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Understanding WaaS (Windows 10 as a Service)

I’m currently on tap to develop a Webinar for Spiceworks that’s sponsored by Microsoft on a number of Windows 10 topics (I’ll add an update to the end of this post when I find out the broadcast and/or access details for this event). First and possibly  foremost among those topics is “Windows as a Service,” which caused me some initial confusion because this term is subject to multiple uses even by Microsoft itself. I’m pleased to report here that for most purposes and situations, WaaS refers to the new model for Windows updates in Windows 10. In Windows 10, the OS is subject to a “consistent stream of updates” that “is in alignment with the Microsoft cloud services strategy across Office 365, Azure, and Microsoft Dynamics CRM online” (both quotes come from the Microsoft US Partner Community blog in a 9/21/15 post from Diane Golshan entitled “Windows 10 Partner Community: Understanding Windows as a Service, and what it means to you as a partner“).

The next statement in that blog post pretty much sums up the philosophy of WaaS, so I’ll repeat it verbatim here, then tease it apart with some analysis:

By providing users with always-on updates, we can better protect their systems and let them take advantage of new user experiences, productivity tools, and hardware innovations as they are released by the Windows engineering team. This approach supports the four Windows 10 innovation for business promises:

  1. Protection against modern security threats
  2. Managed for continuous innovation
  3. Increased productivity
  4. Innovative devices for your business

In practice, this means that consumer-grade users get updates as they are pushed to Windows Update, within the constraints on their Windows Update settings. The idea is to make sure that vulnerabilities and exposures get patched ASAP, and that upgrades and enhancements to the OS can be pushed out incrementally, rather than waiting for Service Pack level updates (or even the next upcoming “Update Tuesday” on the current calendar). I’m not sure how this translates into increased productivity, but MS has been both aggressive and proactive about updating firmware for its own PC products (Surface, Surface Pro, and Surface book chief among them) and adding drivers for new devices and classes of devices on a pretty timely basis.

For WaaS, MS divides Windows devices into 3 classes with matching “branches” of the Windows as a Service codebase, namely personal (“Current Branch”), specialized systems (“Long Term Servicing Branch”), and business (“Current Branch for Business”). The key differentiator is how updates are staged and deployed to the devices in each class as described in this table from the afore-cited blog post:

waas-branches

The more sensitive to updates Microsoft judges your environment to be, the longer you have to test them, and the more control over them.

Please note that ordinary, garden-variety users (consumers, small businesses, and so forth) all fall into the Current Branch model, too, where they get updates as soon as they hit WU, within the constraints established on their devices for when and how automatic updates get applied.

To conclude the US MS Partner blog post from which I’ve been drawing this description of WaaS, the company offers up some interesting (and free) online training resources on Windows 10, among other things. Of particular interest: Windows 10 Management Masters (6 weeks, 5 major topic areas, good stuff: partners and employees only), Getting Started with Windows 10 for IT Professionals (MVA, free to all, 8 modules, about 4 hours of training), and the Windows 10 Tech Center, a collection of resources, downloads, and more. See also the (free) video presentation entitled “Preparing Your Enterprise for Windows as a Service.”

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