Big Picture

DaaS: Try DIY or Pass & Choose SaaS?

Desktop- as-a-Service (DaaS)

Last year may be in the rearview, but it’s a year that has permanently changed the way we work, to say the least. Even companies that decide to return to in-person work aren’t likely to completely go back to pre-2020 structure. What’s likely is that many companies will have at least some employees working from home at least some of the time.

With the mass shift to remote work, cloud computing saw a major uptick in adoption. Desktop- as-a-Service (DaaS) saw some of the most significant growth in 2020, increasing 95.4% to $1.2 billion. Companies looking to find a long-term strategy for remote work and digital transformation – but that haven’t yet adopted cloud desktops – have an ever-increasing marketplace to choose from, but not all DaaS solutions will be the right fit for your organization.

When it comes to DaaS, there are some key differences that you need to know about in order to make an informed decision about what is right for your business.

Understanding DIY 

There are many options for do-it-yourself virtual desktops. Many vendors offer both data center and cloud-based components that customers or managed service providers (MSPs) license, assemble and manage on the hardware of their choice, including IaaS. IT must have a very good understanding of the scope of the project, because they’ll have to do everything themselves – or hire expensive consultants. They will need to architect and procure servers, storage, networking and software for the forecasted number of users.

For any on-premises VDI deployments, this is especially tricky, because IT could seriously underestimate – or, even more costly, over-estimate – the number of people who will be using the solution. Once the planning phase is complete, IT personnel and hired consultants spend months integrating the stack and testing the solution with a small set of pilot users. Ultimately, it could be upwards of 9-12 months before the virtual desktop project can go live.

And after all this effort and money spent, the result is VDI deployed in only one data center. IT or a service provider will then spend significant time and resources testing, upgrading and patching dozens of hardware and software components – forever. Not only is this level of complexity expensive and rigid, but it can also be very difficult to deliver consistent reliability. This is the do-it-yourself (DIY) approach to virtual desktops. Many organizations are finding this approach to delivering desktops is not scalable or sustainable – it’s an inefficient use of precious IT resources.

Some of these solutions are also available by leveraging public cloud providers like Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud. But if you’re going to implement a virtual desktop solution in the cloud, it’s important to understand the dynamic nature of the underlying infrastructure. Consider this: an on-premises VDI environment is static and under IT’s control. Upgrades and new features are typically released by the vendor annually at most and IT can choose when and if they want to implement the upgrades. As a result, there can be 3-5 year time lag between the vendor’s release date and when it goes live in a customer environment. Unfortunately, because these upgrades can be daunting and risk creating system instability, they are often delayed, and customers miss out on valuable new features.

In contrast, public cloud infrastructure changes rapidly and these changes are largely out of IT control. Cloud services change all the time, multiple times per month. If you are running DIY cloud desktop infrastructure, IT must be ready to accommodate those changes. Further, infrastructure services vary widely among the cloud offerings; for example, there is a choice of CPU/GPU options like Intel, AMD or NVIDIA. These services have vastly different price/performance characteristics which can result in a 50% difference in the price of the same basic service for a workload. So, while there are many benefits to moving to the cloud, there are many aspects that are unpredictable if you choose a DIY cloud desktop solution, including cost, system stability, and ongoing operational investment.

A SaaS solution

In contrast, a cloud-native SaaS solution can deliver consistency across customers and global locations when it comes to performance, availability, security and operational simplicity. The SaaS vendor maintains control of all elements of the platform, which means it can quickly deliver the benefits of new innovations and features to all customers. Most SaaS platform vendors maintain very close relationships with the cloud IaaS providers, which enables much faster resolution when changes occur that might impact performance or availability.

And while all these characteristics can apply to any form of SaaS offering, it takes on a whole other level of meaning when it comes to Desktop as a Service  (DaaS). A SaaS-based cloud desktop solution can support the ability to support work from anywhere with little or no intervention from IT. And that means IT staff doesn’t have to waste precious time on configuring, setting up hardware or software, or provisioning .

The reality of multi-cloud is another consideration. According to Flexera’s 2020 State of the Cloud report, 93% of enterprises have a multi-cloud strategy, and 87% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy, running applications in an average of 2.2 public and 2.2 private clouds.

A SaaS solution that spans multiple public clouds can enable secure, highly reliable access to cloud desktops and applications from any device, anywhere in the world.

SaaS optimizes cost and SLA

As you consider the right virtual desktop model for your organization, here are two essential questions you need to answer:

  1. Do you have the tools, people and processes to optimize virtual desktop costs?
    Whereas cost is a predictable capital expenditure in an on-premises environment, the total cost of ownership in the cloud can vary by region and is also dependent on whether the tools you use can take advantage of the capabilities offered by the cloud provider.
  2. Do you have the tools, people and processes to deliver the best service level agreement (SLA) and great performance?
    How do you detect when the user is unable to connect or has a poor experience with their virtual desktop? How do you quickly troubleshoot problems when the user complains? With DIY virtual desktops in the cloud, instead of troubleshooting on-premises servers, storage, networking and software, you will have to troubleshoot IaaS and many other software components in the cloud.
    As for SLAs, there are multiple services that need to be coordinated in order to deliver a cloud desktop service with the very best reliability and high availability. Make sure you ask your DaaS provider how deeply instrumented their solution is. How quickly can they identify and resolve issues with underlying infrastructure that can impact a user’s access to their desktop? More importantly, as you calculate the total cost of ownership for your solution, don’t forget to consider the cost of lost productivity in the event desktops are unavailable.

Plotting your DaaS journey

2020 was a defining year in many respects, including the future of work. Many employees cheered at the option for remote work, and many organizations have seen the potential savings in office rental costs. As this shift has required some form of DaaS, organizations have had the opportunity to consider the options available to them.

The DIY approach to DaaS has proven to be inconsistent and resource intensive. Even when organizations have the in-house skillsets to DIY, they often end up not wanting to spend their IT team’s time upgrading and troubleshooting brokers, load balancers, licensing servers and the many other components of their infrastructure. And if an organization simply lifts and shifts their existing VDI to the cloud, they take with them all the same performance, scalability and resource-intensive troubleshooting problems.

The SaaS option, in contrast, can deliver maximum uptime and is able to offer support for an organization’s multi-cloud strategy. Rather than assembling all the parts and building a car from scratch, why not save the time and headaches and buy one that’s already been built? A pure SaaS model offers an alternative to custom-designed, hand-crafted, do-it-yourself VDI software – and at a radically lower price. Take all these points into consideration as you begin your DaaS journey.


Written by Amitabh Sinha.

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Amitabh Sinha
Amitabh Sinha has more than 20 years of experience in enterprise software, end-user computing, mobile, and database software. Amitabh co-founded Workspot with Puneet Chawla and Ty Wang in August 2012.

Prior to Workspot, Amitabh was the general manager for enterprise desktops and Apps at Citrix Systems. In his five years at Citrix, Amitabh was vice president of product management for XenDesktop and vice president of engineering for the Advanced Solutions Group. Amitabh has a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.


Amitabh Sinha is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on LinkedIn.