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Top desktop as a service (DaaS) providers: Amazon, Citrix, Microsoft, VMware, and more

Desktop as a service adoption lags behind on-premise VDI, but the popularity of cloud-hosted desktops is growing. Here's a look at the top DaaS providers and their services.

Desktop as a Service (DaaS) is a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) hosted in the cloud and paid for as a subscription service, usually charged for by the seat. DaaS solutions use a multi-tenancy architecture where a single application instance is delivered to multiple users, or "tenants". The third-party service provider assumes the responsibility for managing the desktop infrastructure. Here's a look at many of the major players in the desktop as a service market and the services they offer. The service providers are listed in alphabetical order by company name.

Amazon WorkSpaces

Amazon Workspaces
Credit: Amazon

Public cloud compatibility: Amazon Web Services (AWS)
Minimum term:  Minimum seats: 1
Pricing: Monthly or hourly; dependent on geographic region

Amazon launched Workspaces, their proprietary cloud desktop service, in 2013. Customers are charged for only the WorkSpaces they use and can pay either monthly or hourly.

Companies can provision either Linux or Windows desktops on a wide variety of virtual hardware and storage configurations. If deploying Windows desktops, companies can use their own Windows 10 Enterprise licenses (if they meet Microsoft's licensing requirements) or pay for them as part of the WorkSpaces subscription.

Amazon offers a default set of applications with each WorkSpace depending on the operating system. Linux desktops include applications such as LibreOffice, Firefox, and Evolution mail. Customers can add additional software from the Amazon Linux repositories with yum. Windows 10 desktops include applications such as Internet Explorer 11 and Firefox. Customers can also add various versions of Microsoft Office Professional 2016 for an additional cost or build their own custom images.

When it comes to end-user credentialing and management WorkSpaces supports "Simple AD, AD Connector, or AWS Directory Service for Microsoft Active Directory, also known as AWS Managed Microsoft AD." Customers can also establish a trust relationship between their AWS Managed Microsoft AD directory and their on-premises domain.

Applications can be deployed to the virtual desktops via existing tools, and WorkSpaces allows customers to use their existing RADIUS server for multi-factor authentication (MFA). Users can access their WorkSpaces via a client application on a Windows or Mac computer, Google Chromebook, Apple iPad, Amazon Fire tablet, and Android tablet, or through either the Chrome or Firefox browsers. WorkSpaces supports encryption root volume and user volume encryption and does not store user data on the local device. Amazon WorkSpaces also provides multiple compliance options including, but not limited to HIPAA, PCI DSS and GDPR.

Amazon WorkSpaces

Citrix Managed Desktops

Citrix Managed Desktops
Credit: Citrix

Public cloud compatibility: Azure
Minimum term: 1 month
Minimum seats: 25
Pricing: Monthly or Term (1 to 5 years)

Longtime remote desktop, thin-client, and virtualization provider Citrix released its desktop as a service solution, Citrix Managed Desktops (CMD), to general availability in August 2019. The company already offered a from of DaaS through Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops (CVAD), but this solution required companies to deal with multiple vendors. Citrix Managed Desktops is designed to be a simplified version of CVAD and a "turnkey service" where all costs are billed directly to Citrix.

CMD uses Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop to deliver virtual desktops hosted on Microsoft Azure IaaS (compute, storage, and networking) and managed by Citrix. Customers can provision a variety of Windows machines, including: Windows 10 Enterprise, Windows 10 EVD (Enterprise Virtual Desktops) Multi-Session, and Windows Server 2016 (with RDSH). The operating system and application licenses can be paid for through the Citrix subscription or customers can use their existing licenses through a Bring Your Own License (BYOL) program. CMD will offer a variety of AD authentication options and support domain-joined and non-domain-joined desktops.

Citrix Managed Desktop pricing varies significantly based on the type of service customers choose and the length of service contract When Citrix introduced CMD in May 2019, they said customers would expect to pay about $30 per user per month for CMD for a minimum of 25 users and at their Synergy event in May 2019, Citrix broke down that ~$30 monthly price for Managed Desktops even further.

However, as of August 2020, CMD pricing on Citrix's website, breaks down as follows:

  • $8 (US) Term commitment (per user, per month; assumes 500 users and a 3-year contract)
  • $15 (US) Workspace Standard with Citrix Managed Desktop (per user, per month; assumes 500 users and a 3-year contract)
  • $16 (US) Pay-as-you go monthly subscription (per user, per month)
Citrix Managed Desktops

Cloudalize Desktop-as-a-Service

Cloudalize Desktop as a Service

Public cloud compatibility: N/A
Minimum term: 1 month
Minimum seats: 1
Pricing: Hourly or monthly

Belgium-based Cloudalize provides a DaaS solution optimized for power users (engineers, architects, etc.) in Europe and North America. Subscriptions include the cost of operating system licenses, but customers will need their own application licenses. According to a 2018 Gartner report, the company "hosts its own data centers using both Citrix and proprietary infrastructures" and "all workspaces must run a Windows 10 experience on a Windows 2016 Server." As of August 2020, prices for Cloudalize DaaS start at $0.89 (US) per hour plus a standard monthly recurring charge of $19.99 (US).

Cloudalize Desktop-as-a-Service

dinCloud dinWorkspace

dinCloud DaaS
Credit: dinCloud

Public cloud compatibility: N/A
Minimum term: 1 month
Minimum seats: 5
Pricing: Monthly

dinCloud's dinWorkspace DaaS solution allows customers to provision virtual desktops that are hosted on hardware in dinCloud's US-based data centers. According to dinCloud, it's data centers "maintain SOC 1 Type II, and SOC 2 Type II compliance, ISO 27001, NIST 800-53/FISMA, and PCI Compliance." Customers can provision a variety of Windows and/or Linux desktops managed through Citrix-based, Microsoft-based, or proprietary tools.

dinCloud dinWorkspace

Evolve IP

Evolve IP
Credit: Evolve IP

Public cloud compatibility: N/A
Minimum term: 12 months
Minimum seats: 25
Pricing:  Monthly

Cloud services company Evolve IP delivers its DaaS solution using VMware View and PC-over-IP (PCoIP). Evolve IP's virtual Windows desktops can be accessed from a variety of end points, including Windows and Mac computers, thin clients, IOS, Android, ChromeOS devices or web browsers that support HTML5. Evolve IP supports both VMware and Citrix stacks and virtual machines are hosted in the company's US-based data centers. Customers that have a Microsoft Open/Volume license for Windows can use Windows VDA (Virtual Desktop Access) with Evolve IP's DaaS solution. As an Authorized Qualified Multitenant Hosting (QMTH) Partner with Microsoft, Evolve IP can support full versions of Office 365 and Exchange access. They also support bring-your-own-licensing (BYOD) and Open-source licensing. Evolve IP offers a range of compliance and security certifications, including SOC2, HIPAA, HITRUST CSF, and PCI DSS.

Evolve IP

itopia Cloud Automation Stack (CAS)

Credit: itopia

Public cloud compatibility: Google Cloud
Minimum term: 12 months (1 to 3 year negotiated contract)
Minimum seats: 5-10 VMs
Pricing: Billed hourly on a month-to-month basis

Founded in 2013, itopia offers a software as a service (SaaS) solution called Cloud Automation Stack (CAS). The company's proprietary automation and orchestration tool works exclusively with Google Cloud Platform (GCP) . Using CAS, customers can deploy and manage workloads, virtual desktops, virtual servers, and virtual apps in a GCP environment. Through the CAS web interface, IT administrators "can manage all aspects of DaaS across both the Microsoft Windows server infrastructure as well as those of Google Cloud Compute Engine." CAS virtual desktops can support either Windows 8.1 or Windows 10. itopia can also provision Windows Server images available in Google Cloud, including Windows Server 2012 R2, 2016, and 2019. End users can access their virtual desktops from devices that support RDP, RemoteFX, RemoteApp feeds, or an HTML5 browser, such a Windows and macOS laptops/desktops, iOS and Android devices, Chromebooks and Chromeboxes, and thin-clients.

There is no minimum number of end-user seats, but deployments automated through CAS require a minimum of five to ten virtual machines. If a customer doesn't provision a specific number of user seats, they are billed for the VMs as if they were seats. Basically, customers are billed for the number of servers or seats, whichever is greater. Customers that sign up through the GCP Marketplace and billed hourly on a month-to-month basis for their units (seats or servers). When it comes to operating system and application licenses, all third-party licenses must be provided by the customer, since the VMs are running on the customer's own Google Cloud account.


Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop

Windows Virtual Desktop

Officially unveiled at Microsoft Ignite 2018, Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) (formerly known as "Windows 10 Enterprise for Remote Sessions" and "Windows 10 Enterprise for Virtual Desktops") allows companies to run Windows desktops hosted on Microsoft's Azure cloud platform. In August 2019, Microsoft indicated that WVD was "feature complete," and released WVD to general availability in September 2019.

Using WVD, Customers can provision Windows 10 virtual machines running Office 365 ProPlus and third-party applications. Although official support for Windows 7 ended in January 2020, companies can host Windows 7 VMs for three years without paying for Extended Security Updates. Companies using Remote Desktop Services (RDS) are also be able to migrate their existing Windows Server remote desktops and apps to Azure.

Unfortunately, WVD pricing is a rather complicated affair. According to Microsoft, customers can access "Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows 7 Enterprise desktops and apps at no additional cost" if they already have "an eligible Windows or Microsoft 365 license." Customers can also "access desktops powered by Windows Server Remote Desktop Services desktops and apps at no additional cost" if they "are an eligible Microsoft Remote Desktop Services (RDS) Client Access License (CAL) customer." Customers also need an "Azure account and subscription" to deploy and manage their virtualization environment. Azure components like VMs and OS storage, data disk storage, user profile storage and networking would therefore be part of the price for a WVD deployment. Essentially, companies with eligible Windows or Microsoft 365 licenses, get access to WVD machines by paying for the Azure compute, storage, and networking resources used to host each virtual machine.

Microsoft WVD

MTM Technologies AnywhereApp

MTM Technologies AnyWhereApp

Public cloud compatibility: AWS, Microsoft Azure, CenturyLink, Oracle
Minimum term: 12 months (36 months for best pricing)
Minimum seats:  50
Pricing:  Monthly

MTM Technologies is an IT services company that provides both technical consulting and infrastructure management in areas, such as cloud, virtualization, and data center design/management. In 2017, MTM launched AnywhereApp, a "workspace-as-a-service" solution that lets customers deploy Windows 7 or Windows 10 virtual desktops with support for a variety of mission-critical enterprise applications such as those from Jack Henry & Associates and OpenText, productivity software like Office 365 and Google G Suite, and cloud-based solutions from providers like Salesforce and Adobe. Hosting can be provided through a private cloud, on-premise data center, colocation facility, AWS, Azure, or CenturyLink. MTM can support a full range of virtualization stacks from Citrix VMware, and Microsoft. MTM can provide the software licenses for Microsoft, Citrix, and VMware products on a month-to-month basis, or clients can provide their own licensing if they use a stand alone environment. Users can access AnywhereApp virtual workspaces via a variety of end points, including Windows and Mac computers, iOS and Android devices, and thin clients from companies like IGEL and Dell. MTM has accreditation for both HIPAA and SOC2 Part 1 compliance.

MTM Technologies AnywhereApp

VMware Horizon Cloud

VMware Horizon Cloud

Public cloud compatibility: IBM Cloud, Microsoft Azure
Minimum term: 1 month
Minimum seats:  1
Pricing:  Monthly

VMware's Horizon Cloud DaaS solution allows companies to provision Windows virtual desktops using either their existing Microsoft Azure cloud infrastructure or a VMware-managed IBM Cloud infrastructure. VMware offers two types of Horizon Cloud subscriptions..."per named user" (for users who need dedicated virtual desktops) or "per concurrent connection" (for virtual desktops that will be shared by multiple users). Horizon Cloud with IBM Cloud customers purchase both the Horizon Cloud user license and capacity on IBM Cloud from VMware. Horizon Cloud on Microsoft Azure customers purchase the Horizon Cloud user license from VMware and buy the Microsoft Azure capacity from Microsoft.

VMware is an approved Windows Virtual Desktop provider and support Microsoft WVD, "including Windows 10 Enteprise multi-session." VMware has said however, it has no current plans to become a Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) and will therefore not resell Microsoft licensing or Microsoft Azure capacity. Customers will need to buy their own Microsoft software licenses and Azure capacity.

VMware Horizon Cloud

Features and benefits of DaaS

As with other cloud services, DaaS is an attractive solution for companies moving away from managing their own hardware either in an on-premise data center or cololocation. DaaS benefits can include easier patch management and software updates, faster migrations, quicker new user provisioning, better disaster planning and recovery, and improved application and data security. The costs of deploying and maintaining the hardware required to run each virtual desktop shifts from a capital expense (capex) to operational expense (opex). Users can also benefit from DaaS by being able to access corporate data and applications through a desktop experience on a wide range of either company-provided or BYOD devices using a network or internet connection.

DaaS market trends and adoption rates

In 2019, DaaS vendors made several major moves. Microsoft made their DaaS solution, Windows Virtual Desktop, generally available SeptemberCitrix Managed Desktops moved to general availability in August, and Dell and Microsoft announced cloud and virtualization partnerships focused around VMware. Yet despite the benefits of DaaS and these market shifts, adoption remains lower than some expected.

In Gartner's 2016 DaaS report, analysts predicted that "by 2019, 50% of new VDI users will be deployed on DaaS platforms" as the deployment of DaaS solutions "cannibalize on-premises VDI at refresh." But in a 2018 survey, Gartner found that DaaS adoption was still significantly lower than VDI adoption, especially among large enterprises.

And in their 2019 Market Guide for Desktop as a Service report, Gartner noted that by 2023 they expect that "price reductions and product maturity will lead organizations to move 20% of VDI users into DaaS offerings in the cloud," significantly less than their earlier predictions. Furthermore, Gartner noted that DaaS "progress has been stymied somewhat by the fresh injection of hype from Microsoft's entry into the DaaS market." 

Despite the limited adoption of DaaS, Gartner did point to growth in the market. "Microsoft's entry into the desktop as a service (DaaS) market has dominated Gartner inquiries since September 2018 and rejuvenated interest in DaaS maturity and business value," the research company noted. They also noted that DaaS is "now being adopted by midsize and large enterprise organizations, primarily for disaster recovery, and elastic and temporary use cases."

Given the increase in remote work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it wouldn't be unrealistic to see an uptick in interest around technologies that provide secure remote workspaces like VDI and DaaS.