Windows 365 costs how much!?

Yes, Microsoft’s Windows 365 Cloud PC costs more than people expected, but take a closer look and you'll see it makes sense — in some cases.

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The day has finally come: Microsoft Windows 365 Cloud PC is now generally available and…

"Oh my God, Steven! Have you seen how much it costs!?"

Yes, I have. Here's what….

"It's so expensive!"

Actually, it's not. And before you interrupt me again, let me explain what’s going on with Windows 365.

First, as promised, Microsoft this week published Windows 365 pricing. It starts at $20 per user, per month for the lowest-end SKU. With that, you get a single vCPU (Virtual CPU) running on the Azure Cloud, 2GB of RAM, and 64GB of OneDrive cloud storage. Prices rise from there, depending on configuration, up to $163 per user, per month. That gets you 8 vCPUs, 32GB of RAM, and 512GB of OneDrive storage.

The low-end pricing on all tiers requires you to be using Windows Hybrid Benefit. This is Microsoft's "bring-your-own-license” model, which lets you apply existing or new licenses toward a product's cost. Without the Hybrid Benefit discount, all of the SKU prices are $4 higher per user, per month.

For that, according to Microsoft, you get:

  • The power to buy, provision, and deploy in minutes, with automated OS updates.
  • Anywhere access for users to their personalized Windows desktop experience.
  • Tailored configurations for an elastic workforce.
  • The ability to pick up where you left off on the device of your choice.
  • Optimized experiences on Windows endpoints.
  • The ability to scale confidently with per-user pricing.

That means, for example, you can run Windows 365 at your office PC, pick it up again on your home Mac, and if you really wanted to, look over sales forecasts on your Android tablet when you can't sleep at night.

There are two versions. One, Windows 365 Business, is designed for small businesses that want to deploy cloud PCs for 300 seats or fewer. There are no technology prerequisites; you just go to the Windows 365 cloud portal to purchase, deploy, and manage Cloud PCs anytime.

This is the "idiot-proof" version. You don't need an Azure subscription or an Active Directory (AD) domain controller. Everything, and I mean everything, works with Azure AD and Microsoft manages all of it. Just pay your money, provision your hardware using the defaults, and you're up and running.

If you want more control and features, you’ll want Windows 365 Enterprise, which gives IT people more control over what's going on with your Windows instances. It doesn't give you quite as much control as Azure Virtual Desktop, but its pricing is also simpler and, generally speaking, cheaper.

You can, of course, use any of these in harmony with Office 365 or any of Microsoft's other cloud offerings. But, and this is important, Microsoft says you can use it to remotely access any of your Windows 10 apps. Install them virtually and go.

In theory, there will be no fuss or muss. In practice, I'm absolutely sure you will run into problems because, well you know, Windows is Windows, and what's Windows without compatibility problems? That said, I expect most popular business programs, such as QuickBooks and Adobe Creative Suite, to run on Windows 365. (If not, Microsoft is going to hear about it loud and clear; they'll get it right.)

One thing, however, you shouldn't do is really intense data processing on a Windows 365 system. The Windows 365 Business Plan comes with a data cap for upstream traffic of 20GB per user per month on the low end and up to 70GB per user per month on the high end. Note: I say "upstream," not down. The only way you're likely to run into trouble here is if you try video editing on cloud-based videos.

Now, let's talk about those costs. First, if you think those prices are high, you haven't done much with cloud computing. By cloud computing standards, they’re cheap. And the really good news is they are flat prices; you don't pay per hour or by how many resources you use. I guarantee you'll find this cheaper than most, if not all, Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) offerings.

Some people are mocking Windows 365 on the grounds that they can get a lot more machine for the money than they can by using a Windows 365 virtual machine (VM). Sure, you can buy, say, a PC World favorite HP Envy 14 laptop for $1,150 with an Intel i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. A roughly equivalent Windows 365 instance with 2 vCPUs, 8GBs of RAM, and 256GB of cloud storage will cost you $54 a month without the Hybrid Benefit discount.

But let's do a little business math. Typically, you keep a PC for three years, so at first glance, the HP machine wins handily since it only costs you $1,150 (versus the $1,944 a Windows 365 Cloud PC will cost over the same period).

Again, though, this is a business. How much do you pay to support that PC? Can your techs easily and inexpensively help your people working from home? You'll pay nothing for Windows 365 support — it comes baked in. And by its nature, Windows 365 is easy to manage remotely.

Windows 365 also won't cost you any extra time if you need to revert, take a system snapshot, or recover your system. It also comes with Microsoft's security Defender software built-in. What about if you need to repair that little HP machine? How much will the downtime cost you? With Windows 365, who cares if your laptop gets run over by a truck? You just grab another machine, and you're back in business.

There are other factors, of course. For example, your accountant will tell you computer hardware is subject to 100% amortization, while you can't amortize a cloud service. But the bottom line is that for many businesses, Windows 365 will make good financial sense.

Do the math and then decide. Don't just laugh at the pricing and continue on your way. You may well find that when all's said and done, Windows 365 is exactly what your CFO and your CIO — and your employees — want.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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