By Jonathan Hartman, VP of Sales, PlanetOne
Desktops from the cloud, Workspace-as-a-Service, or Desktops-as-a-Service (DaaS) has been around for a while. Desktone (which VMware bought in 2013) helped to pioneer the service back in 2007. Then DaaS got a kick-start a few years ago when Amazon Web Services rolled out WorkSpaces, positioning it as a simple, highly cost-effective desktop service in the cloud.
Conceptually, DaaS is relatively straightforward: host a suite of virtual machines running a desktop operating system in a data center and supply remote access to those endpoints. Originally positioned as an alternative to building one’s own virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), DaaS now stands on its own as a viable option for small and medium businesses (SMBs) to virtualize their desktop environments in a simple, quick and cost-effective way.
What Is DaaS?
DaaS’s intent is to harness the power of desktop virtualization and deliver it to desktops from the cloud. It’s differentiated from VDI, where virtualized desktops are deployed from internal data centers (and costs are typically higher). With DaaS delivery, the back-end data storage, backup, security and upgrades are managed by the service provider. The idea is to separate customers from the plumbing that makes DaaS work.
DaaS enables IT administrators to manage desktops from a central console, which means they no longer need to concern themselves with overseeing individual machines, instead leaving the MSP to handle overriding issues such as networking, storage and virtualization to provide optimal desktop computing. “DaaS has grown out of major advancements in network technology to allow thin clients to perform further and further away from the data center,” said Charles King, principal analyst at researcher Pund-IT in Hayward, Calif.
What Is the Demand for DaaS?
Given the increasing user demand for greater mobility and access fueled by businesses looking to reduce the total cost of ownership (TCO) on desktops, there are strong indicators that DaaS deployments are set to grow. The stage has been set:
- In 2012, the 451 Research Group said, “Interest in third-party DaaS is at a fever pitch.”
- In 2013, IDC said, “Desktop virtualization is rapidly growing and expanding to new devices as organizations seek to adapt to new user trends and increase productivity by enabling mobile work styles.”
- In 2014, researcher Gartner said, “This year is gearing up to be the year desktop-as-a-service finally gets some legs. Hype surrounds this technology but little if any real world deployments have yet to occur.”
Additionally, in a recent IDC study, more than 65 percent of respondents said they currently have virtual desktops and an additional 25 percent are expecting to deploy the technology in the next year. Only 9 percent of the respondents said they have no plans to deploy desktop virtualization technology.
Moreover, IDC estimates the WaaS worldwide market will rise to some $661 million by 2016. And 451 Research pegs the desktop virtualization ecosystem, of which DaaS is a component, to expand to a $5.6 billion opportunity by 2016.
What Is Driving DaaS Adoption?
A number of factors now serve to advance DaaS and make it a solution MSPs should strongly consider:
- Windows upgrades and migration
- BYOD and changing workforce demands
- IT budget constraints
- Strong players entering the market
- IT Security
- Enterprise integration
DaaS promises to deliver a virtual workspace that can be accessed anywhere at any time from a variety of devices — with nearly all the work done in the cloud. The technology has additional powerful market drivers in its corner, including the increase in mobile and remote workers, security issues, employees using their own devices in the workplace (BYOD), Windows migration and the increasing cost of maintaining or replacing older PCs.
Should MSPs and their customers consider DaaS as a modern alternative to traditional PCs? It certainly looks that way. IT management’s desktop hobgoblin is the absence of one right solution for every problem. Some users require a full, operating system powered-PC with access to a host of powerful, specific applications and storage. But with increasing frequency, many users require a limited number of applications such as a word processor, a spreadsheet, an email client and a browser.
The promise of DaaS is that moving desktops to the cloud supplies the benefits of centralized management, security and easy deployment while skirting the investment in hardware capital and technical expertise associated with virtual desktops nourished by an internal data center. And, at the end of the day, managing desktops delivered as a service is generally regarded as simpler and cheaper than traditional desktops.
The bottom line benefit to your customers is that DaaS can enable them to convert their lump sum desktop capital expenditures to a cost-effective monthly line item expense, which clearly aligns well with the other services MSPs offer.
What’s the Difference Between DaaS and VDI?
For businesses considering implementing hosted desktops, choosing between cloud-hosted and data center-hosted isn’t always clear-cut, mainly because of the overlap in what each platform offers. Where business owners may fidget about VDI’s management requirements, capital outlay and complexity, DaaS worries them about data control, licensing, security and bandwidth.
One significant difference between VDI and DaaS is the issue of licensing. Because Microsoft doesn’t offer a Service Provider License Agreement (SLA) for desktop OS, licensing is a key challenge in a DaaS environment. Service providers sidestep the problem to a certain degree by using a different platform, such as Windows Server 2008 R2, instead of Windows 7, even though that introduces user personalization limitations.
A number of additional considerations also commonly factor into DaaS decision-making, including:
- Perhaps the biggest issue when customers consider DaaS is whether they trust you as their service provider. Not only are they placing their desktops into someone else’s data center, they’re also counting on them to maintain the machinery that tethers users to desktops. MSPs who sell cloud services should be used to addressing and overcoming these objections.
- Access to local resources. You’ll have to address how users gain access to local resources. With DaaS, all remote users must access the file shares across the VPN.
- With DaaS the customer will be limited to the service provider’s framework and don’t have the flexibility inherent in a VDI environment where you can customize as you choose.
- DaaS isn’t always synonymous with zero IT management duties on the customer’s part. You’ll have to work with customers to determine who will install applications, support users, perhaps install a VPN tunnel and make minor, mid-course corrections.
- DaaS and VDI price comparisons sometimes don’t stand up to closer scrutiny.
- For customers that want to provide a desktop with just Office productivity applications, such as SMBs, DaaS fits well but less so for large enterprises with client-server applications.
What Are the Challenges of Cloud Desktops?
DaaS isn’t a panacea without challenges. Aside from the Microsoft licensing issue, you will have to cope with a number of other factors:
- Trust in the cloud. Because most companies value their data as much as they do their employees, hosting their sensitive data in an outside data center shared by others requires a leap of faith. That makes trust a continuing issue for DaaS adoption.
- Connectivity. Uninterrupted access to data is critical to a business’ ability to conduct operations, so maintaining consistent connectivity to hosted desktops is vital.
- With cloud-hosted desktops, businesses often must adjust to security under someone else’s control. Depending on where your customer’s data is stored, you’ll need to be mindful of latency issues that can compromise overall performance.
- Are hosted desktops reliable? Without offline capabilities, cloud-hosted desktops are vulnerable to outages.
- Building Out Your True Cost. If there’s any “catch” associated with DaaS, it’s probably in calculating the true cost. For customers, DaaS pricing typically is fairly predictable. After all, that’s the point of a subscription service. As an MSP, you’ll want to figure out whether such add-ons as IT management, image creation, layering or local file storage will drive the price up. Setting up a VPN tunnel and adding bandwidth is another add-on cost. Your goal should be to be as transparent as possible with customers about these costs.
Selecting the Right DaaS Partner
If you’re thinking about offering DaaS, one of your first decisions is finding the right partner. Following are some data points to collect when researching partners.
- Where is the DaaS solution hosted? Obviously, it will make a big difference if it’s hosted in a third-party public cloud, your own data center, or at the customer’s site.
- Which platforms are supported (Android, iOS, Chromebook, Windows, Linu, etc.) and what kinds of desktops can be accessed? For instance, Windows is the most common OS to provide, but it’s also possible to host Linux, Android, and Chrome.
- How are applications such as Windows and Microsoft Office supported? Who has to manage the Microsoft SPLA (service provider license agreement)?
- How much does the solution cost and what margins are available?
Prepare Yourself for Some Questions
Savvy customers will ask the following questions, so you should be prepared. If customers don’t ask these questions, they’re important topics to discuss to build trust and illustrate your level of expertise.
- Who manages the desktop image?
- Who provisions applications?
- Who provides Tier 1 support?
- Who handles updates?
- Who fixes desktops if they go down?
- What if you go out of business?
- How will you separate our desktops, storage and networks from your other customers?
- Does your SLA provide compensation for outages?
- How do ensure compliance with licensing and technical regulations?
Determining whether to go virtual is anything but easy for SMBs. Deciding on DaaS, VDI or a hybrid solution is even more difficult. Even if they can decipher the pros from the cons, digest all the material available and examine what offerings exist, it’s still a daunting decision. With this in mind, DaaS is a clear opportunity for MSPs looking to shoulder the burden and help their customers transition to cloud desktops.