Trying to manage and maintain your desktop environment in house can consume a lot of time and resources. Your IT staff has to continually support, troubleshoot, and update each PC as well as every application your users run. This task has become even trickier in 2020 as employees have been forced to work remotely. In light of these challenges, one service worth considering is Desktop as a Service, or DaaS.

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With DaaS, your desktop environment is hosted in the cloud by a third-party provider. Such a subscription-based service gives your organization an on-demand, virtualized desktop with the required operating system and necessary applications.

Instead of your IT staff having to fully manage your PCs, the cloud provider handles the maintenance, updates, security, and other regular tasks. Your IT department still configures and controls the desktop but is spared from most of the daily management chores.

Your employees can then access this virtual desktop from anywhere, including in your offices, at their homes, or at other remote locations. Of course, they still need a device from which to connect to your desktop environment. But the flexibility and availability of DaaS means that your environment can be accessed from a PC, a mobile phone, or tablet, and various smart devices.

How does DaaS work?

In concept, DaaS is similar to virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) in that your desktop and applications run in a virtualized environment rather than directly on your PCs. But with VDI, your IT department is still managing and maintaining the physical and virtual machines on premises. Looking at VDI, your desktop environment can be broken down into four different layers and required skillsets, as explained by Gabe Knuth, senior product line marketing manager for EUC at VMware and author of a 2014 book on DaaS.

  • Base level. At the base level are the machines on which your platform runs. Maintaining all your PCs requires certain experience with hardware.
  • Virtualization layer. This is the layer on which your servers, network, and security systems run. This requires experience with storage, networking, and security.
  • Desktop virtualization infrastructure. In the case of VDI, this layer consists of the servers and services that provide access to your virtual desktops and applications. This requires skills in networking, remote protocols, and virtualization.
  • Top layer. The top layer consists of the virtual desktops and applications accessed by your users. This requires a knowledge of operating systems, applications, security, and licensing, as well as systems management and patching.

“Ordinarily, a customer has to manage all four of these layers, which requires a number of employees with a broad range of skillsets,” Knuth told TechRepublic. “Desktops-as-a-Service eliminates the lower three layers by taking over the management of the hardware, SDDC (software-defined data center), and desktop virtualization infrastructure, leaving the customer to manage just the virtual desktops and applications themselves.”

Image: Gartner

Why consider DaaS?

The following are some of the key benefits and reasons why an organization should consider deploying DaaS:

  • Less strain on IT. By outsourcing most of the management and regular maintenance of your desktop environment, there’s less burden and stress on your IT staff, especially when grappling with daily support tasks.
  • Decreased reliance for a data center. An on-premises or VDI environment requires a fully equipped data center. By reducing that need, DaaS can help with expenses, especially for organizations that rent space in a third-party data center or are running out of capacity at their existing data center.
  • Cost management. With DaaS, you can continually scale your desktop requirements up or down based on the volume of users. So you pay only for the virtual resources that you need. This can help your organization avoid the up-front capital expenditures associated with an on-premises environment.
  • Reduced security risks. DaaS can reduce security issues caused by employees who lose their laptops or mobile devices, especially when traveling, according to Adam Lotz, senior manager for product marketing at the desktop and applications group for Citrix. Users as well as security staff and compliance officers don’t need to worry about sensitive data being compromised as all data is hosted in the cloud. This also create a more secure scenario for remote work and BYOD (bring your own device).
  • Secure access to all necessary resources. DaaS offers a secure cloud-based environment from which users can access SaaS applications, cloud-based office software, cloud services, file shares, and corporate resources, according to Lotz, just as they would from an on-premises device. The only requirement is a solid internet connection.
  • No need to run or manage VDI. VDI virtualizes your desktop environment but still requires in-house resources for managing your physical and virtualized machines. Most organizations have desktop management experience but not necessarily the skills to support an on-premises virtual infrastructure, according to Knuth. DaaS is a way for organizations to outsource the infrastructure management and focus on other tasks.
  • Faster desktop deployment. With DaaS, the virtualized desktop environment can be up and running more quickly than can an in-house infrastructure, Knuth says. There’s no need to build a full on-premises PC environment. Adding a new user to your environment is also a relatively quick and easy task.
  • Better option for remote work. With the transition to remote working, DaaS can benefit employees whether or not they have a company-provided device, according to Kam VedBrat, partner group program manager for Windows AI and graphics platforms at Microsoft. Those who have a company device may still need to use apps and tools that can’t be served over a VPN. Those without such a device, including short-term employees, contractors, or even new employees, can use their own devices to access the desktop environment.
  • Better option for specialized workers. Developers, graphic designers, data scientists, and other specialists often require powerful computers with greater CPU and GPU capabilities. DaaS can provide such machines in situations where they’re not available in house.
  • Cost savings with Windows Virtual Desktop. Organizations that already have a Microsoft Enterprise agreement are entitled to use Microsoft’s Windows Virtual Desktop, Knuth explains. This gives you the ability to run Windows virtual desktops and applications in Microsoft Azure without any additional licensing costs. You just need to pay for the Azure consumption. In such cases, Windows Virtual Desktop can serve as a cost-efficient first step toward DaaS.

DaaS isn’t always a viable or appropriate solution. In some cases, an organization may need to host and control their own desktops for legal or regulatory reasons. As with most cloud services, IT still needs to take a certain role in ensuring that the desktop environment is secure, accessible, and effective.

“Of course, DaaS environments are not maintenance-free,” Lotz says. “Applications require updates, on-premises corporate data may still be a necessity, and users will still create help desk tickets. DaaS doesn’t remove the need for IT staff or a well-defined IT strategy, but it does add new flexibility and removes much of the burden of client hardware support and data center maintenance.”