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DaaS providers faced with new delivery option

Microsoft's Windows Virtual Desktop ups the ante on DaaS with multisession Windows 10 desktops. Increased competition could encourage other DaaS providers to innovate.

Desktop-as-a-service providers, such as Amazon and VMware, have had skin in the game since desktop as a service heated up. But the services have evolved over time, and late-comer Microsoft's desktop-as-a-service offering, called Windows Virtual Desktop, could shake up the market.

Most desktop as a service (DaaS) providers started out by offering server-based desktops, but they have added the client-based option. And now, there's a third model on the horizon: multisession Windows 10 in Microsoft's Windows Virtual Desktop. It's similar to the server-based delivery model, except that it's based on a real desktop OS, which helps offset some of the limitations of the server-based model without incurring the overhead of client-based desktops.

Technologies such as multisession Windows 10 could have a significant effect on the DaaS market, and other DaaS providers will also eventually offer services that build on Windows Virtual Desktop; Amazon and VMware's DaaS offerings have already changed slightly as the market has evolved.

If it has been a few years since your organization considered DaaS, now is the time to brush up on what Amazon, VMware and Microsoft are up to.

Amazon WorkSpaces

Amazon WorkSpaces cloud-based service that provides virtual Windows and Linux desktops to users on a variety of devices, including Windows PCs, Mac computers, Chromebooks and tablets. IT departments can select from a range of hardware and software configurations, as well as AWS regions.

A server-based model drives most of the WorkSpaces virtual desktops. Amazon offers the desktops as individual WorkSpaces bundles. Each bundle includes a combination of compute, storage and software resources, including the guest OS. For example, the Standard bundle includes two vCPUs, 4 GB of memory, 50 GB of solid-state storage and Windows Server-based desktops that are skinned to look like Windows 7 or Windows 10.

WorkSpaces also supports a Windows bring-your-own-license program, a client-based approach that enables organizations to use their own licenses and applications in the WorkSpaces environment. With this program, customers import their own Windows 7 or Windows 10 VM images into the AWS platform. The VMs are then used to build custom images and bundles that run on physically dedicated hardware. The program is limited to Windows 7 Service Pack 1 and specific Windows 10 updates, and it requires a minimum of 200 seats.

VMware Horizon Cloud

VMware, another major DaaS provider, also offers both server-based and client-based virtual desktop services, which are packaged in a variety of ways under the Horizon Cloud umbrella. At the heart of these services is a VMware-hosted control plane to centrally manage and orchestrate virtual desktops and applications.

One of the core services is Horizon Cloud with Hosted Infrastructure, a fully managed and integrated desktop and application cloud service that VMware hosts in its own cloud environment. The service offers three desktop types:

  • Session desktops follow the server-based model in which a Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH) server is shared by multiple users.
  • Dedicated desktops follow the client-based model in which a single user connects to the same desktop VM with each login. In this way, the host name is always the same each time the user logs in.
  • Floating desktops also follow the client-based model, except that the user might connect to a different desktop VM with each login. Floating desktops are not persistent, but IT administrators can use other Horizon Cloud features -- such as User Environment Manager -- to persist user data and settings.

VMware also offers the Horizon Cloud with On-Premises Infrastructure service. In this case, IT departments use the Horizon Cloud control plane in conjunction with on-premises Horizon, a product that supports both session-based and client-based virtual desktops.

Another DaaS-related service that VMware offers is Horizon Cloud on Microsoft Azure, which also supports both server-based and client-based virtual desktops. In this model, Azure provides the infrastructure to host the desktop VMs, but VMware provides the management and implementation components, which include the Horizon Cloud control plane, along with Horizon-based features such as protocols and broker services.

The server-based desktops rely on RDSH servers to support multiple user sessions, and the client-based desktops are delivered via individual Windows 10 VMs, with support for both dedicated and floating desktops.

Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop

Microsoft's Windows Virtual Desktop service uses the Azure platform to host desktop VMs, provide the necessary compute and storage resources, and deliver features such as diagnostics, advanced networking, connection brokering and gateway capabilities. Microsoft offers Windows Virtual Desktop for free to Microsoft 365 Enterprise customers and Windows 10 Enterprise customers, which differentiates it from other DaaS providers.

The Windows Virtual Desktop service supports several desktop delivery models, including server-based and client-based models, both implemented according to standard DaaS practices. For client-based desktops, customers can choose between Windows 7 and Windows 10. The Windows 7 desktops come with extended security updates, which give organizations more time to support legacy applications.

In addition, Windows Virtual Desktop offers a new type of virtual desktop: multisession Windows 10. The new model is similar to server-based RDSH; however, rather than being based on Windows Server, it's based on Windows 10 Enterprise. Multisession Windows 10 offers many of the benefits of the server-based model and provides the features, user experience and application compatibility that come with a full-blown Windows 10 Enterprise desktop.

This was last published in March 2019

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How do you think VMware and Amazon will respond to Microsoft's Windows Virtual Desktop?
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As Microsoft owns the underlying technology (RDS) upon which some other services rely (AWS), and as the only providers that can run Windows 10 desktops in the cloud, this surely seems to be an advancement in Microsoft's favor.
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