The trouble with DaaS

I recently read a blog post entitled¬†DaaS is a Non-Starter, discussing how Desktop as a Service (DaaS) is, as the title says, a non-starter. I’ll have to admit, I agree. I’m a bit of a naysayer about DaaS, just as I have long been about VDI itself.

In talking with a colleague the other day, as well as customers at a recent licensing boot camp, it sure seems like VDI, like “enterprise social” is a burger with a whole lot of bun, and not as much meat as you might hope for (given your investment). The promise as I believe it to be is that by centralizing your desktops, you get better manageability. To a degree, I believe that to be true. To a huge degree, I don’t. It really comes down to how standardized you make your desktops, how centrally you manage user document storage, and how much sway your users have (are they admin or can they install their own Win32 apps).

With VDI, the problem is, well… money. First you have server hardware and software costs, second, you have the appropriate storage and networking to actually execute a a VDI implementation, and third, you finally have to spend the money to hire people who can glue it all together in an end-user experience that isn’t horrible. It feels to me that a lot of businesses fall in love with VDI (true client OS-based VDI) without taking the complete cost into account.

With DaaS, you pay a certain amount per month, and your users can access a standardized desktop image hosted on a service provider’s server and infrastructure – which is created and managed by them. The OS here is actually usually Windows Server, not a Windows desktop OS – I’ll discuss that in a second. But as far as infrastructure, using DaaS from a service provider means you usually don’t have to invest the cash in corporate standard Windows desktops or laptops (or Windows Server hardware if you’re trying VDI on-premises), or the high-end networking and storage, or the people to glue that architecture together. Your users, in turn, get (theoretically) the benefits of VDI, regardless of what device they come at it with (a personally owned PC, tablet, whatever).

However, as with any *aaS, you’re then at the mercy of your DaaS purveyor. In turn, you’re also at the mercy of their licensing limitations as it regards Windows. This is why ¬†most of them run Windows Server; it’s the only version of Windows that can generally be made available by hosting providers, and Windows desktop OSs can’t be. You also have to live within the constraints of their DaaS implementation (HW/SW availability, infrastructure, performance, and architecture, etc). To date, most DaaS offerings I’ve seen focused on “get up and running fast!”, not “we’ll work with you to make sure your business needs are solved!”.

Andre’s blog post, mentioned at the beginning of my post here, really hit the nail on the head. In particular, he mentioned good points about enterprise applications, access to files and folders the user needs, adequate bandwidth for real-world use, and DaaS vs. VDI.

To me, the main point here is that with a DaaS, your service provider, not you, get to call a lot of the shots here, and not many of them consider the end-to-end user workflow necessary for your business.

Your users need to get tasks done, wherever they are. Fine. Can they get access to their applications that live on premises, through VDI in the cloud, from a tablet at the airport? How about their files? Does your DaaS require a secondary logon, or does it support SSO from their tablet or other non-company owned/managed device? How fat of a pipe is necessary for your users before they get frustrated? How close can your DaaS come to on-premises functionality (as if the user was sitting at an actual PC with an actual keyboard and mouse (or touch)?

On Twitter, I mentioned to Andre that Microsoft’s own entry into the DaaS space would surely change the game. I don’t know anything (officially or unofficially) here, but it has been long suspected that Microsoft has planned their own DaaS offering.

When you combine the technologies available in Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows Azure, and Office 365, the scenario for a Microsoft DaaS actually starts to become pretty amazing. There are implementation costs to get all of this deployed, mind you – including licensing and deployment/migration. That isn’t free. But it might be worth it if DaaS sounds compelling and I’m right about Microsoft’s approach.

Microsoft’s changes to Active Directory in Server 2012 R2 (AD FS, the Web Application Proxy [WAP]) mean that users can get to AD from wherever they are, and Office 365 and third party services (including a Microsoft DaaS) can have seamless SSO.

Workplace Join can provide that SSO experience, even from a Windows 7, iOS, or Samsung Knox device, and the business can control which assets and applications the user can connect to, even if they’re on the inside of the firewall and the user is not (through WAP, mentioned previously), or available through another third party.

Work Folders enables synchronized access to files and folders that are stored on-premises in Windows file shares, to user devices. This could conceptually be extended to work with a Microsoft (or third-party) DaaS as well, and I have to think OneDrive for Business could be made to work as well given the right VDI/DaaS model.

In a DaaS, applications the user needs could be provided through App-V, RemoteApp running from an on-premises Remote Desktop server (a bit of redundancy, I know), or again, published out through WAP so users could connect to them as if the DaaS servers were on-premises.

When you add in Office 365, it continues building out the solution, since users can again be authenticated using their AD credentials, and OneDrive for Business can provide synchronization to their work PCs and DaaS, or access on their personally owned device.

Performance is of course a key bottleneck here, assuming all of the above pieces are in place, and work as advertised (and beyond). Microsoft’s RemoteFX technology has been advancing in terms of offering a desktop-like experience regardless of the device (and is now supported by Microsoft’s recently acquired RDP clients for OS X, iOS, and Android). While Remote Desktop requires a relatively robust connection to the servers, it degrades relatively gracefully, and can be tuned down for connections with bandwidth/latency issues.

All in all, while I’m still a doubter about VDI, and I think there’s a lot of duct tape you’d need to put in place for a DaaS to be the practical solution to user productivity that many vendors are trying to sell it as, there is promise here, and given the right vendor, things could get interesting.

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