Windows 365 vs Azure Virtual Desktop

Windows 365 vs Azure Virtual Desktop

Windows 365 is Microsoft's latest iteration of virtual desktop, but how does it compare to Azure virtual desktop and which one should you use? Before we can answer that, let's compare a few key components of both solutions.

Single-session vs Multi-session

Azure virtual desktop comes in two flavors, single and multi-session. Single session simply means only one user (session) per VM. This is also referred to as a personal desktop as usually, it is a one-to-one ratio between the user and virtual machine, effectively giving the user a dedicated compute resource. Multi-session is multiple users (sessions) on a single VM, meaning the compute resource is pooled across several users. Windows 365 only supports single-session, so every user gets their own personal virtual desktop.

So now we have our first key difference, does it matter? Well, typically single-session virtual desktops are a lot less cost-effective than multi-session pooled virtual desktops. This is due to the fact you can pool compute resources for multiple users and lower the effective per-user cost, we'll go into the costs in more detail later. So if you were already using single-session virtual desktops in AVD, you might be looking at Windows 365 as a replacement.

Management and Features

Windows 365 offers two versions: Standard and Enterprise, both come with different levels of functionality and features. The below tables highlight a few key differences.

Feature Business Enterprise AVD
VNET Connectivity N Y Y
Intune Management Y Y Y
Custom OS Images N Y Y
FSLogix N N Y
ADDS Support N Y Y
Mutli-session N N Y
Remote Apps N N Y
MSIX App-attach N N Y

Depending on what your requirements are for a virtual desktop, you can see from the above table Windows 365 Business gives the least flexibility, as most of the components are managed by Microsoft rather than customer-managed. Windows 365 Enterprise gives the next level up in terms of features, giving you the ability to connect virtual desktops to your corporate virtual networks and use custom OS images. But if you want the most amount of features and flexibility, AVD is the clear winner. However, if you'd prefer the least amount of management or responsibility for running the solution, Windows 365 is a much more appealing option.

Cost and Licensing

Both Windows 365 SKUs come with really straightforward licensing and costs, given the only cost you need to account for is the actual cost of the license. Unlike AVD whose pricing can vary based on compute used (and you still need to make sure users are licensed). This can make Windows 365 a more attractive option if you want an easy way to guarantee costs and don't mind sacrificing a few features.

Below I've summarised the costs based on 32 users on a Monthly subscription with Windows Hybrid Benefit, which assumes users are already licensed for Windows 10/11.

W365: Standard W365: Enterprise AVD Personal Desktop (32 Users) AVD Multi-session Desktop (32 Users)
License £38.10 user/month £38.10 user/month £0 £0
Compute £0 £0 £2,123.75 £375.12
SKU 2 vCPU, 8 GB RAM, 128 GB Storage 2 vCPU, 8 GB RAM, 128 GB Storage (2 vCPU, 8 GB RAM, 128 GB Storage) x32 8 vCPU, 32 GB RAM, 1 TB Storage
Effective per-user price £38.10 £38.10 £66.36 £11.72

You might look at this table and think hang on a minute, how have you come to 32 users on 8 vCPU? Well, this is the beauty of Windows multi-session, Microsoft recommends for medium workload users a max of 4 users per vCPU, which on an 8 vCPU VM would give us a theoretical max of 32 users on a single VM. Additionally, when it comes to AVD, the more users you need to support in a virtual desktop scenario, the greater economies of scale you can benefit from, reducing your effective per-user price.

Let's look at a typical scenario, say you have 128 users who need access to an internal ERP application, the application runs a desktop client so all 128 users need a full desktop session. However, the users only need access during business hours (9-5, Mon-Fri), this means you can deallocate the compute overnight to save costs. How does this affect the pricing, let's look below:

W365: Standard W365: Enterprise AVD Personal Desktop (128 Users) AVD Multi-session Desktop (128 Users)
License £38.10 user/month £38.10 user/month £0 £0
Compute £0 £0 £2,789.41 £346.97
SKU 2 vCPU, 8 GB RAM, 128 GB Storage 2 vCPU, 8 GB RAM, 128 GB Storage (2 vCPU, 8 GB RAM, 128 GB Storage) x128 (8 vCPU, 32 GB RAM, 1 TB Storage) x4
Effective per user price £38.10 £38.10 £21.70 £2.71

Now that is quite a difference, and this highlights one of the weaknesses of Windows 365 for me, yes the license grants you 24/7 access to a virtual desktop, but do you need it? Because you are definitely paying for it. However, it is just as common for businesses to keep their AVD session hosts running 24/7 even when they don't need to. You also have to consider concurrency, in most scenarios it's unlikely that all 128 users will be using the virtual desktop at the same time, normally users will go in and out as needed. Windows 365 does have an answer to this in the form of Windows 365 Frontline, which lets you use one license effectively across 3 users, however, it does come with limitations and caveats, unlike AVD.

To conclude if you don't want the hassle of managing AVD Infrastructure and have money burning a hole in your pocket, Windows 365 is a great solution for you. Additionally, if you need to provide single-session virtual desktops 24/7 then Windows 365 actually works out more cost-effective than AVD single-session. However, if you are running multi-session workloads, only need access to a virtual desktop between working hours, or are looking for the most flexible solution with the most features, AVD is for you.