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Three reasons cloud-hosted virtual desktops haven't taken off

Three major concerns prevent desktops as a service from infiltrating IT shops -- cost, security and the maturity of the technology. Find out which one really isn't much of an issue.

Desktop as a service technology has been around for a while now, but relatively few organizations have bought in.

Desktop as a service (DaaS) refers to VDI hosted in the public cloud. In other words, a provider leases cloud-hosted virtual desktops to an organization.

But cloud-hosted virtual desktops haven't caught on because of a few major DaaS concerns. First of all, the ongoing costs that come with a subscription-based service are a deterrent. Then there are the security concerns and the fact that the technology is still young and needs more time to mature.

Long-term costs add up

Cloud virtual desktops haven't caught on because of a few major DaaS concerns.

Subscription-based services and licensing are quickly becoming the norm in the enterprise, but some IT shops are reconsidering this approach. When cloud providers initially offered software as a service or infrastructure as a service, many cash-strapped IT shops saw the offerings as a way to avoid large, upfront capital expenditures. Over time, however, these types of services chip away at IT budgets. With DaaS, an organization never actually owns the desktops, and the fees go on for as long as the subscription remains in effect.

It's similar to credit card debt. If a person uses a credit card to soften the financial blow of a large purchase, he can pay the bill over time, but if he keeps putting it off, the monthly payments that were once small and manageable quickly spiral out of control. When IT subscribes to too many services, the aggregate cost of the subscriptions consumes its budget in much the same way.

DaaS concerns about security may be misplaced

Many IT pros also have concerns about DaaS security, but they shouldn't. Using cloud-hosted virtual desktops may be the best way to mitigate desktop-related security problems.

Endpoints represent the greatest potential security threat, because users make mistakes. Users routinely destroy or infect their virtual desktops by installing unauthorized applications -- such as games or internet toolbars -- making configuration changes or even deleting system files because their hard disks are full. Even if a user doesn't do any of these things, there is still the risk a user might inadvertently infect his PC by visiting a malicious website or opening an infected email attachment.

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Even though operating systems are more secure than they once were, and admins can use group policies to lock down corporate desktops, end users are still a threat to security. Moving the desktop OS to the cloud insulates an organization against user-induced security breaches. DaaS providers go to great lengths to secure their virtual desktops. If something compromises a virtual desktop, the subscribing organization is safe because the desktop is physically isolated from its network. The desktop also typically resets itself to a pristine state at the end of each user's session.

Waiting for a more mature DaaS

To quell DaaS concerns, IT shops still want to see the technology mature. Many are also waiting for DaaS provider standards to evolve. Plus, corporate desktops are at a crossroads. Five years from now the standard desktop OS could be Windows, Mac or Linux. Or desktop operating systems might not even exist at all. With so much uncertainty, some IT shops are taking a wait-and-see approach to cloud-based virtual desktops.

As the technology matures, it's likely the DaaS adoption rate will rise, although many organizations will undoubtedly continue to host virtual desktops in-house.

Next Steps

Detailed guide to the DaaS market

DaaS providers vs. DaaS platforms

A look at DaaS for disaster recovery

Dig Deeper on Cloud-hosted virtual desktop and application strategy

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What do you see as the biggest reason DaaS has not taken off?
There’s just not that much to gain from it at this point. First, desktop hardware is a commodity, and most organizations have quite an extensive inventory that they would need to “burn through” before DaaS becomes a viable option. Second, the familiarity with hardware means that most issues with desktop hardware are easily identified and resolved because they are known. Not so with DaaS.
I agree with these reasons that DaaS hasn't taken off, and have a few more:
  • Until recently DaaS has been based on server-based sessions, skinned to look like a client OS. While the session is dedicated to the user, it is still a server-based OS. Microsoft enabling Windows 10 to be run in the cloud will mitigate this issue.
  • IT still has to manage the image and applications for the cloud-based desktop. DaaS only migrates the responsibility of the infrastructure to the provider, IT still has to manage the patching and updates of the desktop OS. For the provider to also manage the desktops incurs additional cost. Unidesk has a solution that performs application lifecycle and image management to streamline complexity and cost for IT.
  • Figuring out a strategy for how DaaS integrates into the current enterprise deployment, and deciding on where to store data and resources.
Virtual desktops are a great workload for organizations to start working with cloud service providers. The desktops and applications can be hosted in the cloud using DaaS, while data and resources are kept back on-premises for security purposes.
Just ensure that you have a strategy for DaaS and how it integrates into your current environment.
Excellent points on your last two bullets. Desktop hardware is a known problem with a known (and commoditized) solution, so there’s not much gain there for the desktop team. As far as storage, most organizations are still trying to figure that out for their applications and services, let alone their desktop data.