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What you need to know about cloud desktops and DaaS providers

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A DaaS market pricing comparison

In today's growing DaaS market, it's important to look at the price of cloud-hosted desktops from vendors such as Amazon, VMware and Citrix to determine whether it's effective over in-house VDI.

The consensus has been growing that cloud-based access to user desktops is a technology deployment option worth...

considering, and, in many cases, adopting. So if you want to go down that path, what tools are available to do so?

The movement that's afoot is to equip virtual PCs in the cloud with the access, applications and horsepower that users need, which they may then access using the device of their choice. A variety of options exists for organizations to investigate, and perhaps choose, some kind of Desktop as a Service (DaaS) offering. Here are just a few of the possibilities in today's DaaS market:

Amazon WorkSpaces

The impetus for organizations' curiosity and research into DaaS got kicked up by one gigantic notch when Amazon Inc. announced its WorkSpaces product, built atop the Amazon Web Services (AWS) platform.

Let's treat Amazon WorkSpaces as a "poster child" for the DaaS market. It establishes a baseline against which to measure other, similar DaaS offerings. Amazon prices individual virtual desktops between $35 and $75 per user per month. In a blog post presenting a hypothetical scenario, Amazon describes a target virtual machine as supporting one virtual CPU, 4 gigabytes of RAM and 50 GB of user data storage space, along with 50 GB additional for an OS volume (probably Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8).

Amazon's analysis of this situation shows that its own costs ($43.33 per user per month) work out to less than half the cost of a buy-it-yourself/run-it-yourself virtual desktop environment. (It estimates that TCO at $106.36 per user per month.) Although this is one vendor's opinion, it gets at the crux of the case for DaaS pricing -- namely, that it's cheaper than on-premises VDI.

It does not, however, factor in the price of the devices that users would employ to access those virtual desktops, nor the costs associated with the infrastructure those devices need to function securely on. It's important to remember that such TCO comparisons don't usually include the gear and infrastructure that must be purchased and maintained. They also do not factor in the costs of BYOD and making sure users practice safe computing by honoring access, privacy and confidentiality controls.

DaaS from tuCloud

An early player in the DaaS market, tuCloud Inc. aims at organizations with 100 or more users in need of virtual desktops. The company shows significant maturity and complexity in its options, with support for many peripheral devices (USB, printers, multiple monitors, smart card authentication), audio, VoIP, streaming media, and even offers access to virtualized GPUs for high-end 2-D and 3-D graphics and games.

Fully managed desktops start at about $30 per user per month, but users who need more power, processing capabilities and device support can spend up to double that price for add-ons. TuCloud also offers the free DaaS Engine, which can even be used to host virtual desktops on-premises.

VMware/Desktone

When VMware announced its acquisition of long-time DaaS player Desktone Inc. in October 2013, the real value of this market became obvious. It's still not clear how VMware will price and deliver virtual desktops from the cloud, though the company's Horizon Suite makes the broad outlines clearer.

Its current offerings are sold in 10-user packs for $1,815 to $3,750 per year ($15.13 to $31.25 per user per month) but requires purchasers to obtain and manage their own OS and application licenses for the desktops that are accessed through VMware-supplied cloud services.

That may change once VMware fully digests the Desktone organization. Desktone's VDI persistent desktop, user session nonpersistent desktop and virtualized desktop application services should bring more flexibility to VMware overall. Desktone's FAQ also indicated that "…for most customers, the price will be $35-40 per month," which is in keeping with VMware's pricing models and those of the competition.

As with most other DaaS products, virtual desktops may be accessed using thin clients, PCs, Macs, iPads and iPhones, and Android devices (including Kindle Fire and B&N Nook devices), plus Linux-based Chromebooks, tablets and so forth.

Citrix-based and other DaaS providers

A vast array of offerings have been constructed using Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop, including Rackspace, which even has a product category aimed at providing hosting options for service providers to put DaaS offerings together. Even equipment vendors such as Dell (Dell Desktop as a Service) are starting to find their way into the DaaS market.

To get a sense of what it's like to shop in this market, take a look at this snippet from application hosting provider Apps4Rent. Products start at around $25 per user per month, but those offer very limited storage and software options. Even at the highest price ($50 per user per month), what's available is appealing to organizations of all sizes and scales: Even a $1,000 PC amortized over 36 months, with costs for licenses and maintenance, usually costs over $50 per month, all told.

It's a jungle out there!

There are thousands of companies of all sizes and levels of competency competing for your DaaS dollars. This makes it especially important to shop with care. Make sure that service contracts are sufficiently buyer-friendly and you have recourse and protection should problems arise, services be delayed, or a provider go out of business or declare bankruptcy.

Consolidation in the DaaS market is inevitable and likely to occur in the near future, which makes a good argument for choosing solid, well-established providers. Anything less could invite disaster.

Next Steps

Will Microsoft join the DaaS market?

DaaS options on the rise

DaaS offerings arrive before IT demands them

The lowdown on DaaS pricing

 

This was last published in December 2013

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Essential Guide

What you need to know about cloud desktops and DaaS providers

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If you were to deploy DaaS right now, which vendor would you choose?
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current Citrix customer
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We have done an exhaustive analysis and believe a key factor is our existing SaaS customers using XenApp is very successful. The parallel support of both services will be most consistent and economical using XenDesktop.
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Classlink/Launchpad because it combines DaaS w/ a Learning Management component.
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Dell!
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Cloudstrong They are an Irish Based SaaS company and they provide sandboxed desktops with their own O/S and not session based and therefore are far more robust in their offering. i.e Any application will run on this in comparison to session based which has inherinent problems with legacy applications.
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iFollowOffice - not many DaaS vendors in the UK market today. A no-brainer for SME/SMB desktop users, why do they need the overhead of their own on-site IT ? Also applicable to many other markets.
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Trust the Citrix technology
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Our cost model for 200 users, running the Horizon Suite, UCS, flash storage, VS, Profile Management with support for 3 years is about $40/user (does not include MS licensing and endpoint). And at the end of the day I still own all the hardware, rather than having it turn to vapor when\if my need for VDI changes. It seems to me that DaaS will only work for smaller environments that don't want to make any up front investments in hardware and licensing or have the personnel to make it work. Even Amazon is $50 when you include VS (IMHO, they should license MS Office separately from VS). So, DaaS providers are going to have to get more cost effective when deploying at scale to win over my VDI business.
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Just a quick note. AWS WorkSpaces is a Windows Server 2008 R2 instance. (Though it acts like VDI in that it's 1 user per VM. This is due to Microsoft licensing, since they do not have SPLA licenses for Windows client OSes.
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