DaaS has gained popularity this year with Amazon and VMware's entry to the market, but there are options that don't lock IT shops in to one platform and cloud provider.
One relatively unknown option is IndependenceIT's Cloud Workspace Suite (CWS). It is infrastructure and hypervisor agnostic, so it can be run on any infrastructure as a service (IaaS) including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and soon, Google Compute Engine.
Many desktop as a service (DaaS) platforms are tied to a specific cloud provider. Only a few, including Desktone (owned by VMware), are delivered by various cloud providers.
IT pros can run CWS on a mix of cloud service providers, hypervisors, and IaaS platforms. This is useful for companies with multiple locations that want cloud providers close to users, for optimal performance. IT admins manage all of their cloud desktops – spanning private, hybrid and public clouds - through one Web-based management system.
Clark CrookVP of solution center services, Earthlink
In addition to IaaS provider flexibility, CWS eases deployment and management, users said. EarthLink Inc., an IT services provider based in Atlanta, chose CWS as its DaaS platform mainly because it can be managed through a single pane of glass.
"A fair amount of heavy lifting was done by IndependenceIT with the management platform, and that is the appeal here," said Clark Crook, vice president of solution center services for EarthLink.
CWS DaaS in action
Student Transportation, Inc., a school bus transportation services provider based in Wall, New Jersey, was an $80 million company 10 years ago when it began its growth trajectory through acquisitions. The company's IT team needed a way to manage employees across 145 different locations in the U.S., said Keith Engelbert, CTO of Student Transportation.
A light bulb moment came and he asked IndependenceIT, which hosted the bus company's Exchange environment, to load apps onto its servers and deliver them remotely.
"They didn’t have a [DaaS] platform, but came up with one to host our application stacks," he said. "We moved our finance system app stack in, and it all worked well so we started to turbo charge the app stack."
Student Transportation gradually outsourced more apps to the cloud, including Office and some custom apps. The company now uses CWS, hosted by EarthLink, to deliver full desktops and over 60 applications to some 1,100 users.
DaaS allows Student Transportation's IT department to run lean, with only six IT staff.
"For every 50 people, there [typically] should be one IT staffer. We don’t need that huge IT staff now," Engelbert said. "We had hiccups and tripped over ourselves, but we have streamlined the process. Now I add one head for every 300 to 400 users. That’s a huge advantage."
Student Transportation has acquired 42 companies over the past decade, and integrating new employees from those companies used to take 60-90 days.
"Now I can cut and paste their environment into the DaaS environment, and get the integration down to six to nine days," Engelbert said. "It makes all of our operations team very happy."
End users can log in to their cloud desktops either through a Windows client or with HTML5.
IndependenceIT recently updated the CWS platform's service broker to support more types of users.
"We've seen a push to create something like VDI, so we extended the broker to provide individual instances dedicated to ’power users,' with none of the resource conflicts you'd get with session pools," said Chip Buck, IndependenceIT's CTO and co-founder.
IT shops that want to transition from virtual desktops to the cloud can move their apps and data using the CWS Active Directory utility.
DaaS performance, security
While DaaS has plenty of upside, latency issues are an ongoing battle. It's an issue Student Transportation's IT team works to optimize every day, because even when performance is fine, end users always want faster service, Engelbert said.
"That is the most intense area we focus on; I have more people managing our bandwidth than the rest of our environment," he said. "But if the Internet goes down, we are all screwed."
The company is moving to a multi-datacenter hosting model to get its hosted applications closer to end users for better performance.
In addition to hosting Student Transportation's CWS desktops, EarthLink also provides the Internet connection. Using a service provider that also delivers the Internet connection gives DaaS customers like Engelbert "one throat to choke" if there is a connectivity issue, EarthLink's Crook said.
"The number one potential issue [with DaaS] is connectivity to the cloud,” Crook said. ”Whose fault is it when a connection goes down? Typically, it's not the cloud providers fault. EarthLink is in the [Internet connectivity] business, so we provide the link to the environment, the support and the security in one package."
Security is critical for the bus company, and despite the stigma around cloud, DaaS is a more secure option than storing data on desktops and devices.
"We are a publicly traded company with internal control auditors, and the first thing they looked at was cloud security," Engelbert said. "There is a centralized gatekeeper -- DaaS logins -- and the auditors love it because it is an auditable environment. We can turn employee accounts on and off like a light switch."
CWS Pricing, Availability
Large organizations can buy CWS direct through IndependenceIT, but the platform is mainly sold through channel partners, who label it with their own branding.
CWS will run on Google Compute Engine when it officially supports Windows Server. It is now supported in preview, with general availability expected later this year. A Google spokesperson said the company has no plans to offer its own brand of DaaS at this time.
CWS software license cost to channel partners is around $10 per desktop, but partners add on services and their price per desktop is more. Partners should be able to offer CWS desktops to IT shops, including Windows licenses, for $20-$25, said Seth Bostock, IndependenceIT's CEO. Pricing also varies depending on the cloud provider.