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Determining if cloud-hosted desktops are right for you

The past few months have been interesting in the cloud-hosted desktop space with VMware Inc.'s acquisition of Desktone and Amazon.com Inc. releasing WorkSpace. Both products have similar characteristics and concepts, but when it comes to choosing a platform to run VDI on, is cloud really the right place?

There are two angles to this question. First, we need to think about whether virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) should reside in a hosted or cloud model at all. Then, you must consider whether VDI in the cloud is correct for your organization.

Some of the issues that organizations run into with

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in-house VDI deployments are lack of application strategies, user management, support for multiple use cases and buy-in from the business side. These challenges are not easy ones to overcome, and they have been discussed ad nauseam. When the discussion of Desktop as a Service (DaaS) is brought up, we need to address those same areas to determine if and how it can be truly be successful. Cloud-hosted desktops can be done, but does that mean they should be done?

The simple answer is "yes" -- with a huge "but."

Before we delve into the pitfalls, I really do think DaaS is the future for many organizations. The simplicity of someone else dealing with the infrastructure needs is a major benefit. It gets IT out of the game of managing the underlying infrastructure and allows you to focus on the business and application needs.

Someday DaaS will allow organizations to not focus on managing the end user desktops, but, unfortunately, most organizations aren't ready for this today. The truth is that DaaS is very dependent on two drivers: use cases and application dependencies.

Tackling these two issues will help you determine if DaaS will be successful for your environment.

What are the applications and where are they hosted?

A major driver for in-house VDI was the ability to move the end user experience closer to the applications living in the data center. The real driver of the success of DaaS is that you are separating the application experience from the desktop experience. Of course, as the end user experience moves to the cloud, application usability becomes a major consideration -- and sometimes a challenge.

For instance, if you have multiple legacy applications that are hosted internally, then moving the end user further from the application host has the potential for major issues that can be very hard to troubleshoot. Legacy applications aren't always easy to transition to the cloud because of compatibility issues and their ability to work over a wider network. Still, the adoption of cloud for SaaS and IaaS help to offset this argument. If your organization has adopted the cloud in other areas, then DaaS would make sense because you have no reason to maintain local desktops.

As you decide which applications you might use in the cloud, take into consideration the amount of use these applications get, how many users will access them, and whether you need access to graphics-heavy apps. Those can be makers or breakers when determining which applications are suitable for the cloud environment.

Are the users telecommuting and roaming, or are they centralized?

More on cloud-hosted desktops

Guide to cloud-hosted desktops and apps

Data-center-hosted desktops and the cloud blur lines

Why in-house VDI isn't so different from DaaS

Surprisingly, this question does not get asked as much as it should when discussing DaaS feasibility. If the end users are telecommuting or roaming, then DaaS can be a great solution to remote business problems because they are remotely connecting to the application anyways. If users are all centrally located, however, then bandwidth becomes a major concern. For example, if there are 1,000 users in the same facility, then all of them would need to connect to an external desktop to work with systems that are internal to that location.

The answers to these questions can give you a quick glimpse of whether DaaS is right for your organization. You need to understand all aspects of the end user experience and perform assessments on operational procedures, application packaging and delivery, profile management and use cases. When moving into a DaaS-based architecture, remember that the most important aspects are application locality and user connectivity.

This was first published in January 2014

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