Fast Packet

AWS, VMWare bring new focus to desktop service potential, obstacles

Keith Townsend

Has Desktop as a Service (DaaS) become a thing all of a sudden?  It's certainly not a new concept: IBM has offered a desktop service product for years.  Indeed, DaaS is an approach that up until

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the last year or so has been roundly dismissed. That said, it's hard to ignore what has been happening in the market the past few months. VMware purchased Desktone in October, and one month later, Amazon released a beta of its DaaS solution, branded Workspaces.  The on-premise father of DaaS, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), has been a long time in coming. In fact, I've written that 201x is the year of VDI at least the last three years.  It's mostly been in jest.  But in light of the steps taken by VMware and Amazon, it might be time to ask the question: Have these providers overcome the challenges of DaaS?

Consuming what you need, when you need it

I'm not sure what VMware or Amazon is seeing in this market, but I'm watching with curiosity.

One of the major appeals of Amazon Web Services' products has been the ability to consume the service in sips or gulps. That's a benefit for both small and large organizations alike. One of the major attractions to VDI in AWS or any public cloud is the ability to put users close to the applications and the data center. On the other hand, VDI is considered a difficult and expensive technology to maintain. So, when providers such as VMware or Amazon offer to remove these obstacles and have desktops close to the data, there's a great appeal for such a service.

All of the compelling features of VDI can be applied to DaaS. For example, DaaS enables bring-your-own device because it can present corporate desktops on consumer devices such as laptops, tablets and smartphones. VDI also supports the use of a distributed or virtual workforce and it can allow companies to reduce the amount of money needed to update workers' computers and other hardware by avoiding hardware refresh costs.

All these VDI features apply to DaaS. It sounds as if DaaS is the perfect cloud service. So why hasn't it taken off yet?

Licensing a major hurdle confronting DaaS providers

One of the major challenges facing DaaS is Windows 7 licensing. In short, Microsoft doesn't allow organizations to run Windows 7 in a shared public cloud. That policy has made DaaS cost-prohibitive for both provider and consumer. In response, DaaS providers have leveraged Windows Server licensing. Both AWS and Desktone provide an option to host "desktops" running Windows Server. But imagine the challenges of putting a full Windows Server OS on each desktop. Let's say your security policy allows for administrative rights on the desktop. All it would take is one power user, armed with just enough knowledge, to bring your network grief with a flood of unauthorized services.

Dave Grant, Desktone's product manager, discussed the challenges of delivering desktops in the cloud on a recent podcast. Paramount is the challenge of Windows licensing. If you just want to take a "sip" from Amazon's Workspaces with, say, a dozen desktops, your only real option is to have them run Windows Server. According to Grant, Windows 7-based DaaS normally makes economic sense at about 50 desktops.

Until licensing obstacles are overcome, I don't expect DaaS to boost VDI usage.  I'm not sure what VMware or Amazon is seeing in this market, but I'm watching with curiosity.


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