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VMware DaaS sited to outplay Amazon WorkSpaces -- and its own partners

VMware DaaS now runs on vCHS at a price competitive with Amazon WorkSpaces and lower than some cloud providers, giving IT pros negotiating power.

VMware has rebranded Desktone and launched it this week on its own public cloud, offering IT pros a competitive price in the heated DaaS market.  

The new cloud desktops are priced below what many IT pros pay other Desktone cloud providers, and certainly less than the cost of VMware Inc.'s own virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) platform.

VMware acquired Desktone, one of the earliest Desktop as a Service (DaaS) providers, in October but until now hadn't offered it on its vCloud Hybrid Service (vCHS). It was only available from cloud providers, who will continue to offer it alongside VMware.

The move to offer DaaS makes sense for VMware as it jockeys for the lead in the emerging cloud desktop and mobility market. Amazon Web Services (AWS) launched  Amazon WorkSpaces in November, which  is still in limited preview, without a general availability date. Citrix also offers DaaS through its partner providers, and there are a number of small DaaS vendors as well.

VMware (finally) competes on price

VMware certainly isn't known for low prices, but to vie with Amazon and other DaaS vendors, it has priced Horizon DaaS competitively.

Horizon DaaS standard service lists at $35 per user per month (for 50 users or more) and the price declines as volume increases. It includes 1vCPU 2 GB vRAM, 30 GB hard disk, security services and a 99.9% service level agreement (SLA).

Dollar for dollar

A DaaS market cost comparison

This pricing matches Amazon WorkSpaces and undercuts what many cloud providers bill for Desktone, the platform Horizon DaaS is based on. This may be good news for Desktone users, who now have some leverage.

One IT director who began using Desktone six months ago said she gets all of the same specs as VMware Horizon DaaS but pays $45 a month through her cloud provider.

"As we add more desktops to our contract, I’m going to talk to [my cloud provider] about their pricing," said Melissa Andrews, director of IT for Maloney Properties, Inc., a property management firm based in Wellesley, Mass.

VMware said it hasn't stepped on its partners' toes with Horizon DaaS because third-party cloud providers offer services above and beyond what VMware provides.

Andrews said she has received "fantastic" personalized service including weekly status calls and "superb project management" from her cloud provider.

"Those things are hard to put a value on and would be of great consideration if I got to the point where pricing forced me to consider a switch in vendors," she said.

Advanced package pricing for Horizon DaaS starts at $50 per user month with 2vCPU, 4 GB vRAM and 30 GB storage. By comparison, Amazon WorkSaces Performance Suite includes 2 vCPU, 7.5 GB memory, 100 GB user storage for $60 per user per month.

Horizon DaaS vs. Amazon WorkSpaces

Windows Server skinned to look like a Windows client OS works the same 95% of the time, but you can run into issues that cause end user headaches.
Brett Waldmanresearch director, IDC

Some industry watchers say Horizon DaaS will appeal to enterprise IT shops over Amazon WorkSpaces because it provides full Windows 7 or Windows 8 client operating system rather than a Windows Server 2008 skinned to look like a Windows client. It also supports on-premises View desktops and HTML5 via AppBlast.

Amazon WorkSpaces provides each user a virtual machine with 1 virtual CPU, 3.75 GB of memory, 50 GB of user data and 50GB storage for $35 per user per month. These desktops are based on Windows Server 2008 R2. An SLA has not been published for WorkSpaces.

VMware hopes the use of Windows client OSes at a competitive price will attract enterprise IT shops that may not want to use Windows Server–based desktops.

One big question is whether the desktop experience via Windows Server is actually inferior to a Windows client OS. By no surprise, the vendors that offer Windows Server-based DaaS say there is no discernable difference, while those that provide Windows client OSes keep a laundry list of negatives in their back pockets.

For many companies, it doesn't matter. Some mid to large enterprises that support knowledge workers may experience issues with the Windows Server approach to DaaS because a desktop application may not work properly, one analyst said. 

"Windows Server skinned to look like a Windows client OS works the same 95% of the time, but you can run into issues that cause end user headaches," said Brett Waldman, a research director with IDC, an IT analysis firm based in Framingham, Mass. "End users are fickle, and are more demanding than ever, because they have the tools and power to go around IT. So IT has to deliver a great experience."

Anti-virus software, for instance, also costs more for Windows Server compared to a client OS license. And client software providers may not offer support for a Windows Server OS.

However, to get a true Windows 7 or 8 cloud desktop, customers must own their own Windows client licenses as required by Microsoft, and that cost must be added to the price per user. VMware also offers Windows Server 2008-based DaaS for $35 per user per month, which includes the Windows SPLA cost.  

VMware isn't unique with its offerings, however. Other providers have long delivered Windows client-based DaaS, including dinCloud, which also supports HTML5 (called webHVD). Customers with 20,000 or more users can get well below $20 per user per month with everything included -- the hypervisor, the Microsoft Windows licensing, the hosting, the security, etc. -- said Mike Chase, dinCloud chief technology officer. Its starting price is $40 for corporate desktops.

Still, the virtualization giant has its foot in the door of many large IT shops and can easily make the case to use its platform, and its familiar management tools, over other DaaS options.

One such customer is Apollo Education Group, Inc., a higher education program provider with subsidiaries including the University of Phoenix.

Apollo already virtualized some desktops and applications, but to scale its education apps to 30,000 end users and a quarter of a million University of Phoenix students, a cloud platform makes more sense, said Mike Sajor, Apollo's chief information officer.

Horizon DaaS appealed to Sajor because end users can access apps using HTML5 instead of installing a client on their device.

"With some of our adaptive learning products we have to ask students to download a client, so there are a number of calls to our tech support," Sajor said. "If we can go to a cloud-based, browser-based experience, it removes one more barrier to learning. We don’t want our students to worry about Java script issues."

The experience has been good so far, though it is still in proof of concept phase. Still, DaaS fits with Sajor's overall IT philosophy.

"I like to see our IT investments go into things that differentiate our learning acumen; building my own VDI does not help us meet that objective," Sajor said. "I'd rather leverage someone else's investment in this space."

Is DaaS as secure as VDI?

With so much emphasis on DaaS benefits, some wonder whether on-premises VDI still has a place. Even VMware lists reason to choose DaaS over VDI:

"VDI can be a challenging workload for IT to run. It has to be carefully performance optimized and run just right to deliver the service customers need," said VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger in a webcast promoting Horizon DaaS this week.

Horizon DaaS' key benefits over building your own VDI, he said, include predictability provided by cloud service provider, ease of use as desktops can be provisioned with a few clicks, and the flexibility to scale up or down on demand.

There's also the cost. Using DaaS means a move from capex to opex.

"[Horizon DaaS] customers can get down to $30 per user per month, $360 per year. Where a View license might be $225 per year, plus infrastructure and labor," said David Grant, a DaaS product manager with VMware. "DaaS comes out to be cheaper."

However, IT shops that have cloud security or performance concerns may be willing to pay more to keep their virtual desktops on-site.

"There is concern about [cloud] security and performance and that is typical as cloud matures," said IDC's Waldman. "But now that a well-known company like VMware offers it, it gives companies some comfort."

Maloney Properties' Andrews vetted her DaaS provider with a thorough audit before using the service.

"These companies that offer [DaaS] have to know how to do [security and compliance]," Andrews said. "If they mess it up, they are done."

VMware Horizon DaaS provides customers with a dedicated environment, their own virtual networks, and it meets compliance and security standards, Grant said.

AWS maintains that its cloud services are also highly secure. All traffic between Amazon WorkSpaces and end-user clients is encrypted using the PCoIP protocol, the protocol VMware uses -- which is ‘pixels only’ -- meaning that customer data does not leave AWS data centers, or the customers' data center if they store their data on-premises, an AWS spokesperson said. 

Amazon WorkSpace customers can also get a private connection between the AWS cloud and their data centers via AWS Direct Connect and encrypt their data.  When customers integrate their Amazon WorkSpaces with their existing Active Directory domains, they can use their corporate credentials and access controls, the AWS spokesperson said.

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Will you deploy DaaS in 2014?