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Top 3 Desktop As A Service (DaaS) Providers Compared

Top 3 Desktop As A Service (DaaS) Providers Compared
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Desktop as a Service provides a useful solution that can bring greater flexibility, ease of administration and cost savings to organizations. Here are the three currently available DaaS providers compared.

Is it any wonder that enterprises keep searching for ways to reduce the need for IT to maintain fleets of complex, component-heavy PCs when there are ways to offload and centralize so much of their maintenance and expense? Traditional desktop infrastructure, while by no means dead, grows increasingly less appealing for environments in which local processing is unnecessary. Virtualization has become the new frontier, and Desktop as a Service (DaaS) is gaining ground in this space.

DaaS offers a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) that is hosted by a third-party cloud service provider and is typically based on a monthly subscription fee model. DaaS utilizes a multi-tenancy architecture, which means that a single instance of an application is served to multiple users, referred to as "tenants." The service provider is responsible for managing the cloud and the underlying infrastructure, and the level of service can vary depending on company needs. Some companies may wish to have more control over their own security, for example.

The end result of this infrastructure is that users can access their data and applications from nearly any device, anywhere. It also provides increased data security, easier platform migration, improved disaster recovery, and new desktop provisioning in minutes instead of hours. DaaS also has the ability to help alleviate compliance issues and yield cost reductions for many organizations.

DaaS vs. Traditional VDI

There are only a couple of differences between DaaS and traditional VDI solutions. The main difference is that, with DaaS, IT departments don't have to worry about managing the virtual infrastructure, as this is handled by the service provider. Infrastructure in this context can include the network, servers, user desktops, and hosted applications.

MORE: VDI vs DaaS: What's the Right Choice for Your Business?

Further savings can be realized in organizations that accommodate BYOD (bring your own device), including laptops and tablets. Traditionally, most organizations have only grudgingly embraced BYOD due to security concerns. However, with DaaS, company data is no longer stored on the users' devices, and is thereby not subject to viruses, theft, or other security issues. All data interaction is done on the remote, secured cloud infrastructure. The local device is only a window onto the remote experience.

Ultimately, the difference between the two solutions is a financial one. DaaS allows some companies to streamline their infrastructure and reduce the expenditures associated with equipment and IT staff in exchange for a predictable "per user/per month" pricing model. It's not that different from leasing a car instead of buying one.

Which Types Of Organizations Are Right For DaaS?

DaaS is typically best for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). It most certainly makes sense for companies on the smaller end of the spectrum that require quality IT services but lack the need and finances for a full-time systems administrator. With an average entry-level cost of about $35 per user per month, some companies will see significant savings, particularly in a BYOD scenario.

Citrix recently released the results of a survey answered by over 700 of their service providers revealing that 70 percent of their customers had fewer than 100 users, and 40 percent had less than 50. The results also showed that 22 percent of respondents reported providing DaaS services to larger companies, some of which had more than 1,000 users. If the results of this survey are to be taken as a snapshot of the industry, it seems clear that SMBs are currently the main drivers of sales, although companies such as VMware and Citrix are now touting more robust enterprise integration.

Other types of businesses that can benefit from this technology include startups, businesses with seasonal employees or high turnover, or firms with a large number of remote users. DaaS allows these types of businesses to easily scale up or scale down as needed. Another sector is cash-strapped companies running legacy operating systems like Windows XP. In order to avoid the immediate capital expenditure required to upgrade all of their PCs to run a current OS, they can serve Windows 7 or 8 from the cloud on their XP machines. Potential candidates can also include any organization that has a need to free up resources to focus on their core competencies.

Why not enterprise-level customers? "Larger customers can afford the overhead associated with standing VDI up, but smaller firms cannot. Therefore, they turn to cloud services as an alternative. DaaS is sort of a poor man's VDI," according to analyst Roger Kay of Endpoint Technologies Associates,

There is also the issue of scalability. As the number of users increases, so does the complexity of IT needs. All of a sudden, you need more memory, faster processors, different applications for various departments, and so on. Furthermore, DaaS works best when service providers are nearby, which may not work as well when a company has multiple locations situated away from the service provider. Larger companies, even those in a single location, may find that their needs cause the cost of a DaaS solution to meet or even exceed an in-house solution.

Comparison Of Industry DaaS Leaders

When considering a DaaS solution, there are a couple of things you need to examine. First, is the hypervisor, which supplies the software platform that runs the virtual machines. The other is the cloud service provider that supplies and mans the cloud running said hypervisor. Hypervisors vary in their capabilities; cloud providers vary in their offerings.

Currently, there are three major DaaS providers:

VMware's Horizon Air can provide users with a Windows XP, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows Server 2008, or Windows Server 2012 R2 virtual desktop. For a server OS, prices include licensing. For clients such as Windows 7 or 8, you will have to bring your own licenses. The cloud-hosted desktops can be integrated with Active Directory.

VMware offers three service tiers ranging from $35 per month to $100 per month with a minimum order of 50 users, billed monthly or annually, with volume discounts available. Desktops can be persistent or non-persistent and utilize the PCoIP protocol (also supports RDP). Service is provided by VMware or authorized service providers, and pricing may vary depending on which option you choose and the services offered.

VMware offers a free seven day trial of their DaaS offering for prospective buyers.

WorkSpaces by Amazon only delivers the Windows 7 Experience via Windows Server 2008 R2. As a result of Microsoft's SPLA, no other licensing is needed. Amazon also offers Active Directory integration.

Several pricing tiers are available ranging from $35 per month to $75 per month depending on hardware and software options with no order minimum. WorkSpaces is based on a heavily modified version of the open-source Xen hypervisor, providing only persistent desktops, and utilizing the PCoIP protocol.

Citrix XenDesktop offers Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2012 R2, and Windows XP, 7, 8 client desktops. It runs on the HDX protocol, and service can be obtained through authorized service providers. Prices vary depending on the provider.

One may wonder why Microsoft is not in this discussion. Microsoft has its Azure RemoteApp platform, however, it is not a complete DaaS solution as it only serves applications from the cloud, not desktops. Some analysts suggest this may be due to complex licensing issues that still need to be resolved. In any case, the company appears to be waiting on the sidelines at this time.

More: Microsoft Gets Around DaaS with Azure RemoteApp

Barriers To Widespread DaaS Adoption

Currently, there is no shortage of service providers in metropolitan areas available to provide organizations with DaaS services, and although it is gaining acceptance in certain circles, there are plenty that remain reluctant to get onboard citing several concerns.

One of the biggest concerns for prospective customers is the issue of latency. With so many local service providers available around the world, and the prevalence of high-speed Internet, the issue of latency has largely been resolved. In fact, VMware, for example, offers various tiers of service that can even accommodate 3D graphics and video. Furthermore, pixel painting protocols greatly reduce bandwidth needs by only replacing pixels on the screen that have changed.

Another major concern is security, or, more specifically, trust. "Cost was always the motivation to move to the cloud, but security was the reason to stay out, particularly for the Enterprise," says Mike Chase, the Executive VP and CTO of dinCloud.

Shopping for a service provider is much like finding a web hosting company. You have to find a provider that you trust with your most prized assets -- in this case, your data. For those that remain unsure, Guise Bule, CEO of tuCloud states, "I would tell readers to consider the idea that we are much better at protecting their overall security than they. However, that being said, we have federal customers who would never trust us with their data but still use our hosted desktops. With DaaS, you don’t have to make that choice, and your data can stay in your own PC. But still, we would protect it better than you can. It comes down to resources."

Even if trust is not an issue, it is imperative that you closely examine the SLA to find out what recourse you have in the event of downtime, data loss, or data theft. It is worth noting that certain industries do not allow companies to host data in the cloud due to compliance laws and other regulations.

DaaS Is Here To Stay

Over the years, the growing availability of computing power and internet speeds at reasonable prices have made technologies such as DaaS finally viable. It remains to be seen if it will be adopted en masse, go the way of the dodo, or evolve into something else.

Regardless of the outcome, there is a huge market for these services. "DaaS is here to stay for one simple reason: Servers and desktops have and always will have a symbiotic relationship. As servers moved to the cloud, desktops were sure to follow. This is why the Enterprise fought so hard to get VDI to work, because their ‘private cloud’ demanded it. But VDI doesn’t have the performance of DaaS. All servers will live in the cloud, private clouds will disappear, and the rise of DaaS will be in the inevitable result," says Chase.

For now, and for the right organizations, DaaS provides a useful solution that potentially brings greater flexibility, ease of administration, and reduced costs.

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