BACKGROUND IMAGE: iSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES
SAN FRANCISCO -- Desktop as a Service hasn't exactly taken enterprises by storm just yet, but new options from major IT vendors, platform maturity and IT's outlook could help cloud-based desktops take off.
Hosting virtual desktops in the cloud is still a niche within a niche -- even on-premises virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) didn't grow quickly. With the uncertainty around cloud security and data control, it's no wonder desktops as a service (DaaS) has had a slow start.
About 6% of the 1,200 respondents to TechTarget's 2013 Cloud Pulse Survey said they use DaaS now, and 15% said they might use it later this year.
For many attendees here at VMworld 2013, cloud-hosted desktops are an intriguing concept; it provides a way to bypass upfront virtual desktop infrastructure costs and provides flexibility and scalability.
Mike Deardurff, a VMware administrator for XSport Fitness, said his company has a private cloud but would benefit from users being able to request and reboot desktops on their own.
"We almost feel left out because we're not doing public cloud," he said. "The self-service side of it is cool -- the ability for users to do things themselves."
New approaches to doing things and the risks that come with new technology can also scare a large enterprise away.
"Most smaller organizations have a very small IT department, and they don't feel confident about running it," said Steve O’Donnell, CEO of GreenBytes Inc., a storage appliance and software vendor based in Providence, R.I. "The larger enterprises typically have large IT departments, who believe that they can do better than the guys in the cloud. Small enterprises see [cloud] as less risky."
Networking is another roadblock. Many organizations find desktop connectivity over a remote connection isn't up to par, and performance suffers.
To get DaaS into enterprises, it's going to take the younger crowd shaking up the more traditional desktop guys, said Zeus Kerravala, a principal analyst at ZK Research, an IT strategy consultancy based in Westminster, Mass.
DaaS options also need time to mature.
"If you look at all the 'as a service,' why wouldn't you want to deliver your desktops as a service?" Kerravala said. "But I just haven't seen a commitment from the [big] vendors yet to make it happen."
VMware, Dell dish out new DaaS options
Small technology companies that pioneered DaaS, such as Desktone, Inc., have worked for years to convert PC shops over to cloud hosted virtual desktops, and the cloud-based desktop provider pool has deepened in recent years with providers such as TuCloud, Inc and dinCloud.
The big technology vendors hadn't committed to DaaS until recently, however. Citrix disclosed plans to make XenDesktop available as a cloud service last year, and companies including Dell, IBM and Virtual Bridges Inc. all offer DaaS options.
This week, VMware disclosed a new DaaS deployment option for VMware Horizon View, which allows organizations to run View desktops from its own vCloud Hybrid Service. Companies can deploy View DaaS on vCloud themselves or through a service provider.
Previously, VMware had partnered with Desktone to deliver View 5 virtual desktop from its cloud.
VMware's latest DaaS offering is only for new View deployments and will be available by the end of the year, but Horizon View DaaS is available now as a stand-alone offering through vCloud partners. In the future, VMware will provide View shops the ability to extend their existing on-premises environments into the cloud.
Other vendors launched new DaaS options as well. GreenBytes recently partnered with DaaS provider Desktone to offer a product that finds a middle ground between on-premises VDI and DaaS. Based on Dell Inc. servers, the Desktone On-premises Appliance delivers desktops that are managed in the cloud, but the actual equipment is on the customer's site.
"It allows customers to have all the flexibility of a fully managed cloud environment but the protection of actually having the data on their own site," said O'Donnell.
Dell said at VMworld that its DaaS product, also built on Desktone, will add shared desktops and applications to its platform, plus the ability for any VMware partner to resell the software with their own add-ons.
The company saw a lot more demand for cloud-hosted desktops after Hurricane Sandy, said Terry Vaughn, a sales director for Dell Cloud Client Computing.
If drivers such as disaster recovery and ease of management eventually outweigh licensing and security concerns, DaaS could see greater adoption among enterprises.
"Over time as more enterprises start to adopt new technology, other CIOs say, 'Well my pal down the street here has done it, why can't I do it?'," O’Donnell said.
DaaS still hindered by Windows licensing
Meanwhile, the question on everyone's mind has been DaaS licensing.
For the first release of Horizon View DaaS, customers must own their own licenses. VMware is working toward supporting it on Windows Server 2008, according to Mason Uyeda, senior director of end-user computing solution marketing and management at VMware.
"Only Microsoft can change the pricing model to make [DaaS] happen in a cost-effective way," said Lee Caswell, vice president of the virtualization products group at Fusion-io Inc. "I don't think we're there yet."
Microsoft virtual desktop licensing rules are prohibitive because they don't allow service providers to offer Windows applications as a service. There is no Service Provider License Agreement for the Windows Virtual Desktop Access license, so a DaaS architecture must run on Windows Server or Remote Desktop Services -- among other caveats.