Could Windows 365 and Starlink (or 5G) underpin the future of work?

When it comes to setting up work-from-home employees, the easiest answer might be cloud-based operating systems and WANs like 5G or Starlink.

A remote worker works from home with tablet, documents, notebook and pen.
Morsa Images / Getty Images

Disclosure: Microsoft and Qualcomm are clients of the author.

With the pandemic now in its latest wave, it is increasingly looking as if Covid-19 (and whatever comes after) will be part of our lives from now on. Companies think they will get most workers back into the office, while most folks will want to stay home instead. While insurance carriers aren’t yet raising premiums, that may change since the virus isn’t going away. I expect some carriers will soon begin charging companies more for unvaccinated employees and for those going into work rather than working remotely. (Delta Airlines has already announced it will charge non-vaxxed employees.)

A few weeks back, I saw survey results that indicated up to 40% of employees at companies planning to force a return to the office were looking to change jobs. Silicon Valley has increased its efforts to hire workers living remotely to lower employment costs and attract more employees. The trends seem clear: work from home isn’t going away and may gain even more traction going forward. 

We’ve seen issues for months now with consistent home-employee provisioning, IT concerns about employee network security, and environmental events (floods and fires) that forced employees to be even more mobile. 

This all got me thinking about how I’d simplify home provisioning and keeping workers safe. 

Windows 365 with 5G or Starlink

I’ve been using the base configuration of Windows 365 now for several weeks, and while I’m still missing some GPU horsepower, I can live with this service for the most part. In terms of PC performance, the base-level virtual desktop is acceptable for much of what I do; where the service stands out is in upload and download performance. Currently, I have a premium cable service at home and with Windows 365, I get around 1K Mbps download speeds and 2K Mbps for uploads. My latency is generally about 20 milliseconds, though with Windows 365 it’s six milliseconds — significantly better. (That suggests the bottleneck is with my Internet Service Provider, not with Windows 365.)

Highspeed WAN is increasingly favored for remote work because it is relatively secure. It doesn’t require a router. You can typically connect other peripherals like a printer through USB or Bluetooth, so IT doesn’t have to manage questionable networks. But 5G coverage is still iffy in the US, particularly in rural areas where services like ISDN are still in use. Compared to my internet connection, Starlink is better at uploads (29.35 Mbps), far worse at downloads (71Mbps) and latency (53 milliseconds). But for routine office work, that should be good enough.

In terms of how well Windows 365 works, assuming you are working solely in Windows 365, you basically get Microsoft’s upload and download speeds. Windows 365 systems are tied to the cloud, assuring at least national consistency (and in Starlink’s case, potentially international consistency) in network provisioning. These are networks that rarely, if ever, go down. And while 5G means substantially more portability, even the Starlink service can be moved more quickly than scheduling a wired broadband connection. 

Employees with access to 5G already have one provisioning solution, with Starlink serving as another outside of 5G coverage areas. While Starlink can be user-installed, you might have to pay for a local tech to install it to make sure it’s safe and can be moved quickly during a disaster (or removed easily if an employee leaves the company). 

Virtual better than at-home hardware?

Windows 365 gives you a platform that will run on any PC, including Chromebooks and some thin clients, reducing substantially the need for desktop support. You should be able to offload most of your home network support to either the 5G carrier or Starlink, assuming in the latter case,that the network is dedicated to the employee’s work efforts. Another approach would be to subsidize the Starlink service so the employee legitimately could use it for personal and school projects. 

Using a virtual desktop, whether its Windows 365, Cameyo, or some other alternative, provides a level of remote performance and consistency you probably can’t get with any other work-from-home PC solution.  A wireless WAN or satellite solution (Starlink) provides a generic way to provide and assure connectivity and portability if the employee has to change locations for any reason.

In combination, a cloud desktop and an always-connected network service appear to be the ideal way to configure work-from-home offices for the foreseeable future. The surprising thing is that the future increasingly appears to be now. 

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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