Desktop Management as a Service

Recent research shows that more organizations than ever before are considering Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) as their next-generation desktop strategy. However, as desktop virtualization technologies continue to evolve, Desktop-Management-as-a-Service (DMaaS) may supersede DaaS as the preferred solution for many small businesses.

The first wave of desktop virtualization was driven by VDI. Initial forecasts for VDI adoption were wildly optimistic, however. As understanding has matured, the market for VDI has been reassessed and is now considered to be between 6 – 10% of the overall desktop market. While VDI adoption forecasts have been trending down towards realism, interest in DaaS has been increasing. Though early VDI deployments struggled, DaaS was able to sidestep many of the problems seen in the field. By maintaining a tight reign over all of the elements of the VDI infrastructure, cloud hosted service providers were able to DaaS with much higher success rates. Not only were these services more consistent in their implementation, they were also frequently delivered by major cloud service providers, including IBM, RackSpace, and Verizon, each offering standard off-the-shelf solutions delivering desktops on demand with very limited risk.

The technology needed to deliver a competitively priced DaaS solution is continuing to trend downwards. Server and storage costs continue to fall, management tools continue to improve, and most recently, the introduction of an OpenStack-based desktop virtualization platform has created further opportunities to reduce costs. The primary beneficiaries of these price reductions are the service providers rather than their customers, creating much-needed incentive to allow the growth of the market while retaining the headline price of one dollar per day. DaaS service providers continue to report steady growth, although these numbers have not yet appeared in independent surveys of desktop technology strategy. With overall adoption forecast at only 2%, growth is difficult to capture. However, telephone interview results did suggest that more organizations were considering DaaS to meet specific use cases, such as seasonal call center work.

At 2% of the total enterprise desktop market of approximately 400 million endpoints, DaaS represents a market opportunity worth over $3 billion per annum.

Cloud-hosted VDI still has its challenges, not least of which is maintaining consistent application performance. While today’s remote display protocols can deliver acceptable user experience when subject to round-trip latency delays of 100ms or more, many client/server applications are not so tolerant. In situations where client/server applications use a remote DaaS-hosted desktop in conjunction with an on-premise database, consistent WAN performance becomes increasingly important. An increase in network latency from 10 ms to 100 ms between on-premise data center and DaaS provider might be imperceptible during simple data entry, but it could reduce overall application performance by a factor of 10. When transaction times jump from 2 seconds to 20, you can be sure that users will be unhappy.

There are alternatives however.

Introduced at about the same time as VDI, the client-hosted virtual desktop, or as Intel would have it, Intelligent Desktop Virtualization (IDV), has some major advantages over VDI. Most significantly, it does not require the large data center footprint needed by VDI to host hundreds, possibly thousands of virtual desktops. Instead, all processing is done locally on relatively low-cost PCs and laptops. Local execution brings another advantage in that it can operate while disconnected from the enterprise data center, something that is still invaluable for many mobile employees. In many respects, the only shortcoming that IDV has is the difficulty in integrating it with smartphones and tablets.

Much of the innovation around IDV was driven by startups such as Virtual Computer, Wanova, and MokaFive, and the opportunity inherent in taking advantage of these technologies was not lost to system integrators. Last year I interviewed senior executives at three companies who were either setting up new businesses or transforming their existing organizations into DMaaS providers specifically targeting small to midsize businesses. Their common goal was to transform their businesses from delivering on-site break fix support services to long-term manage service contracts, offering a better quality of service more efficiently than they were capable of delivering using other means. Since last year, Virtual Computer has been acquired by Citrix, and Wanova has been acquired by VMware. Citrix has taken Virtual Computer’s NxTop technology and re-delivered it as XenClient Enterprise, making it Citrix’s first standalone mainstream client hypervisor, while VMware has very quickly integrated Wanova’s Mirage into its end-user computing message, offering it as a hypervisor-less endpoint management solution that can extend View across every enterprise desktop.

MokaFive has seen significant success; in fact, all three of the companies I interviewed had chosen MokaFive’s service provider edition to launch their services. But for all that, MokaFive has had to fight against the system to succeed, with both Citrix and VMware extending their desktop virtualization solutions to the endpoint, the likelihood that this will become a mainstream technology significantly increases. Having said that, there is still some way to go before DMaaS is capable of fulfilling its promise. With the exception of MokaFive, today’s IDV solutions are targeted at enterprise customers rather than service providers; additional work is needed to allow a service provider to take full advantage of DMaaS. However, given the direction that Citrix and VMware are taking with respect to service provider editions of their end-user computing platforms, there is a reasonable expectation that if service providers request it in sufficient numbers, both companies will be able to deliver.

Returning to where we started, the biggest remaining challenge to desktop-as-a-service is Microsoft, specifically Microsoft intransigence over SPLA licensing for hosted Windows 7/8 desktops. If Microsoft relents and offers SPLA licensing, it will significantly increase the opportunity for DaaS providers. However, until it makes such a move, DaaS will always be fighting an uphill battle, leaving opportunity for DMaaS to step in.