How to choose the best desktop as a service (DaaS) vendor for your business

Selecting the right provider to host your virtual desktops can be challenging. Here are some tips to help you in this process.

Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktops Desktop-as-a-Service DaaS

Microsoft

As organizations have been migrating more of their on-premises services to the cloud, Desktops as a Service (DaaS) has been gaining greater traction. With DaaS, your desktop environment is hosted by a third-party cloud provider, which takes care of the security, software updates, support, and certain other management tasks. As such, selecting the best DaaS vendor for your business can be a difficult decision. But understanding the criteria and knowing the right questions to ask are key steps.

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What is DaaS?

DaaS offers your organization a subscription-based, on-demand, virtualized desktop with your chosen operating system and applications. The idea is to take the burden away from your IT department, support staff, and data center resources by outsourcing your core desktop infrastructure to a provider. Your IT department still configures and controls your desktop but is spared from most of the regular management chores so that they can focus on other tasks.

Your employees can access this virtual desktop from your offices, from their homes, and from other remote locations. This is especially critical now as so many people have been forced to work remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown. Further, DaaS is a flexible approach as users can access your virtualized desktop from a PC, a mobile phone or tablet, or a supported smart device.

For hosting your virtual environment, you can choose a private, public, or hybrid approach. With a private approach, the virtual desktops are hosted in your own data center but are remotely managed by your provider. In a public scenario, your virtual environment is hosted and managed by the provider. A hybrid approach allows you to choose and customize some mixture of private and public.

What is a DaaS provider?

A DaaS provider hosts your cloud-based, virtualized desktop environment. Such a provider takes on the management of your desktop environment, offers you the necessary data center resources, and maintains the desktop virtualization infrastructure.

DaaS is often compared with virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) since your desktop and applications run in a virtualized environment rather than directly on your PCs. But with VDI, you host and support your own physical and virtual machines. A DaaS provider, in contrast, handles these traditional VDI components, leaving you to focus more on controlling your virtual desktops and apps.

Ideally, a DaaS provider can offer a better security posture, threat protection, DDoS prevention capabilities, and compliance certifications than you may be able to achieve through an on-premises implementation, according to Kam VedBrat, Microsoft's partner group program manager for Windows AI and graphics platforms.

Gartner has categorized DaaS providers into the following three categories based on how they operate:

Proprietary DaaS solutions. These are services created by and only available from a certain provider. One example is Amazon WorkSpaces, which is found only on Amazon Web Services (AWS). This offering has been around for several years and has grown significantly during that time, according to Gartner.

Another proprietary vendor is Workspot, which provides its own cloud-native solution to deliver a virtual desktop at a flat fixed rate. Workspot prefers to deploy the virtual desktop through Microsoft Azure, though it will use other platforms. One other proprietary vendor is Microsoft with its Windows Virtual Desktop. The company has built up partnerships with other vendors to enhance and expand this service.

The downside of using a vendor with proprietary software is that you may face difficulties migrating your environment to a new provider if you're unhappy with your current one.

Citrix- or VMware-based DaaS solutions. These two leading VDI vendors offer cloud tooling services that many DaaS vendors use to create their own offerings. Organizations and service providers can use these cloud tooling services to create VDI, DaaS, or hybrid DaaS solutions. If a customer is unhappy with one provider, they can potentially move their configurations and data to another provider that uses the same software.

Alternate DaaS solutions. In this category, the DaaS platform is based on other cloud-native, DaaS tooling, or cloud-capable hybrid tooling solutions. In some cases, such vendors may not sell directly to organizations but will use managed service providers (MSPs) and independent software vendors (ISVs) to offer DaaS services. In other cases, they may sell a platform that MSPs and ISVs can "plug into" and still sell directly to organizations. With this approach, you can often port your configurations and data to another provider if you're unhappy with the current one.

How to approach DaaS

When evaluating DaaS, you'll first want to analyze your own organization and see if this is indeed the right approach. If you're currently using PCs with your OS and applications running locally, determine if a virtualized approach would save money and free up resources. If so, then weigh the pros and cons of VDI versus DaaS. Do you have the staff, time, and other assets required to manage your own virtual infrastructure or would it make more sense to outsource your desktop environment?

"Clarify your organization's desktop strategy to ensure that DaaS is a good fit," Gartner analyst Stuart Downes told TechRepublic. "Not every application, nor every user, will be a candidate for DaaS. For that reason, a deep understanding of your application portfolio, which users use which applications and the work styles of those users is needed to accurately determine if DaaS-based virtual desktops will meet requirements."

Downes see DaaS as a good fit for organizations that are distributed in what Gartner calls Anywhere Operations in which customers, employees, and infrastructure can be anywhere and everywhere.

How to pick the right vendor

Once you've decided that DaaS is the right solution, selecting the right vendor depends on your needs as providers offer a variety of features from commodity DaaS services to full managed DaaS services, according to Downes. You'll want to assess the costs, features, and services to match your company's business case. You also must factor in the full costs associated with a DaaS solution, including charges not included in the provider's pricing, such as network charges and additional charges for high-performance storage.

"Define your existing desktop computing costs so that a valid comparison to DaaS pricing can be made." Downes says. "Cost is still an inhibitor to DaaS adoption, and the nature of discounts provided by DaaS vendors adds complexity to long-term cost forecasting."

Beyond these initial factors, choosing a provider is similar to choosing the hardware you'd purchase for an in-house deployment, according to Gabe Knuth, senior product line marketing manager for EUC at VMware and author of a 2014 book on DaaS. You'll want to determine which provider has the features or specifications you need and then narrow it down via the following questions:

  • Does the vendor offer a modern platform built for the cloud or a legacy platform based on old technology?
  • Does the vendor have a broad End User Computing (EUC) focus that goes beyond just desktop virtualization?
  • Is the vendor recognized as a leader across all of EUC?
  • Is the vendor already a trusted platform within your organization?
  • With security more important than ever, especially with a remote workforce, does the vendor have an excellent security track record?

You'll also want to take into account such considerations as where the solution is hosted as well as the comfort level and skillset of the provider's staff to manage your environment, performance levels, scalability, security, data location, and cloud lock-in, Nikola Bozinovic, vice president and general manager for desktop services at Nutanix, told TechRepublic.

"For instance, consider geography," Bozinovic says. "When looking to reach users across the world, latency can be an issue, so it's important to understand where the solution is hosted and what its reach is. Another important factor is cloud lock-in—being able to take advantage of hybrid and multicloud flexibility allows customers to more easily optimize resources, ensure compliance with regulatory requirements, and more."

Finally, Microsoft's VedBrat offers the following criteria to adopt when evaluating a DaaS provider:

  • User experience. Make sure that employees will have a good experience and access to the tools and resources they need to be productive.
  • Security. The solution must have a good security posture and provide tools to implement best practices such as Zero Trust.
  • Compliance certifications. Ensure that the vendor meets the compliance needs of your organization.
  • Total cost of ownership (TCO). Clearly understand the costs and calculate the TCO for each DaaS solution. If you already have existing software licenses, take those into account for the TCO calculation.
  • Ease of deployment. How easy is it to deploy the DaaS service? If you have an existing solution, is there a clear path to migrate without affecting your users?
  • Management experience. Consider the scaling, patching, automation, and governance capabilities of the vendor.

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