Thames Water have signed up to give a sizable part of its desktop infrastructure management  to services built on Desktone’s VDI stack hosted and maintained by Molten Technologies.  Thames Water is the UK’s largest water and sewerage company, serving one of the world’s largest conurbations.  Is this a significant landmark for Desktop As-A-Service (DaaS) provision? The utility sector is very focused on costs, tends to be studiously following the curve rather than forging fast into uncharted waters. DaaS, for some, is still interesting concept, but has the perception of risk.

Thames Water CIO Aiden Heke said: “Our decision to invest in virtual desktop technology demonstrates our innovative approach and our long-term commitment to contain costs and boost staff productivity by improving flexibility and security. This supports our main aim of delivering the best possible service to our 14m customers.”

Sounds canny. But, what have Thames Water and Molten Technologies done with Desktone’s software? Is DaaS now a service that can accommodate a company with a client base of 14 million? Desktone had a major campaign around the $1/day desktop: is that’s what’s in use here? Indeed, are Desktone a software company, or a hosting company? Given the known costs and complexity of a virtual desktop infrastructure, can you only deliver a VDI if you situate your services in the cloud? Where does DaaS sit in comparison to a virtual desktop infrastructure?  Will Desktone leave Citrix and VMware in the Doldrums?


All you need is A Dollar, A Dollar?

I was impressed with the marketing message that “your desktop for a $1/day” gives: because it’s essentially a managed workspace for $365 per year:  arguably, the price of a corporate PC. But, in this context ‘a desktop’ is not a PC. ‘Desktop-as-a-service” here is “a managed workspace hosted on a virtual desktop operating system”. So, “your desktop” is really “whatever the cost of your end device(s) plus at least $1/day”. At least? That $1 won’t cover Microsoft Office licenses, application licenses, any application or device support. But, and this is the important thing, it gives you a base cost for that delivering workspace, which it is unlikely you had before.

A dollar a day sounds great to a end-consumer but Desktone isn’t in the game of being a hosting company delivering to an end-consumer. Desktone are offering a platform that can be used to deliver a service for managing hosted desktops.  DaaS must be more than a simply reducing $/£/euro (other currencies are available) costs, because either managing a workspace wasn’t something that was done with any rigour (so you don’t know what the saving is), or it was and there is a sizable investment in desktop management technologies that could now be redundant (possibly not saving costs at all). DaaS, and indeed VDI, offers agility, flexibility of change and quantification of cost for providing the service. There are benefits of flexibility and security that providing a virtual desktop can bring over and above traditional desktops.

It may well be you can pick specific areas of the business that can be virtualised. Delivery of services to contractors, or partners, or a call-centre, or for flexible-working for example. But, a complete DaaS should be able to include all a number of delivery methods – not just hosted desktops. Because, an organisation can rarely say “all of our workspace services can be virtualised”.

It is not what you know, but who you know

2011 has not just been a year of marketing messages for Desktone. Desktone already included components of Citrix’s HDX technology in their environment (by support ICA connectivity), but this year they announced a partnership with VMware. This partnership validated the market opportunity for service providers to offer a full featured  desktop-as-a-service for virtual desktops because of the sheer scale of service providers building their business on VMware’s technology: good for Desktone. In addition, VMware benefits from the fact that a software stack exists that can be used to deliver View services at scale.

VMware do have an architecture guide for 10,000 desktops focused on a single organisation: as do Citrix for XenDesktop. There may well be organisations willing to accommodate the management of such environments, both solutions rely on duplication and/or additional services to scale. The complexities in terms of management, skills, and resource of implementing and managing all the components of a VMware View or a Citrix XenDesktop environment for multiple deskt0ps can reduce the advantages of delivering VDI, or stall or scupper the project.

Which should make the task ripe for a third party to manage and maintain. to free up your organisation so that it manages the workspace, not the environment hosting the workspace? Does that means delivering VDI means you must host your services in “The Cloud”?

DaaS must be in The Cloud

Nonsense. Molten have worked with Thames Water to utilise Thames Water’s own infrastructure. An effective DaaS offering should not, must not only be considered as ‘off-premise’.

Is it “On-Premise”, or “Private Cloud”? “”Private cloud'” you may mutter, “you mean.  ‘my network’, but you’ve failed to de-tarnish (yes, not a word yet, but it’s all about usage) the marketing glisten”. ‘Cloud’ is about obscuring complexity, about enabling automation and ease of delivery, about making your environment readily scalable and reconfigurable. Assembling functions so that they can be self-serviced by the end-user simply and efficiently.

Does this mean have to always host internally? No. But, if you plan to deploy desktop services over the Internet/WAN, you need to consider the bandwidth and resiliency of your network. The server based computing of Winframe/Terminal Services put the application next to the data to give better performance for users. Ill-conceived separation of applications from data can have a significant impact on the user experience: which will have a far greater impact than issues of regulatory compliance and security.

Desktone do have a stack that has been designed to scale and support hosted desktops as a service. However, it has been designed so that the management platform is portable and can offer organisations the option of sitting on the organisation’s infrastructure, in the organisation’s own data-centres.  Can you get the elasticity of demand if you only host services internally? Here you have to ask – how stretched to  you expect your desktop services to be? It is more likely that simply having a good growth prediction model will suffice: allowing you to order new equipment in a timely fashion. Plus, if you are working in partnership with a third party, you can use off-premise services – but because you are running a virtualised service you are better placed to understand the impact of hosting different workspaces and can better judge what who plays in the yard, and who plays in the street.

DaaS throws off it’s waterwings?

Virtual Desktops move your compute from the end device to the datacentre. That datacentre does not have to be in “The Cloud”. To be fair, let us think about VDI: virtual desktop infrastructure. This is a misnomer. You are virtualising the workspace of the user, not the desktop. The desktop is right there in front of them – be it a PC, a thin client, a laptop, a smart phone, a tablet, a futuristic-watch-with-an-innovative-display. There disadvantages in hosting your user workspaces off-premise while your data remains on premise: network performance, bandwidth consumption can be a  major issue when using external services to host your workspaces.

But DaaS is not about “moving your virtual desktops out of your datacentre”.  As an example, Thames Water and Molton Technologies have developed a service built on Desktone’s technology that lets Molton manage Thames Water’s workspace delivery infrastructure, with Thames Water benefiting from increased flexibility and security for workspace delivery.

Enterprise VDI solutions can be complex to implement: but they do not have to be hosted “the cloud”. Desktone have focused on providing an application stack that helps manage the complexities of service provision. Citrix and VMware are road mapping similar features – because they too recognise that to gain real benefit, VDI needs to have a service wrap that delivers user self-service, automation, reliability, ease of scale. To be effective VDI needs to be delivered as a service, not as bunch of technologies thrown together.

However, in delivering a managed workspace environment, it is rare that the service can only be confined to hosted virtual desktops. Going forward Desktone need to ensure that their software stack provides flexibility – not only in delivering virtual workspaces, but in integrating with other workspace delivery methods.

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Andrew Wood (144 Posts)

Andrew is a Director of Gilwood CS Ltd, based in the North East of England, which specialises in delivering and optimising server and application virtualisation solutions. With 12 years of experience in developing architectures that deliver server based computing implementations from small-medium size business to global enterprise solutions, his role involves examining emerging technology trends, vendor strategies, development and integration issues, and management best practices.

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