Each of the past five years has been dubbed by optimistic industry watchers as the "year of VDI," but that tired prediction has been put to rest in favor of an unlikely replacement -- Desktops as a Service.
Gunnar Bergeranalyst, Gartner, Inc.
DaaS was the underappreciated sidekick of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) until this year, when major technology vendors realized there may be something to this whole cloud desktop thing.
VMware Inc. acquired DaaS pioneer Desktone Inc., Citrix offers XenDesktop as Windows as a Service through various cloud vendors, and now Amazon is in the cloud desktop game with WorkSpaces. Some expect Microsoft to join the party soon, too, though the company has declined to comment. Other DaaS options emerged recently from IBM, Dell, Virtual Bridges Inc. and more.
Now, some analysts believe DaaS is the future of virtual desktops.
That's because VDI is complex, expensive and requires top-level talent from IT people experienced with hypervisors, storage, network, server, desktops, applications, persona and more, said Gunnar Berger, an analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.
"Even the term VDI for many people has a negative connotation to it, so I'm of the opinion that we will see a change in terms to on-premises DaaS and off-premises DaaS," Berger said.
Many participants in a Gartner contextual research study last year were already doing on- premises DaaS under the guise of VDI, he said.
"They had outsourced the infrastructure and management but handled the OS image," Berger said. "This is exactly what we see [Amazon Web Services] doing, however, they are doing it off-premises. Our participants were doing this on-premises."
DaaS goes mainstream
More DaaS providers jumped on the cloud desktop bandwagon in 2013 in part due to the growing demand for cloud services -- albeit a relatively small demand.
Overall cloud adoption rates are up among respondents to TechTarget's fall 2013 Cloud Pulse survey of over 800 IT pros. Sixty-seven percent said they use cloud services compared to 53.5% in the March 2013 Cloud Pulse survey.
In addition, 13% of the 347 Cloud Pulse Survey respondents who answered a question about the types of cloud services they use, said DaaS is one of them, compared to just 6% in the March survey. In addition, 16.1% of respondents to the fall survey said they plan to use DaaS within the next six months.
NaviSite Inc., an Andover, Mass.-based cloud hosting provider that offers persistent virtual desktops based on the Desktone platform, confirmed the uptick in adoption.
"We have offered [DaaS] for 18 months now, and we can't talk numbers, but each month the interest increases over the previous month," said Tony Rorai, a product manager with NaviSite. "The buzz has exploded with VMware's acquisition of Desktone and with AWS WorkSpaces."
Indeed, now that big name vendors have thrown their weight behind DaaS, enterprise IT shops feel they have the green light to give it a try.
"The tide is rising for everyone -- there are a lot of desktops out there and there is an answer to every [DaaS] roadblock," he said.
However, a completely cloud-based DaaS may be too forward-thinking for most enterprises, Berger said.
"The clients I speak to are still getting off Windows XP; I don't see them rushing to an off-premises solution," he said.
By the same token, with Windows XP support ending next year, companies must do something -- and that something may be cloud desktops, Rorai said.
Does DaaS stand a chance?
DaaS took a back seat to VDI in the past because cloud computing isn't considered secure, and security is a big reason to use virtual desktops in the first place.
But VDI complexity has kept some IT shops from using virtual desktops, and a large VDI deployment can require significant upfront investment in IT equipment -- particularly servers and storage -- where DaaS does not.
"Organizations would love a solution that solves the complexity, cost, management issues [of VDI], but they still want it on-premises for user experience reasons and for security reasons -- real or imagined," Berger said.
The way DaaS technology stands today, broad enterprise adoption won't occur, Berger said. There are many barriers to entry: security concerns, license restrictions, user experience issues, bandwidth increases, application compatibility issues and more, he said.
However, that will change.
"Over time, cloud technologies will be adopted more, which will make more organizations feel comfortable with off-premises data, apps and desktops, [and] hopefully license changes will occur," said Berger, who kicked off the grassroots #FixVDA licensing campaign earlier this year.
"Bandwidth costs continue to decline, and as ISVs [independent software vendors] see the potential in controlling their Windows-based application from a DaaS provider, they will start supporting these apps in this way more," he added.
DaaS design may even influence the future of VDI design -- including localized storage to reduce cost and a more scalable management pane -- where hundreds or thousands of servers are managed through a single console, Berger said.
"In the end, DaaS will stand a chance because businesses by and large want to get out of the management of Windows devices, and they are eager for any solution that has that kind of potential," he added.
Cloud-hosted desktop vendors are at work to improve the end-user experience, too.
One DaaS provider, dinCloud, recently said it will make significant investments in research and development around webHVD/HTML5 virtual desktops, cloud storage and public/private connectivity with multi-protocol label switching and virtual private networks. This way, there is no client software for users to worry about on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux or Chromebook endpoints, the company said.