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Desktone gets jump on Citrix's Project Avalon with Windows as a Service

IT pros dealing with the influx of consumer devices hope Desktone's Windows as a Service offering will alleviate the desktop management burden.

Organizations that need to deliver Windows desktop applications to employee mobile devices could benefit from a new Windows as a Service offering.

Desktop as a Service (DaaS) has been an option for providing cloud-based desktops for some time, but Desktone, a virtual desktop technology provider based in Lexington, Mass., recently added the ability to deploy virtual applications on top of its DaaS product. This new Windows as a Service offering is similar to Citrix Systems Inc.'s Project Avalon, which was announced last year, but is not available yet.

For companies migrating to cloud apps ... they would be wise to consider Desktops or Windows as a Service.

Simon Bramfitt,
founder, Entelechy Associates

The major difference between the two products is that Desktone's offering is deployed through a service provider's cloud, while Citrix's Project Avalon model is for on-premises -- available now in technical preview -- or hybrid cloud deployments, which won't be available until the end of 2013.

Desktone's cloud-based Windows desktop service may appeal to long-time Microsoft customers that want better flexibility, the ability to burst desktops when needed at a moment's notice, as well as free up time for often-ignored business projects, said Simon Bramfitt, founder of Entelechy Associates, an analyst firm based in Concord, Calif.

"The chances of any Fortune 500 company moving away from Windows to anything else in the next 10 years are frankly zero," Bramfitt said. "But, for companies migrating to cloud apps, with a few legacy apps they can't get rid of, then they would be wise to consider Desktops or Windows as a Service."

It's still early for DaaS and Windows as a Service, but one factor that drives interest in the technology is the shift to cloud applications and mobile devices, industry watchers said.

End users don't want to use Windows desktop apps on those devices, but IT still needs to support on-premises legacy apps, like SAP, said Tim Burke, CEO of Quest Media & Supplies Inc., an IT services provider and Desktone partner based in Sacramento, Calif.

"If BYOD [bring your own device] wasn't happening, this would just be out there and there would be marginal interest in it," Burke said. "The iPads and Apple notebooks are driving this, but at the same time, the DaaS technology has greatly improved, and now we can also deliver apps on top of that."

Instead of having to rip and replace, IT departments can offload some of their desktop burden and evolve other infrastructure components at their own pace, he added.

Windows migration to the cloud, mobile devices

Gentle Giant, a national moving company headquartered in Somerville, Mass., is in the midst of a massive infrastructure overhaul, including a migration toward Software as a Service applications. Twenty-two of its nationwide branch offices and scores of mobile or remote workers depend on access to data that can go easily offline for indeterminate amounts of time due to snow storms or frequent power outages.

Combine that with the addition of roughly 30 new desktops every spring for new employees, and the allure of Windows as a Service grows; it could save the company a lot of time and headaches, said Brian Shea, Gentle Giant's IT manager.

"Standing up desktops and applications outside our data center would be huge," Shea said. "We have limited internal resources and quite frankly our infrastructure is a mess because of where we are located."

More on Desktop as as Service

How cloud-hosted desktops are similar to VDI

Cloud-based apps cut into VDI adoption

Pros and cons of Desktop as a Service

Security and network connectivity of cloud-based services remain a concern, but Shea sees the deployment model as a way to bridge the old legacy infrastructure while evolving toward the cloud.

"If we could just flip a switch and get those desktops instead of having to buy them, build them and deal with those administrative updates constantly, we could have the time to deliver better services to our employees," Shea said.

Other IT pros worry that handing off something as mission-critical as desktops to a third-party service provider could be a disaster.

"Aside from servers, our desktops and applications are what we do," said Richard Buss, vice president of technology for EMSL Analytical Inc., an environmental laboratory testing company based in Austin, Texas. "If something goes wrong that could cost me my job I want to make sure that I'm at least responsible for that."

Windows as a Service licensing, cost

Delivering Windows from the cloud has been a problem in the past due to restrictive Microsoft licensing. Desktone appears to have circumvented the issue. Its platform relies on open source technology, so organizations won't have to pay licensing fees for additional Microsoft products, such as SQL Server or Windows Server, beyond the Windows desktop license.

Desktone has also created a software switch so each desktop instance runs on a single server instance when in use, to comply with Microsoft's licensing requirements.

This switch essentially allows service providers to achieve the desired economies of scale and give IT organizations the peace of mind that they will be compliant with Microsoft, which remains one of the biggest concerns when it comes to DaaS or Windows as a Service, said Brett Waldman, an analyst with IDC, a research firm based in Framingham, Mass.

Desktone's Windows as a Service is available now through channel partners and costs approximately $35-$40 per user per month, which doesn't include the additional cost of a Windows license. The company said the cost per user decreases as the number of desktops increases.

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