Desktop as a Service FAQ: Pros and cons of hosted virtual desktops

Desktop as a Service is an enticing way to host virtual desktops in the cloud without the upfront costs of VDI, but it comes with some downsides.

Desktop as a Service allows VDI admins to host virtual desktops in the cloud, but that can bring up a whole slew...

of issues, including security, cost and management concerns.

Desktop as a Service (DaaS) sounds great at first -- VDI without such high adoption and implementation costs! But there's more to DaaS than you might think. Some of the benefits include faster desktop provisioning, seamless disaster recovery and greater flexibility when it comes to desktop delivery and use on mobile devices. Despite those advantages, adapting to hosted virtual desktops has downsides like anything else.

Answers to some common questions about DaaS will help you decide if the benefits outweigh the risks and determine if Desktop as a Service is right for your business.

What is Desktop as a Service?

Desktop as a Service refers to virtual desktops that are hosted in the cloud by a service provider. DaaS is sort of the middle ground between VDI and the cloud: It's more than just anytime, anywhere access to apps, but it means less stuff -- and less money -- than virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). DaaS providers deliver full desktops to any device that's connected to the Internet. Businesses that decide VDI is right for them but find it too expensive or difficult to adopt can turn to Desktop as a Service and outsource their entire VDI initiative.

What's so great about hosted virtual desktops?

The benefits of cloud-hosted desktops are easier PC management, better security (sometimes), disaster recovery and business-continuity capabilities, lower operating and hardware costs, fast deployments, better support and reliability, and oftentimes lower capital expenses.

One downside to DaaS: Your business needs enough bandwidth to run a remote, hosted desktop.

The costs of DaaS come from monthly, per-user application delivery and bandwidth fees, so it's really a budgetary expense rather than a proprietary one. But you should also consider the drawbacks of delivering desktops through the cloud, and keep in mind that it's better for small businesses than it is for large enterprises.

What's the difference between DaaS and VDI?

Delivering hosted desktops is a little different than implementing plain old VDI. Customers can send cloud-hosted desktops to any device, anywhere, and though the desktops are in a remote data center, a private connection keeps them linked to your organization. Plus, DaaS offers all the benefits of VDI without the upfront infrastructure costs. Hosted desktops can cut the costs and complexity of VDI, which might make the perceived risks of the cloud (security, lack of management control, etc.) worth the flexibility and management rewards.

What should I look for from a DaaS provider?

When choosing a DaaS provider, look for ones with service-level agreements that address outages. Your provider should be able to deliver desktops with adequate power and resources, but not more than what you need.

On your end, you should be able to group users according to their needs and build hardware to match. Also find out where your DaaS provider stores user profiles and consider how much you'll be able to directly manage the virtual desktops. Pilot the program before you commit to it, and make sure that DaaS makes sense for the kind of business you do.

What are some challenges of hosted virtual desktops?

The big issue with Desktop as a Service is licensing. Microsoft makes it almost impossible to license desktops for the cloud, but you could use a different platform instead of Windows 7.

Other downsides of DaaS include lack of trust in the cloud, connectivity issues, reliability and concerns about leaving security in the hands of the provider. Your business also needs enough bandwidth to run a remote, hosted desktop. And custom applications, especially ones that need client/server access, can make DaaS adoption even more difficult.

How does the OnLive controversy affect DaaS licensing?

OnLive Inc. offered a DaaS app for delivering Windows 7 desktops from the cloud for free, but delivering Office apps via a Windows 7 hosted client violates Microsoft's licensing rules.

When Microsoft called OnLive on its noncompliance, OnLive switched its app's platform from Windows 7 to Windows Server 2008 R2, putting DaaS providers back on a level playing field. The change benefits other providers by showing that Microsoft won't let noncompliance slide and lets customers know that the vendor doesn't have deals with certain Desktop as a Service providers.

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