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DaaS basics: Why virtual desktop hosting isn't so different from VDI

Desktop as a Service comes with its own uses and special considerations, but it's largely the same technology as data-center-hosted desktops. You'll get the same benefits and disadvantages as VDI -- with some management differences.

That comes as a surprise to administrators who view Desktop as a Service

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(DaaS) as more exotic than anything we can do in-house. After all, if off-site virtual desktop hosting is essentially the same technology, then how do you decide whether to use DaaS or locally hosted VDI?

Before I answer that, we need to take a step back and look at what data-center-hosted desktops are all about.

Alphabet soup: VDI, RDSH or DaaS?

"Data-center-hosted desktops" is the blanket term I use to describe both virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and Remote Desktop Session Host-based (RDSH-based) solutions. Both VDI and RDSH have similar advantages: increased manageability, accessibility, performance and security.

They also face similar disadvantages. For instance, data-center-hosted desktops cost more than the status quo. They also require reliable networking and suffer from a lack of offline support and client peripheral support. We've found many ways to deal with these issues over the years, but at some level they still remain.

More on Desktop as a Service

DaaS providers and SPLA licenses for Windows 7

FAQ for Desktop as a Service

Guide to cloud-hosted desktops and apps

DaaS uses these same technologies, so it has the same pros and cons. That means you don't actually have to decide between VDI, RDSH and DaaS right off the bat. Instead, you have to first determine whether VDI or RDSH meet your goals. If you decide to take either approach, then you have the choice to use DaaS or implement your virtual desktop environment on-premises.

You might think there is some underlying difference in technology between what you would deploy in-house and what a DaaS provider offers. In truth, there is additional technology behind the scenes that helps virtual desktop hosting companies manage their customers' hardware, networking and virtual instances of Windows. Some DaaS offerings can be quite complex, designed to automatically provision resources to accommodate changing loads, for instance. But with virtual desktop hosting in the cloud, you don't have to care about how all that stuff works. All you care about are the desktops.

The bottom line is that DaaS is a business agreement, much like outsourcing your paycheck printing. If you decide that you don't want to calculate, implement, and maintain a virtual desktop infrastructure, DaaS providers are there to do it for you.

You still have to manage desktops

Although you can offload the infrastructure to a provider, you still have to manage the desktops (of course, you can pay someone to do that, too!). For instance, you still have to secure the desktops and manage the applications and clients that access those desktops. That means you also still care about the remote desktop protocol your VDI software uses.

You probably already take care of these tasks, but the nice thing about DaaS is that it allows you to outsource the virtual infrastructure parts while you focus on the things that you already know how to do.

Since DaaS providers take care of the infrastructure, Desktop as a Service pricing is more predictable. It's not uncommon for admins to complete an exhausting cost model for VDI only to find out that they left out licensing costs and thin client costs, or that their storage requirements have changed and will be more expensive. When DaaS providers manage the infrastructure, they already know what it will take to deliver your desktops, and they have the resources to deliver them. That means there are fewer surprises when the bill comes.

That said, there are still costs that you are on the hook for. With Desktop as a Service pricing, the price you pay per user per month is only for infrastructure, so you still have to account for things like clients, application licenses and OS licenses.

Next week, we'll take a look at some important considerations to keep in mind if you're looking at Desktop as a Service.

This was first published in November 2012

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How would you feel about having a DaaS provider host your desktops?

Gabe Knuth
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