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How DaaS and VDI management differ

VDI management has a leg up on traditional desktop management, but things get even easier when you deliver virtual desktops to users from the cloud.

DaaS offloads a lot of infrastructure maintenance from your IT team to the cloud service provider, which means...

that DaaS comes out on top when compared to VDI management.

With desktop as a service (DaaS), the service provider deals with the headache of building and operating virtual machines (VMs) and virtualization infrastructure. Its VDI environment is many times larger than yours would be, and service providers can spread the costs across far more desktops than you could. These economies of scale pay off when dozens or hundreds of customers use a single DaaS provider. All your users need is a reliable, secure network connection to the DaaS provider. This could be over the Internet, or it could be a dedicated link. With DaaS, you do not need to manage virtualization or VDI.

Vendor marketing claims say that DaaS desktops can cost as little as $30 per user per month, and on-premises desktops cost a whole lot more. The reality is that the cost of a DaaS desktop is similar to the cost of a VDI desktop. The benefit of DaaS is that you don't have to manage the virtual infrastructure. Instead, you can focus on users and applications.

DaaS and VDI management requirements in common

Many ongoing DaaS and VDI management tasks are the same, and much of the iceberg of VDI complexity is still present with DaaS. End-user device management, printing and desktop patching are all your responsibility in a DaaS environment.

With DaaS, the provider hosts VMs in its data center, but users still need devices to access those virtual desktops. If employees sit at a desk somewhere, they probably use a PC or a thin client to access their desktops. You must support that device if it fails.

Even if users access their desktops from mobile devices, you must provide support. No matter the reason for blocked access, any loss of productivity is your problem to fix, even if the endpoints don't belong to your company.

One of the biggest pain points in an end-user computing strategy is printing. Sooner or later, users will want a paper copy of a document. This is fairly easy to accommodate for users in the office and on the corporate network but, with DaaS, printing will work only if you have a routed network connection to your provider. Most VDI products include some sort of universal printing capability for desktops and laptops that allows workers to use any printer installed on their clients. When you're looking at DaaS service providers, spend some time looking at how well their universal printing works.

Mobile devices running Apple's iOS or Google Android operating systems, which usually have fairly limited printing capabilities to begin with, can be a problem as well. The clients for these OSes have similarly limited or nonexistent capabilities. If VDI or DaaS is part of a wider mobility strategy, it may be more appropriate to have users print documents through apps on their mobile devices, rather than through the client.

Preserving the uniqueness of each user's computing environment is another challenge. A persona is made up of a user's preferred browser and things such as personal documents they may store on the desktop. In any VDI or DaaS environment, you usually need to provide persistent personas. Simply retaining preferences inside the user's VM is OK until the VM needs to be replaced -- either with a new operating system or maybe just an updated build. Generally, Windows roaming profiles or a third-party alternative manages personas.

To copy personal data onto a file server, the desktops must be joined to your Active Directory (AD) domain. You can use Group Policy Objects to control this process, and domain-joined desktops are usually part of your Windows infrastructure anyway, so it's no big deal in a VDI environment. But with DaaS, you will probably need AD and a file server or two inside the DaaS provider's data center.

Unless workers only use the most basic applications, you will probably want to assemble your own desktop VMs. This is called image management, and it is required for both VDI and DaaS. You may have different images for various groups of users who require specific applications. Keeping these custom images up to date is a regular task, and so is periodically updating software versions.

Patching is another painful reality in modern IT. Your DaaS provider might take care of ensuring that newly deployed desktops are patched, unless you use a custom image (then patching is your job). But once you deploy the VMs, patching is entirely your responsibility.

If you are going to keep the desktops for more than a few days, you will need to update Windows, malware protection and other applications. In VDI, IT usually manages this with mechanisms such as Windows Software Update Services (WSUS).

With DaaS, you may still want to use WSUS to update desktops. The DaaS provider is responsible for the infrastructure to provision, run and access the desktop VMs. 

With a VDI environment, these are all tasks for the customer's IT team. Remember that everything inside the VM is always the customer's responsibility, whether on VDI or DaaS.

Who maintains what?

It is important to understand what you are getting from your DaaS provider and what you are still responsible for. Table 1 gives a good idea of what to expect from in-house VDI versus a DaaS provider.

 

Responsibility

VDI

DaaS

Virtualization host hardware

Customer

Provider

Virtualization host software

Customer

Provider

Storage array and storage network

Customer

Provider

Data center network

Customer

Provider

VDI brokers and management

Customer

Provider

VM template operating system patching

Customer

Provider

Deployed VM OS patching

Customer

Customer

Application updates

Customer

Customer

User profiles

Customer

Customer

User shared data

Customer

Customer

This was last published in February 2015

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Management of DaaS and VDI are similar. However, the provider is responsible for patching in DaaS, while in VDI, it is done by the client.
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