Having a wife in hospital for the weekend meant less technology and more, well, Pokemon. I’d never been a fan of Pokemon growing up—actually, I was probably nearly a teenager by the time they hit the mainstream, so it’s understandable—but the weekend provided me with a semi-interesting crash course in it.

In the Pokemon world (best I could tell), budding participants build a team of Pokemon by catching them. Each participant selects Pokemon to add to the team with an eye toward expanding the team’s range of skills and attacks. The goal is to build a team good enough for the participant to become a Pokemon Master. In a moment of cringe-inducing clarity, I suddenly saw an analogy between the cartoon adventures of Ash and Pikachu and the state of cloudy desktop virtualization. My children’s struggles to achieve Pokemon mastery seemed to have a lot in common with DaaS. The striving to blend “features” to produce the desired “team” that will allow “mastery” felt all too familiar—and given the frustration exuding from my children as they realized that particular acquisitions or evolutions were not quite what they required, it seemed that Pokemon mastery was almost as intangible as DaaS nirvana.

Where to Start?

Apparently, there are a total of 781 Pokemon to choose from. If you go through hosting providers, partners, and bigger companies, you would probably find a similar number of DaaS vendors to choose from. Indeed, if you do it through Citrix’s partner network, you might possibly find that choosing a Pokemon is far more straightforward. Searching for DaaS providers in the USA alone via Citrix’s partner network brings up a total of 719 choices. In the Pokemon world, you’re only allowed to choose from three different options for your first Pokemon, but in the DaaS world, there’s no such restriction to make things simple.

Big or Small?

My kids have an obsession with Reshiram. He’s the biggest, meanest Pokemon around (at least that’s what I gathered from my two-day exposure; please, any avid Pokemon fans reading TVP, correct me if I am wrong!) They clearly aspire to have Reshiram on their team (or at least helping them), simply because of his awesome reputation.

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In the DaaS world, there are some big, mean players involved or looking to get involved—mainly VMware, Amazon, Google, and Citrix. With so many smaller players out there, it’s inevitable that a period of consolidation in the DaaS arena may be firmly in the pipeline. To that end, it is sometimes better to go with a larger, more established provider.

That’s not to say that your average Pokemon can’t be as effective as a Reshiram; small can indeed provide beautiful service. And not just small providers; there are also mid-range options available at the moment. NaviSite and dinCloud stand out as two of the foremost “middle ground” players, but the rumblings of the technological Reshirams approaching is sure to give most of the people seriously thinking about DaaS pause. In the cutthroat DaaS market, smaller players can easily go out of business, make bad decisions (OnLive?) or even simply be swallowed up by one of the Reshirams out there. On top of everything else, one of these eventualities can leave you needing a solid exit or migration strategy—something I will cover in a future post.

What Have They Got?

Pokemon all have different powers and attacks, making them more or less useful to their trainer, dependent on the situation they find themselves in. When it comes to DaaS, it’s more or less the same story. Each potential DaaS customer has different technological needs, and selecting the right provider will be the way to become a DaaS Master.

VMware’s Pokemon goes by the name of “Horizon.” He’s slightly schizophrenic, sometimes referring to himself as “Horizon View.” He’s powerful, cheap, familiar to many, and packs a new attack called “hybrid cloud,” which is sure to be problematic for the other big Pokemon out there to defend against.

vmware pokemon

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Amazon’s beastie goes by the name of “WorkSpaces,” although it evolved directly from one called “AWS.” It is as cheap as Horizon and more powerful in memory and storage, but it is backed up by unwieldy Windows Server 2008 R2 terminal servers rather than being able to spew out Windows client goodness. It also lacks the ready-to-market features that VMware acquired for Horizon when it caught Desktone. However, WorkSpaces’ evolution from AWS means that it already has vast reserves of experience in this battle arena, something that Horizon cannot show.

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Microsoft is quietly dusting off its Pokemon called “Mohoro,” with a view toward unleashing it from its cage, probably in the second half of 2014. Mohoro has several powers similar to Amazon’s, particularly around vast experience with the “Azure” attack, and you can bet that it comes laden with orchestration abilities. However, Microsoft could give its “Mohoro” Pokemon a huge advantage by training it with the power to “Fix VDA”—but for some reason, it seems unwilling to do so.

mohoro pokemon

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And Citrix? Well, for a long time now there has been a rumour about a Citrix Pokemon by the name of “Avalon”—but it appears unclear if this will be a DaaS beastie at all, or simply a platform towards some sort of partnership.

citrix pokemon

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Some of the smaller Pokemon types have some interesting powers—like dinCloud’s “webHVD” creature, which can unleash the “NetFlix” attack that no other type has—but can they compete against the vast portfolio of other features that the Reshirams of the DaaS world can bundle against them?

And finally, there is one more Reshiram that has yet to cast its hand into the DaaS arena (if indeed it ever does), but it has a close relationship with some smaller DaaS providers, which may make an acquisition feasible. That Reshiram is Google, and Google is not averse to moving quickly should it see an opportunity.

google pokemon

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Conclusions

My children tell me that becoming a Pokemon Regional Champion is very hard. Doing DaaS properly is proving hard, too. At the end of the day, it’s all about the applications.

This can be illustrated by the interplay between those DaaS providers that provide “re-skinned” Windows Server sessions that look like Windows 7 or 8, and those that provide the full-fat client desktop OSes. Those that provide server-based sessions will say there’s no difference, whereas those that provide the full desktop will have a shopping list of discrepancies they can reel off. But the end users don’t care—unless there’s an application issue. If one of your apps doesn’t play nicely on a terminal server, and you provide a DaaS instance that uses a terminal server, you can guarantee your users will be unhappy about it.

But as we all know, making it “simply about applications” raises another host of questions. Once you’ve identified the applications, you’ve got to allow for each application’s access methods, security and compliance, reliability, printing, settings persistence, and probably a load of other stuff I don’t have time to mention.

So, who would you choose? In the absence of a Pikachu option, the fact remains that the DaaS market is currently a jungle. Many are understandably wary about diving straight in. Will the rest of 2014 bring us any closer to becoming DaaS Masters? Only time will tell.

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James Rankin (23 Posts)

James has worked in IT since 1995, spending nearly ten years as a server engineer and systems administrator before choosing to focus heavily on user and application virtualization in late 2004. Based in the north-east of England, he runs his own consultancy focusing primarily on Citrix, AppSense, Microsoft and VMware technologies. He recently received the AppSense Community Advisor award for contributions to the online USV community.

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