manually by the user, or by using third-party management tools.

2e – Backup and Disaster Recovery

Azure Virtual Desktop session hosts can be backed up and protected in several different ways including Azure Site Recovery and Azure Backup.  This allows organizations to create a robust backup, DR, and business continuity strategy for their virtual desktop environment.

There is currently no native backup method for Windows 365 cloud PCs since they are not accessible to admins at the storage or hypervisor level.  Third-party, agent-based, OS-level backup methods can be used to protect cloud PCs.

2f – Monitoring

Azure Virtual Desktop includes robust logging, diagnostics, monitoring, and reporting capabilities.  Logs are generated by the AVD service and AVD agent running on session host VMs.  This information is streamed to Azure Log Analytics where it is captured and visualized with Azure Monitor workbooks.  Many third-party monitoring tools are available for AVD.

Due to the lack of hypervisor-level access to cloud PC VMs, monitoring is possible only via Endpoint Analytics, which is the same tool that can be used for monitoring physical endpoints.  Business cloud PCs do not currently have a monitoring interface.

2g – User Profiles

Azure Virtual Desktop leverages FSLogix for user profile encapsulation.  This allows users to easily roam between session host VMs without losing their user state between sessions.  Personal AVD desktops can be deployed without FSLogix, but even in persistent scenarios FSLogix profiles provide a valuable profile backup capability and make it easier to manage session host updates through images.  A SMB file share is required to host the FSLogix profile containers.  This can be an Azure Files share, Azure NetApp Files volume, or a file server VM.

Windows 365 cloud PCs do not leverage FSLogix and all profiles are natively stored on the C: drive.  This allows for simplified management since no additional SMB storage or profile configuration is required.  Without profile data redirection it is important to consider ways to back up user data.  One such strategy can leverage OneDrive to protect user data.

2h – Networking

IT admins fully control all aspects of Azure Virtual Desktop networking since it runs in a customer-managed Azure subscription.  Static IP addresses can be assigned, VPN tunnels configured, and firewall rules enforced.

Enterprise cloud PCs have the same network flexibility as in AVD deployments.  Business cloud PCs, on the other hand, do not have any network flexibility.  Microsoft fully controls the IP addressing, traffic flow, and security of Business cloud PC networking.

2i – Auto-Scaling

Azure Virtual Desktop greatly benefits from usage-based Azure pricing model and auto-scale can be used to drastically reduce Azure compute and storage costs – up to 75% of peak demand.  It is also possible to use Azure Reserved Instances to reduce costs and guarantee available capacity.

Windows 365 cloud PCs are priced on a fixed monthly basis.  Even if a user does not log into their desktop at all during the month, the desktop will cost the same as if the user logged into their desktop every day.  Therefore, the concept of auto-scaling does not apply to cloud PCs.  This has significant impact on cost efficiency in different use-cases.  

Summary (Windows 365 & AVD IT Admin Experience)

3. Windows 365 & Azure Virtual Desktop End-user Experience

The end-user experience is almost identical in Windows 365 and AVD.  Users connect to AVD sessions and cloud PCs using the same client app, which is available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android and as a HTML client.

Windows 365 is built on top of Azure Virtual Desktop global infrastructure and will be familiar to those with AVD experience.  When connecting to a cloud PC, a user authenticates to Azure AD using the AVD client and all cloud PCs that the user is entitled to appear in the feed.

Leveraging the same infrastructure as AVD provides users the advantage of a unified experience across Windows 365 and Azure Virtual Desktop.  Admins can control the resources visible to individual end-users and the user will see everything in a single feed using the same app.  The authentication and multi-factor experience will also be very familiar since it leverages Azure AD, which is used for M365 and AVD authentication.

3a – Connecting to Desktop

With Azure Virtual Desktop, users navigate to https://aka.ms/wvdwebarm or download a client app from https://aka.ms/wvdclients

Windows 365 cloud PC users navigate to https://cloudpc.microsoft.com and connect in the same way as AVD.

Step 1: Go to https://cloudpc.microsoft.com and log in

Step 2: Connect to cloud PC in the browser or download the Remote Desktop client app

3b – Printing and Scanning

Both Azure Virtual Desktop and Windows 365 cloud PCs support printer and scanner redirection via the Remote Desktop client app.  With AVD and Enterprise cloud PCs it is possible to configure network-based printing and scanning with a site-to-site VPN tunnel between the Azure vNet and local network that hosts the printers and scanners.  It is not possible to use network-based printing and scanning with Business cloud PCs since IT admins do not have control of the network where the cloud PCs reside.  Universal Print is Microsoft’s new cloud-based print solution that can be used with AVD and Windows 365 cloud PCs.  Several third-party products exist that help simplifies printing and scanning.

3c – User self-service

Azure Virtual Desktop has limited self-service capabilities for end-users.  For example, users cannot restart their own desktop VM or log off a hung session with the AVD client app.  Third-party tools, like Nerdio Manager, provide users with a self-service portal where such actions can be performed.

Windows 365 cloud PCs can be restarted by the end-user without the need to contact support.  A restart button is built into the cloud PC web portal.

Summary (Windows 365 & AVD End-user Experience)

Windows 365 vs. Azure Virtual Desktop Costs

4. Windows 365 vs. Azure Virtual Desktop Licensing and Infrastructure Costs

4a – Windows 10 Enterprise

Azure Virtual Desktop requires the user connecting to an AVD session to have an assigned Windows 10 Enterprise subscription license.  Windows 10 Enterprise can be purchased as a standalone subscription (e.g. Windows 10 Ent E3/E5/VDA) or be included as part of a Windows 365 suite subscription (e.g. M365 E3/E5 and Business Premium).  This Windows subscription license includes the usage rights of the AVD control plane and entitles the user to connect to Windows 10 desktops hosted in Azure.  All other costs are part of Azure infrastructure consumption (e.g. compute, storage, networking).

Both Enterprise and Business Windows 365 cloud PCs require a Windows 10 Enterprise subscription just like AVD desktops.  However, the compute costs are not purchased as usage-based Azure resources but rather as a M365 license SKU.

4b – Compute and Storage

Azure Virtual Desktop infrastructure costs are based on Azure consumption.  This includes the compute costs of running AVD session host VMs, the cost of OS disks and the usage of Azure Files for FSLogix storage.  All costs are based on actual usage.  If a VM is powered off, there is no compute charge.

Windows 365 cloud PCs are not purchased as Azure usage-based infrastructure.  Rather, they are purchased as licenses through Windows 365.  Each cloud PC license provides the user with a certain amount of compute, RAM, and storage capacity.  At general availability, there will be 12 cloud PC sizes ranging from 1 vCPU to 8 vCPUs, 2 GB to 32 GB of RAM, and 64 GB to 512 GB of storage.  

4c – Networking

Azure Virtual Desktop networking costs are incurred at the Azure subscription level where session host VMs run.  These charges typically include egress bandwidth, NAT gateway, VPNs, and Firewalls.

Enterprise cloud PCs require the customer to provide a network infrastructure within a customer-managed Azure subscription.  Therefore, all network costs are the same as with AVD.

Business cloud PCs do not leverage a customer-managed Azure network.  Therefore, all network related costs are incurred by Microsoft and are included in the monthly cloud PC license.

4d – Intune

Intune can be optionally used to manage Azure Virtual Desktop session hosts.  However, Intune is not required for an AVD deployment, and most environments are managed via images.

Enterprise cloud PCs require an Intune license.  Since Intune is the management interface for these cloud PCs, the Azure AD tenant must have an Intune license and each user who is assigned to an Enterprise cloud PC must have an Intune license assigned.  Intune licenses can be purchased standalone or as part of a Windows 365 package like E3/E5 and Business Premium. 

Business cloud PCs are not managed through MEM and therefore do not require an Intune license.

4e – Windows 365 Apps (Office)

Azure Virtual Desktop requires a subscription to Windows 365 Apps with Shared Computer Activation entitlement.  All Microsoft 365 packages that include Office Apps have Shared Computer Activation. Windows 365 Business standalone does not and, therefore, cannot be used in AVD.

Windows 365 cloud PCs are dedicated VMs and therefore do not require Shared Computer Activation.  Any subscription to Microsoft 365 is sufficient.

Summary (Windows 365 & AVD Licensing and Infrastructure Costs)

5. Comparing Windows 365 Cloud PC License Costs vs. AVD Azure Consumption

There are several considerations that come into play when deciding on the right virtual desktop technology for your organization.  Microsoft provides customers with ample choice and meets customers where they are in terms of admin tooling, existing licenses, and Azure expertise.  In this section, we’ll explore the cost efficiency of different virtual desktop use-cases and determine when Windows 365 fixed-price licenses are more cost-efficient than usage-based AVD infrastructure costs.  For this discussion, we’ll assume that Windows OS licensing costs are the same in both AVD and Windows 365 scenarios and focus exclusively on the cost of the infrastructure. 

Windows 365 license costs depend on the hardware specs that a user needs.  Each desktop comes with a certain number of vCPUs, GB of RAM, and SSD storage.  If we align the vCPU and RAM configuration of each cloud PC license with a comparable Azure VM size and managed disk we can then compare their costs side-by-side. 

Since cloud PCs are dedicated, persistent desktops they are most similar to AVD personal desktops. If we compare cloud PCs with equivalently sized personal AVD desktops, using a VM on a 3-year reserved instance, we’ll see that the prices are very similar and cloud PC is slightly less expensive for some sizes and much more cost effective for the largest VMs.  On average, Windows 365 is 11% cheaper than a comparably sized Azure VM and managed disk running 24/7 on a 3-year reserved instance. 

If we assume that users are using their personal AVD desktops 50 hours per week (10 hours X 5 weekdays) and the VMs are stopped the rest of the time, then there will be a cost savings by using personal AVD desktops with pay-as-you-go VM pricing and powering them off outside of the 50 work hours (70% of the time).  There are a few scenarios when Cloud PC is about the same cost as an AVD personal desktop, but on average, Azure Virtual Desktop personal desktop is 9% cheaper than a cloud PC in this use-case.  

Let’s take this a step further and assume that not all users need a dedicated personal desktop and groups of users can be pooled together on multi-session AVD session hosts.  We can see that there is significant per-user savings with AVD pooled desktops using reserved instances (RI).  On average, the cost of a pooled Azure Virtual Desktop user on VMs that run 24/7 using 3-year reserved instances is 53% lower than Windows 365. 

Combining pooled AVD desktops with auto-scaling provides the deepest savings when using Azure Virtual Desktop as compared to Windows 365.  Assuming that users are working 10 hours/day, 5 days/week the average savings is 58% when using pay-as-you-go VMs with auto-scaling. 

Another important consideration is that Cloud PCs and personal AVD desktops are priced per-named user.  Meaning that a license or VM is consumed for every user to whom the Cloud PC license or AVD personal desktop VM is assigned – regardless of whether this user ever connects to the desktop.  Pooled desktops, on the other hand, only consume infrastructure when concurrent users are logged in.  If no users are connected, no session host VMs need to be powered on.  As more users log in, more infrastructure is brought online to accommodate the demand.   

In most environments, user concurrency is a fraction of the total named users at any given time – often 50% or less.  This means that the cost savings in a pooled desktop environment will be even greater, when concurrency is considered, than presented in the table above. 

By putting it all together, we see that Windows 365 Cloud PCs are most cost effective when users need dedicated, persistent desktops and will be using them more than 50 hours per week.  With users who can be pooled together into AVD host pools, there is significant infrastructure cost savings to be realized by using auto-scaling. 

Here’s a complete comparative summary table: 

LEARN MORE ABOUT WINDOWS 365 & NERDIO

LEARN MORE ABOUT NERDIO MANAGER FOR MSP

LEARN MORE ABOUT NERDIO MANAGER FOR ENTERPRISE

Free White Paper Download!

Nerdio Manager vs. Native Auto-scaling: A Deep Dive

One of Nerdio’s primary features is our advanced auto-scaling capability for Azure Virtual Desktop. This enables customers to save up to 75% on their Azure Virtual Desktop compute and storage costs, which in most cases pays for the Nerdio licenses themselves within the first week of usage not to mention significant savings on top of that.

One question which I am often asked is “How does Nerdio’s auto-scaling capability compare to Microsoft’s built-in, native capability?” In this post, I will discuss both solutions, as well as the benefits of each. Let’s start with Microsoft’s offering.

Native Microsoft Auto-scaling

Microsoft’s auto-scaling technology is based on using an Azure Automation account, a PowerShell runbook, a webhook, and an Azure Logic App. You will need to go and create all of these. Once created, you have the following capabilities:

  • Schedule VMs to start and stop based on peak and off-peak business hours.
  • Scale out VMs based on number of sessions per CPU core.
  • Scale in VMs during off-Peak hours, leaving the minimum number of session host VMs running.

There are some limitations, though:

  • This solution applies only to pooled multi-session session host VMs.
  • This solution can manage VMs in any region, but these VMs must be in the same subscription as your Azure Automation account and Azure Logic App.
  • The maximum runtime of a job in the run book is three hours. If starting or stopping the VMs in the host pool takes longer than that, the job will fail. For more details, see Shared Resources.
  • At least one VM or session host needs to be turned on for the scaling algorithm to work properly.
  • The scaling tool doesn’t support scaling based on CPU or memory.
  • Scaling only works with existing hosts in the host pool. The scaling tool doesn’t support scaling new session hosts.
  • The setup process is quite complicated involving multiple PowerShell scripts–probably around 2-4 hours depending on your technical capability.
  • It can be quite difficult for someone with limited Azure or AVD expertise to understand.
  • For multiple host pools, you would need multiple scripts.
  • Only basic reporting capabilities are available.

It is quite difficult to manage this configuration on an ongoing basis.  Also, for multiple host pools you would need create and maintain multiple scripts.

Nerdio Auto-scaling

Nerdio’s auto-scaling technology is built directly into the Nerdio Manager application.  This means that once you have deployed Nerdio Manager, you do not need to deploy anything else. The Nerdio auto-scaling technology has far more features than the Microsoft native auto-scaling technology, and saves much more money due to its advanced and customizable features. These features include:

1. Enable Auto-scaling at the flip of a switch 

Using Nerdio Manager you can easily enable auto-scaling in under two minutes by literally flipping a switch. Compared to having to deploy all the native Microsoft tooling, this could be a huge time saver, especially for less experienced IT admins.

2. Automatically swapping out OS disks for lower SKUs

Nerdio will automatically swap out the OS disk type to a lower SKU to save on costs when VMs are stopped as part of the auto-scaling process. By doing this, you ensure that you are not paying for Premium SSD storage when you are not actively using it. 

3. Customizable active host capacity

Using Nerdio Manager, you can set a Minimum Active Host Capacity. If you know what your minimum workload requirement is, it can be maintained automatically with Nerdio Manager.

This ensures that your capacity is available on demand when you need it, without having to wait for hosts to be created. For example, we can set the Base Host Pool Capacity to 10, and the Active Host Capacity to one, which means that 10 hosts will be created, but only one host will be active. When extra load is required, the additional hosts will be powered on via auto-scaling and be available for connections within minutes.

4. Customizable Scaling Logic 

Using Nerdio, we can configure 3 separate types of scaling logic:

i. CPU Usage

We can configure the logic based on actual CPU usage and customize the trigger points for scaling up and down. We can also restrict the scale in hours to ensure that your workforce is not interrupted.

ii. Average Active Sessions

We can auto-scale based on the Average Active Sessions across your host pool. If you know for example your Host Capacity is around five users per host, once those hosts are full, we can scale new hosts based on actual user demand.

iii. Available Sessions

We can configure the scaling to ensure that there is always spare capacity available in the pool by configuring the Available Sessions.

Having three different types of scaling logic ensures that we can configure our workload to how we use it to ensure that you are only paying for what you need to pay for.

5. Pre-staging of hosts

Using Nerdio, we can “pre-stage hosts”. Pre-staging hosts means that we can ensure the required capacity is there whenever your business needs it the most. If you run a call center for example, we can ensure that there are, let’s say, 10 hosts available at 8am for when your users come in and start work.

You can also configure multiple pre-stage schedules. If you need to have separate working hours during the weekend, for example, or if you are an educational institute and need to set different schedules during the school holidays.

6. Customizable messages when hosts are shutting down

The Microsoft auto-scaling tools will just send a standard message when the hosts are shutting down. When using Nerdio, we can send a customizable message at pre-defined periods (i.e., 5, 10, 15, 30 minutes) and also instruct the auto-scaling engine to NOT log users off if they are still active, or have disconnected sessions.

7. Auto-Scaling for personal host pools 

Nerdio also has auto-scaling for personal host pools. This enables us to turn off personal host pools at set periods of times (i.e., at the end of the workday), and then turn them on at, say, 8am, and have them switched off during weekends.

Personal host pools can be very expensive as most users expect them to be available at any time, but by using Nerdio, you can ensure that they are only powered on when they need to be, saving you lots of money in Azure compute and storage costs.

We can also have user-driven auto-scaling which will automatically start the VM when the user connects, and then when the user logs off the VM will be powered down and de-allocated at a time which is configurable. This ensures that you only pay for resources you actually use.

8. Storage Auto-scaling 

Nerdio will also perform auto-scaling for your Azure Files or Azure NetApp Files. We enable you to set a minimum and maximum quota, ensuring that you will also have the performance and capacity required for your users, while saving you money. We do this utilizing three methods:

  1. Capacity â€“ Nerdio Manager will automatically monitor the space usage and when space is running low, we will automatically grow the space for you, meaning that you will never run out of space.
  2. Performance â€“ Nerdio Manager will monitor the latency of your storage and if it detects latency, it will grow the storage capacity therefore giving you more IOPS.
  3. Schedule â€“ Nerdio Manager will grow and shrink capacity and performance of the storage based on a pre-defined schedule. 

9. Reporting 

Nerdio reports every action that’s performed and displays it visually showing you the cost savings on a per host pool basis.

Summary

As you can see, Nerdio Manger gives the IT professional many options to configure auto-scaling to exactly how they want it to be, all within a few clicks of a button.

To achieve the same outcome within Native Azure, you would need to write hundreds of lines of PowerShell code or JSON Scripts and then amend those scripts anytime anything needed changing. Using Nerdio Manager you can easily achieve this without advanced scripting skills, therefore saving you time and money to use your resources where you really need them.

Learn more or start your free 30-day trial!

Top 5 Considerations Before Starting with Azure Virtual Desktop  

Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) is a great option for many but is not always easy to adopt right off the bat. But before the transition even begins, it is important to weigh the benefits of AVD and carefully consider why it is right for your organization, and what needs to be done before you switch.  

Some of those considerations include aligning on responsibilities, understanding how applications and data will be handled in the new environment, and determining which outcomes you want to see from your move to AVD.  

Worried you won’t be able to determine where to get started on even thinking about those steps? No worries, we’ve got you covered.  

Determine Responsibilities and Resource Availability  

Used in this context, “resources” refers not to Azure resources like compute and storage, but to whomever is going to be involved and actively working on the project, or more precisely, who will be responsible for what? And do they have the right skillset to do what needs to be done?  

In addition to the above, use these questions to drill down deeper when determining responsibility and resource availability:  

  • Who is in charge of building the new environment and/or writing proper documentation?  
  • Who will be testing applications?  
  • Who will be educating and onboarding users when their new workspace is ready for production?  
  • What will the process look like, is there a plan in place, and who’s responsible for that?  
  • Do we need additional staff to help with these tasks? And is there room in the budget to hire?  

Of course, many of these responsibilities can be shared and it often happens that a single person oversees multiple. If that’s the case, that’s perfectly fine, as long as it is clear who is doing what and expectations have been set.  

It’s important to clearly outline and assign responsibilities, and perhaps even more importantly, you need to make sure that the people involved have enough time reserved to spend on the tasks at hand. While the days and weeks pass, there will always be “fires” that need to put out, or other issues that deserve attention, meaning priorities might shift from time to time. However, by establishing a baseline it gives you something to fall back to, clearly communicates to everyone involved who to contact, call, email, etc, when they have questions, and helps hold the team accountable.  

Team misalignment and misunderstanding are easily two of the top reasons projects take longer than necessary. By making sure people have time allocated to the actions they will be expected to incorporate into their role, it takes a lot of uncertainty away and will greatly enhance your chances of completing your project on time.  

Set Goals and Success Criteria 

It’s also important to identify what you would like to achieve. Let me give you an example. When Nerdio Manager for Enterprise is installed, or better yet before the installation takes place, we always like to set up a meeting with the prospective customer and discuss what we refer to as “customer success criteria”.  

The goal is to establish a clear picture of what the customer wants to achieve when leveraging Nerdio. While going through this exercise, assuming the correct people take part (who will be actively working on this project and have the time reserved to do so) you’ll notice that certain “critical needs,” or “want to have”s can be quite surprising.  You may also discover certain “needs” that you may not have thought about before, prior to the POC.  

This practice ensures customers will get the best out of our 30-day free trial. While this helps us, it is a huge advantage for the customer as well, as we have now set a common goal to work towards and we will make sure to do everything we can to achieve them within the given timeframe. This includes recurring meetings to align and go over questions, potential roadblocks, architectural reviews, health checks, etc. Of course, this approach can also be applied whenever a new technology is being considered or implemented. 

On top of this, you want to establish how “success” is measured. Are we seeing the desired results defined by one metric? Does our environment have all the (automated) “critical” features we are interested in, and do they work as expected? What about costs, are they in line with what was projected? And more. This can be as detailed as desired depending on your needs and the size / scope of the project.      

After the trial period expires, it’s time to wrap up and discuss the outcomes with your team and the users in the POC. Satisfied? Yes, good. Let’s review next steps and take it from there.  

Application Considerations  

While this article is not meant as a complete technical reference, it’s important to highlight applications as it’s one of the most common challenges we see with companies interested in moving to the cloud.  

 
Take the following actions when determining your strategy for migrating applications to AVD:  

  • Consider application compatibility. Switching platforms often means a change of the underlying operating system, so make sure you will not run into any surprises once users go live.  
  • Examine the number and types of applications involved. This metric can be helpful in determining how much time it will take to do proper testing. You may also want to consider which applications can be dropped or replaced with a SaaS alternative. Bear in mind, too, that certain applications could behave differently when they are run on a cloud based VM, meaning more or less compute resources might be needed.  
  • Examine application delivery and overall maintenance beforehand. Nerdio helps you discover applications installed on a host pool (image) and you can configure rules to decide which users can access which applications, while “masking” the rest of the applications from them. Multiple apps can be grouped together for consolidate access management.  

Another option to leverage is some of the different “layering” solutions out there, like FlexApp One from Liquidware or MSIX AppAttach offered by Microsoft. And while we are not highlighting any specific testing methodologies, you might want to give our friends over at Rimo3 a visit, as application (compatibility) is their bread and butter. 

  • Think about how applications will be delivered to your users. Will applications be published (Remote App) or will you be offering a published desktop? Will users start their applications by clicking desktop icons as part of the start menu, or will they be using the AVD client exclusively? A combination of the above is also optional. 
  • Develop a strategy for ongoing management. Your base images will need to be updated from time to time; application and security updates will be factors, new applications may need to be added, security may need to be enhanced, and more. You can find more information on application management in this blog.   

Data Considerations

Besides applications, data can be a huge hurdle as well. As with applications, you want to make sure that the data used, never mind the type, is as close to your hosts (where the actual work is done) and users as possible. This eliminates part of any latency issues you may run into and makes sure users will have quick access to files and folders. 

It is important to understand how much data you are dealing with and what it is used for. This will help with prioritizing the types of databases used currently and what will be used on Azure, and so on. The same will apply to where other data will be stored as well. Will you be using traditional file servers, or do you prefer a more flexible and scalable approach like Azure Files file share? Most opt for the latter.  

This might also be a good time to think about archiving certain data, to clean things up a bit. As with the applications refresh cycle mentioned earlier, it will depend on the scope of the project and how much time and effort can be spend on this specific topic.  

Once done, more technical research can be done regarding which method or tool best fits your approach and you will get a sense of how long it will take. Migrating data is always tricky since most data will be used “live” during the day meaning there will always be a delta of some sort which will need to be replicated at certain point. It’s a matter of finding the sweet spot and disabling access to the old environment.  

Some other items to consider, these apply to applications as well as data, are: 

  • Are there any restrictions, legally why you might not be allowed to run certain applications and/or store the data in the public cloud?  
  • Are there any specific dependencies? Think about legacy on-prem applications using a dongle, for example. Are they dependent on other systems, databases, applications etc.? 
  • Are there any specific needs for encryption or authentication?  
  • Are there any specific networking requirements (or latency) that need to be taking into consideration? Remember that on-premisses is different from cloud. I/O could play a role here as well.  

Educate and Involve Your Users

This is easily a “must do” to increase your chances of success when it comes to the adoption of new technology. 

Shifting to a new platform can be confusing for users. People tend to stick to what they know, and change is often seen as a bad or scary thing. 

When things are about to change it helps to think about how you will “guide” and educate your users about what’s coming, what’s new, and most importantly, why the company chose to take this route. This often has to do with getting rid of legacy technology, making the platform more future proof, secure, and eventually easier to work with. Of course, that’s not how most of your users will see it, unless you explain it to them.  

Think about training programs, explaining new ways of work, perhaps there will be new types of applications involved, a new way of logging into their systems in the morning, an interface they are not used to, etc. Try to focus on, or at least underline what’s in it for them, and how eventually it will make their lives easier and more efficient.  

The sooner you involve your users, the greater acceptation will be. When users are involved early and are asked for their opinion and feedback, they feel like they have a say in how things will turn out. Organize sessions to explain some of the above topics so they know what is coming. Ask for their thoughts on the matter and what they think, if they have any suggestions, compared to how they work currently is there anything they like or feel needs improving, etc.  

You could argue that the above, especially examining your current platform/infrastructure and the way users go about their daily routines should always be a part of any preparation phase when thinking about shifting to a new way of working. It’s probably where you’ll find answers to some of the most important questions when it comes to what needs to be done to improve and what has worked well over the years.  

Conclusion

Azure Virtual Desktop is an incredibly useful and powerful tool and can be a huge asset to your business. However, making the switch to it can be complicated without the right steps set up in advance and the right people on board. Keeping in mind the above will ensure that you are putting your best foot forward when starting your AVD journey.  

Think AVD may be right for your business? Nerdio can help. You can find more information on Azure Virtual Desktop here and begin a free trial here.