Debunking cloud-hosted virtual desktop myths

The truth about cloud-hosted virtual desktops sometimes gets lost in all the hype: DaaS isn't without downsides, and per-user licensing doesn't make it easier for SMBs to jump in.

DaaS has emerged as an intriguing option for implementing virtual desktops without having to pay up for the high costs of adopting and implementing VDI.

While desktop as a service (DaaS) certainly meets expectations in many areas, there are also myriad concerns that follow in the wake of cloud-hosted virtual desktops. These concerns have taken on a life of their own, evolving into some full-fledged myths about DaaS.

For example, some people believe DaaS will instantly give you the VDI deployment of your dreams. Others think that it will automatically cause your security to suffer or that Microsoft licensing makes DaaS impossible. Along those lines, some think that per-user licensing is the key for solving all the licensing issues and it will make cloud-hosted virtual desktops work for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

It's time to get these DaaS myths straight by asking some crucial questions that will reveal the truth behind DaaS:

DaaS doesn't have downsides

On the surface it may seem like DaaS is a no-brainer. It gives you all the benefits of VDI without the high adoption and implementation costs. It also enables faster desktop provisioning, seamless disaster recovery and improved flexibility for IT administrators looking to deliver desktops to mobile workers. Cloud-based desktops also make virtual desktop deployments more elastic because you can scale up -- and down -- as necessary without spending lots of money on more hardware that you need upfront.

There are, however, many new problems that come with DaaS. It is susceptible to poor network quality, strips your in-house IT team of some of the visibility and control they're used to, and it is rife with licensing hurdles. There are also issues with security, cost and management.

Cloud-hosted virtual desktops aren't secure

It seems logical to assume that DaaS could compromise your security posture because you have to give up much of the visibility and control you need to effectively protect your organization. In reality, this is not a given. It all depends on the expertise, architecture and design of the DaaS provider you choose. DaaS providers that are focused on vertical markets are sensitive to security, and they generally have better processes, audit trails, attention to security technologies, and segmentation of logical and physical components than VDI that you design and manage in-house.

Microsoft makes licensing DaaS impossible

This myth isn't completely false. Licensing hosted virtual desktops certainly isn't easy, but it is definitely possible.

The roots of the myth are in the fact that there's no Service Provider License Agreement for client operating systems such as Windows 7 and 8, but there is for Windows Server OSes. That means DaaS providers can handle licensing Server-based images for you. But if you want to host client OSes, you'll have to bring your own licenses, which isn't cheap.

Per-user licensing is the solution

Per-user licensing is a step in the right direction for DaaS deployments at larger companies. In the past, you had to license virtual desktops by device, so one user could potentially need three or four licenses. The per-user option allows companies to license a person, rather than each of his individual devices. So workers can use their laptops, tablets or smartphones to access their virtual desktops.

Making the switch to a per-user approach is simple; Microsoft offers the Software Assurance per User Add-On to facilitate the change. The problem is that Windows 8.1 Enterprise is only available as an upgrade from specific versions and editions of Windows. This means that if you move to a per-user approach, your upgrade path is limited to devices that are already licensed for Professional or Enterprise editions of Windows 7, 8 or 8.1.

The per-user licensing approach will help SMBs implement DaaS

Unfortunately, per-user licensing is only available to companies licensing at least 250 seats. In addition, the Volume Licensing programs only apply to Select, Select Plus, Enterprise Agreement, Subscription Agreement, and Product and Services Agreement.

This means that SMBs are stuck with the traditional per-device model. At $100 per device per year, licensing costs quickly add up. DaaS allows SMBs to save big on upfront infrastructure costs and ongoing management, but the licensing costs could ultimately prove prohibitive. Companies always have the option of hosting the cheaper-to-license Server images, but should be aware that Windows Server desktops sometimes run into application compatibility problems.

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