When cloud-based desktops are a good idea

Some of the most successful DaaS implementations come from organizations that need to scale up a VDI environment.

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With all the DaaS talk lately, you'd think everyone was moving to cloud-based desktops, but we're really looking at what amounts to a niche market in what is already a niche market.

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) still hasn't breached 5% market share in the world, and Desktop as a Service (DaaS) is subject to many of the same problems that hold up that adoption. So what are the use cases that DaaS can address?

Many of the best uses for DaaS are actually the same as they are for VDI: things like device independence, centralized management, consistent performance and remote access. Still, I ask every DaaS provider I speak to about the most appropriate uses they see, which also translate to the most successful DaaS deployments. Here's what I've learned.

Scaling up your VDI

The number one use case that comes up is regarding companies that have already deployed VDI and are either trying to scale it up for more users or faced with the challenge of replacing older hardware with new. Companies in either of these positions have found DaaS useful as a way to just hand over what can be a very complex project.

Off-site workers

Another use case that comes up fairly often is one that you can apply to VDI as well: remote users.

The unique thing about cloud-based desktops, though, is that you can take advantage of different data centers to provide users access to desktops that are geographically closer to them than you could provide with in-house VDI. Sometimes this can be done with multiple providers, but since there are only a few platforms on which the providers build their DaaS offerings, you could use the same platform (and therefore management) across multiple providers.

Yes, you could place a VDI environment in the appropriate geographical locations, but again, the fact that there is incremental scalability with DaaS means you don't need to over-buy (or worry about under-buying).

Contractors and temp workers

Even companies without VDI are finding that DaaS is a good fit for temporary workers. Rather than allow them onto the production network with their virus-laden laptops (as a consultant many years ago, I was guilty of this), companies can let them put whatever device they want on their guest network, point them to a DaaS desktop, and give them relatively secure access to whatever they need.

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That separation is one benefit, but the incremental scalability also means that you only need to pay for as many desktops as you have users. You don't need to have reserve boxes sitting around waiting to be used, and you don't have to over-buy VDI hardware to plan for a situation where you may have extra contractors or temps that need desktops.

Cloud bursting

This one is a potential use case -- and not one that is widely used today. The idea behind cloud bursting is that you can hook up your on-premises VDI to a cloud provider so if you need more capacity in your VDI environment, you can seamlessly connect to the cloud to pick up the slack. It's been talked about since the very beginning of cloud computing, but so far, nobody has released a fully automated, centrally managed offering for it.

There are situations, especially with Citrix products, where companies are building their own product, then working with a Citrix Service Provider to accommodate additional capacity. Citrix is working on the orchestration of this as we speak, so it can be expected to mature soon.

The flip side of this whole cloud bursting concept is that if you've already gotten over the challenges of hosting desktops in the cloud, why are you even building your own VDI environment? Why not just put the desktops in the cloud to begin with and quit worrying about your own platform?

There are undoubtedly more uses for DaaS, but these are the most common ones that have come up in the conversations I've had with providers about what makes a successful cloud-based desktop deployment.

This was first published in February 2014

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