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SLAs should get specific on issues with DaaS providers

Don't make the mistake of overestimating how much support desktop-as-a-service vendors provide. Use service-level agreements as a way to hold providers accountable.

It's important to be aware of the common issues IT shops run into with DaaS, such as extended downtime while vendors fix service problems. Organizations can and should address their concerns when negotiating a service-level agreement with a provider.

An Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) survey of 156 IT pros involved with virtual desktop operations, "Desktop Virtualization: Emerging Requirements and Optimal Configurations," published in July 2015, reveals some of the biggest issues desktop as a service (DaaS) users experience -- issues that should be used to inform service-level agreements (SLAs).

In EMA's survey, 14% of respondents -- mainly from small organizations -- said they are interested in DaaS. It's a good option for small and medium-sized businesses because they can try cloud desktops before they buy them. It also eliminates the significant upfront costs associated with building a virtual desktop environment, which makes ease of deployment and cost effectiveness the main reasons companies deploy DaaS, said Steve Brasen, managing research director of enterprise mobile & endpoint management for EMA.

"[DaaS] is a growing niche within a growing niche," Brasen said.

DaaS has its problems, however. EMA asked IT professionals how often they experienced desktop virtualization problems within an average month. DaaS users reported twice as many issues as those who use on-premises VDI, and the time it takes to resolve a problem is much worse: On average, a DaaS provider takes 68 minutes to fix an issue, whereas it takes IT only 43 minutes to fix a problem with on-premises VDI, Brasen said.

In the survey, the biggest issue by far was that DaaS providers lacked the time and personnel to address customer issues. Other key challenges included ensuring storage capacity, network performance, memory capacity and high-end graphics performance, Brasen said. 

The other component of DaaS that's troublesome is application performance management; 45% of EMA's survey respondents said it is a problem.

Our support model puts the onus on the customer, reseller, managed service partner, dinCloud -- in that order.
Mike ChaseCTO and Executive Vice President, dinCloud

"In your SLA you want to ensure application performance, and you may even want to name specific applications that must meet a certain performance level," Brasen said.

To be fair, these are all issues IT pros experience in their on-premises virtual desktop environments, but the expectation is that DaaS providers work those kinks out and provide desktops from their clouds with good performance and high availability.

Brasen recommends crafting an SLA based on common DaaS issues to ensure support response time and limit the amount of downtime allowed in the environment.

"It is all about the [key performance indicators] and support," he said.

DaaS support expectations

Customers expect DaaS providers to support the cloud desktop environment, but IT pros can't just throw their desktops to the DaaS provider and forget about support entirely. Cloud service provider dinCloud expects customers to have some type of on-site support to reduce response times. 

"Our support model puts the onus on the customer, reseller, managed service partner, dinCloud -- in that order," said Mike Chase, CTO and executive vice president of dinCloud.

DaaS provider support response times vary based on the complexity of the issue, and EMA's survey results show that time is longer than what's expected. But in general, Chase said, cloud providers have the staffing and resources to fix major issues faster than many on-site IT teams have.

"If you're talking simple daily issues, then on-site [support] is best," said Chase, who holds 32 certifications including CCIE and VCP. "If it goes deeper, the amount of technical resources cloud can bring to bear makes you feel like the cavalry just came over the hill in the nick of time."

Cloud engineers also deal with forensic security penetration issues, malware remediation, data recovery and many other "tricky yet important tasks that customers often feel naked trying to tackle on their own in a world that is rife with digital debauchery," Chase said.

Integration with Microsoft Active Directory, network and security policy issues, awareness of third-party software, Microsoft patches and other apps that don't jibe with VDI or DaaS also affect performance, Chase said. 

"Either way it's a wild ride, but one worth taking if you know the benefits and can articulate them -- and stick to them," Chase said.  

He compares DaaS and VDI to implementing a Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, over an old private branch exchange phone system.

"It is an immersive journey that will become divisive in any organization using anyone's product if very clear expectations aren't set as to what it can do, what it won't do and what it shouldn't do," he said.  

DaaS SLA Checklist

Ten things to discuss with your DaaS provider before signing the dotted line:

  • Uptime requirements
  • Application performance requirements
  • Support for high-performance graphics
  • Storage capacity
  • Network performance
  • Memory capacity
  • IT support expectations
  • What is the DaaS provider's historic availability?
  • How is downtime calculated?
  • How do we process service credits?

David Johnson, an analyst with Forrester Research, advises IT pros to worry less about DaaS SLAs and more about cloud services that customers expect to be available 24/7. The times of the day when enterprise DaaS instances are mostly unused are ideal for normal maintenance downtime, such as patching. Also, users already have some tolerance for the occasional PC crash, as long as it is brief, Johnson said.

"What's important for DaaS is that the infrastructure has excellent reliability during times the instances are most likely to be in use, and that no data is lost in the event of an outage," Johnson said.

Cloud providers typically offer clear service commitments around infrastructure downtime, but they don't address performance issues. The burden is on customers to ensure performance expectations are set within the SLA.

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