I’ve written many times, including in our 2014 book Desktops as a Service, that all you’re really getting from your typical dollar-a-day DaaS providers is a shell of a desktop. You’re still responsible for installing applications, image maintenance, and the user experience, among other things. In that context, DaaS is only appealing to companies that for one reason or another aren’t capable of or comfortable running the infrastructure that supports desktop virtualization.
Three years after that book, we’re starting to see a flurry of new providers that are tacking on managed services. I’ve recently written about Workspot DaaS 2.0 and Nerdio, and I recently caught up with another company that is taking managed DaaS to the next level.
Dizzion, prounounced like “vision,” is a company based in Denver, Colorado that traces its roots back to a colocation facility where their founders cut their teeth. During their time at the colo, Dizzion’s founders, Robert Green, Steve Prather, and Manny Ladis, worked on managed services other than virtual desktops, and though they tried to find a way to add managed VDI to their offerings, it didn’t mesh well with the mission of a colocation facility. After their company was acquired, Rob, Steve, and Manny founded Dizzion solely for the purpose of delivering managed VDI/DaaS.
Dizzion’s goal was to create a virtual desktop experience that as “as fast or faster than your MacBook Pro,” which even today is a lofty goal. Storage was their primary bottleneck, so it became the first thing they built. Today, Dizzion runs on hyperconverged hardware built for them by SuperMicro. They built their own storage solution on top of this, and they use a combination of home-grown and off-the-shelf products to do their desktop virtualization. Specifically, VMware Horizon View is the desktop virtualization workhorse, but we’ll get into that later.
Dizzion’s platform is pretty comprehensive, so let’s walk through it a little bit at a time.
First, let’s take a look at the platform Dizzion has created. As mentioned, the heavy lifting is done with VMware Horizon View on vSphere. Each customer gets their own, complete instances of a View environment, complete with virtual firewall, Active Directory servers, connection brokers, secure gateways, and desktop pools. Compute and storage resources are located on shared, multi-tenant resources, so Dizzion maintains proper isolation across the board. Each customer is allocated a pool of resources, and each pool is over-provisioned by about 20% to ensure that there are plenty of resources available to each customer and that no one customer can affect another’s performance.
They’ve deployed their platform to datacenters in Denver, Dallas, Louisville, KY, Philippines, Guatemala, and Amsterdam. Another datacenter in Philadelphia is currently under construction. Customers can load balance between these datacenters, and each can serve as a backup to your primary location. In fact, backup and failover are two of the services they provide with your subscription.
Additionally, customers do have the ability to deploy a Dizzion “Pod” on-premises while managing it from the cloud. Pods are guaranteed to run a certain number of desktops, and they are the building blocks of the entire platform.
Dizzion offers three standard configurations of virtual machines: 1 vCPU / 2GB RAM, 2 vCPU / 4GB RAM, and 4vCPU / 6GB RAM. Customers can also design their own, but those three configurations account for the vast majority of their desktops. Currently, Dizzion offers some monitoring of the desktop environment, though they’re building a monitoring platform that incorporates real-time information and trend analysis.
Typically, desktops are running Server 2008 R2, though customers can run Windows 7 or Windows 10 in a Bring Your Own License scenario. Because physical hardware must be carved out to run that environment (though hopefully that changes soon), this is only offered to customers that have a minimum of 50 users.
Also, because the platform is based on VMware, Dizzion leverages the PCoIP protocol. They have yet to fully embrace Blast, however they’re keeping an eye on what goes on at VMware and Teradici. NVIDIA-based GPU virtualization is possible, though they haven’t seen enough customer demand to deploy it across the board.
As you might imagine, any PCoIP-capable client will work, though in true managed service provider fashion Dizzion has built their own clients for customers that want to offload everything. They have a few options that range from ZLink, and Android-on-a-Stick device to ZLink Plus, a Windows 10 embedded device that supports dual monitors. They also offer ZLink Connect, which serves the dual purpose of managing these thin clients and allowing you to convert existing Windows PCs into thin clients via a partnership with ThinScale. ZLink Connect even monitors and maintains patch levels on managed clients.
Application management is a big part of Dizzion’s platform, and they offer multiple approaches. They leverage AppVolumes a lot, and will even take on the task of helping customers on-board their applications to create App Stacks. They wouldn’t go into details, but they’ve enlisted the help of another third-party platform to further help the process of on-boarding applications.
If a situation calls for RDS, they will deploy and manage an RDS-based environment for a customer. While the hand-holding for application management is included in the subscription fee, deploying apps via RDS requires more resources, so there is a fee for the additional virtual hardware.
One of the biggest challenges of moving to DaaS is integrating your new cloud environment to your existing on-premises resources. To deal with integration, Dizzion has exposed the VPN setup process via their admin interface to allow you to easily set up a VPN connection between your cloud environment and your local datacenter.
For Active Directory integration, Dizzion sets up a trust between your cloud instance of Active Directory and your on-premises AD. If this is problematic, you can also extend your domain across the VPN.
To deal with on-premises data, Dizzion is creating ZFileStore and ZFileShare, both of which should be released son. ZFileStore allows you to do scheduled synchronization of data between local and remote locations, whereas ZFileShare is more like a typical EFSS solution that keeps user data in sync in multiple spots. Customers could use existing services if they want, but Dizzion felt it was important to have this as part of a complete offering.
Data access that can’t be addressed using either of the above approaches, for example databases, will either have to be replicated to Dizzion’s cloud or accessed via VPN. Dizzion can also accommodate direct links to your datacenter should you need the guaranteed connection.
The majority of Dizzion’s customers fall under the category of BPO, or Business Process Outsourcing. For the most part, that means call centers with seasonal workers. Customer sizes vary, but Dizzion says their largest customer is deploying 6,000 seats and increasing the size of their environment by about 100 users per month. They’ve tested their platform up to fifty thousand users, so they’re confident they can work with much larger customers.
Overall, Dizzion has sixty major customers, most of which are BPO organizations that handle outsourced work for other companies. Their largest BPO customer operates a call center for 38 of its own customers, so the actual number of companies that have BPO services run through Dizzion is much larger than 60. At peak seasons (Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, etc...) Dizzion has 10-12k users active at any one time, though there are 3x that many desktops actually provisioned.
What’s all this cost?
It should be pretty clear now that Dizzion’s offering goes far beyond that of traditional DaaS, and as such the prices goes beyond that of traditional DaaS. Costs are broken down into two categories: PCVDC (Private Cloud Virtual Datacenter, basically a single line item for the underlying infrastructure), and virtual desktop fee charged per desktop.
The monthly PCVDC fee is based on the number of concurrent users a customer has. Under 200 concurrent users costs $900/mo, and the costs goes up over a few more increments until the max of $3500 for 1000+ concurrent users. The PCVDC fee is what entitles you to all the redundancy, backups, failover, management, security, connectivity, and so on.
On top of the PCVDC fee, virtual desktops are charged at a rate of $45/mo for the low-end desktop, $55/mo for the medium desktop, and $68 for the high-end desktop. These prices include Windows licensing, but if you already have licenses you simply subtract $5 from each package.
Dizzion’s platform is available direct or via partners. The platform itself is partner-aware, so a single partner login can be used to manage all a partner’s customers.
Though the pricing seems a notch more complex than other platforms that simply charge by the desktop, the pricing for Dizzion works out pretty favorably when you look at it from a simple cost comparison. Both Nerdio’s and Workspot’s low-end desktops cost in the neighborhood of $100 per user, per month, so 200 users would cost $20,000. For the same 200 users of Dizzion (we’ll use Dizzion’s middle tier since the specs are most similar to the low-end tier of both Nerdio and Workspot), the cost works out to $900 for the PCVDC license, and $11,000 for the desktops (200 times $55/desktop) for a total of $11,900. Of course, each platform offers different services, so whether or not the actual gap in value is that large is up to you.
We’ve always maintained that DaaS isn’t for you if managing images, applications, and user experience are the things you’re trying to avoid. For a few years, DaaS was only accessible to customers that were ok doing all of those tasks. Today, providers like Dizzion are opening up Desktops-as-a-Service to new types of customers in a way that was previously unavailable. Managed DaaS doesn’t just eliminate desktop virtualization infrastructure, it offloads nearly all of the complexities of desktop virtualization while still giving you the benefits.
To be clear, I’m not saying we are all great candidates for managed DaaS and that you’re a fool if you’re not using it. There’s a reason the majority of Dizzion’s customers are BPO companies that a very similar application load. DaaS still isn’t for everybody, but companies like Dizzion (and Workspot, and Nerdio) are helping to make DaaS a real option for more customers than ever before.