Nutanix Glossary

What is Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS)?

October 10, 2023 | min

What is Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS)?

Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) is a cloud-based desktop virtualization service hosted by a third-party enterprise. It’s a simple way for organizations to give employees secure anywhere-anytime access to personalized desktops from virtually any device – which allows companies to take advantage of today’s increasingly hybrid work environment. When users log in, their desktop will look the same as it did on their last login, whether they’re using a smartphone, tablet, PC, or other device (unless the organization chooses not to allow personalized desktops – see “Types of DaaS” below). 

While a traditional PC setup can take up a lot of IT time and effort in patching, updating, and management, DaaS frees an organization’s IT staff up to focus on more business-critical projects. And because the DaaS data is stored in a centralized location, it’s easy for the cloud services provider to make and manage backups. The organization doesn’t have to worry about backups and can be confident that users will have access to all of their data and applications on every device. DaaS is ideal for organizations that want simple, secure access to applications and data without the hassle of operational management. 


The Definitive Guide to Desktop-as-a-Service

How does DaaS work?

The third-party cloud services provider manages all the organization’s backend desktop resources, such as storage, compute, and networking, including the virtual machines that run the desktop operating systems. Using either a private or public cloud, the provider streams the virtual desktops (which include virtual applications and desktop services) from a centralized server out to end-user devices. Employees can get into the desktop’s systems and information either through dedicated software or a web browser. Like most cloud services, DaaS is subscription-based in a multi-tenant environment. Organizations can request all the desktops they need, even scaling up as they grow. 

With DaaS, the provider can balance workloads across multiple servers. When a workload becomes too heavy on a particular server, admin can move workloads around from server to server to get a more even balance. That keeps performance high and ensures a quality user experience. 

When choosing to implement a DaaS solution, some organizations might think that it will completely relieve their internal IT teams of work. That’s not true. While the DaaS provider manages all the provisioning, security, data access, maintenance, upgrades, and backups of the solution, the organization still needs to manage and support the applications and workloads that run within the solution. This includes determining the types of workspaces and applications employees will have access to – and how those applications are deployed and configured.

Types of Desktop-as-a-Service

  • Persistent desktop – In this type, end users can customize their desktops with everything they need and it will look the same every time they log on. Persistent desktops can be deployed more quickly than non-persistent desktops but can be more pricey because they require more storage. They are also a bit more complex to manage, especially when it comes to keeping systems and applications updated and patched.
  • Non-persistent desktop – In this type, desktops are erased and not saved when a user logs out. Instead of serving as a portable desktop to be used on any device, non-persistent desktops are typically created to access cloud services that are shared among employees. Any changes users make to the interface will not be saved once the desktop is powered down. They are ideal for temporary or shift workers who don’t need a customized interface to access applications and data.

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What are the benefits of DaaS?

One of the biggest benefits of DaaS is that it allows an organization’s employees to work anywhere, anytime and on the device of their choosing. This ability to work remotely is increasingly necessary as “bring your own device” (BYOD) initiatives remain popular and hybrid work models proliferate. Ubiquitous access to necessary applications and data can also positively affect an organization’s flexibility, agility, and productivity. 

Other benefits of DaaS include: 

  • Gain the best of both worlds – DaaS provides the centralization, security, and ease of management of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and the simplicity and convenience of a managed service.
  • Eliminate the need for capital expenditures (CapEx) or specialized IT skills – The DaaS hardware is owned and managed by the provider so organizations don’t have to provide or manage dedicated PCs or other equipment.
  • Scale simply and efficiently – Because it’s fast and easy to spin up new virtual desktops as needed, organizations can efficiently handle scalability as they add new employees or scale back after a specific desktop-intensive project.
  • Pay only for what you use – The subscription model makes DaaS cost-effective and doesn’t require large up-front costs. 
  • Enhance customer experiences – With employees’ ability to work and respond to customers from wherever they are, organizations can stay accessible and responsive. 
  • Streamline budgeting – Because each desktop comes with a fee, it’s easy to predict and control desktop costs. With in-office desktop workstations, costs can be unpredictable because you don’t know when a machine will break down or need maintenance. 
  • Reduce security risks – If an employee’s device is lost or stolen, their desktop and applications aren’t accessible to the thief because they’re stored in the cloud and only accessible via that user’s login credentials. 

What are the disadvantages of DaaS?

While DaaS has many advantages, it’s not designed for every business use case. The following are some disadvantages of DaaS that might make an organization decide to stick with on-premises workstations. 

  • It requires a high-speed connection to the internet – While internet access is increasingly easy to obtain or find in public, DaaS might not be ideal for employees who work in very remote areas that don’t have internet coverage.
  • It could cost more over time – While DaaS costs less than VDI when it comes to CapEx, the monthly subscription costs could, over time, add up to be more than the initial cost of VDI.
  • There’s a learning curve – Employees need to be trained to access virtual desktops through a web browser or a specialized application, and that can be a roadblock to widespread adoption.
  • It can be tough to estimate needs – Depending on the DaaS platform, organizations might not know exactly how much memory or computing power the virtual desktops should have.
  • Risk of software licensing issues – If an organization has software licenses for applications installed on on-premises workstations, those licenses don’t always apply to virtual desktops – so there could be some extra costs there.
  • Fewer customization options – DaaS can’t match the level of customizability that VDI offers, since VDI is built in-house to an organization’s specifications.

Desktop-as-a-Service use cases

There are many reasons to implement DaaS. Here are some common use cases: 

  • Enable BYOD initiatives – DaaS allows employees to access critical applications and data on essentially any device, even if the device’s operating system is different from the virtual one.   
  • Provide mobility – Today’s anytime, anywhere work capabilities help employees stay productive while mobile, enabling more personal customer interactions and service. 
  • Stay compliant with security regulations – DaaS from the right provider offers robust protection against cyberattacks through patching, encrypting, firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention, and so on. 
  • Ensure business continuity – When disaster strikes and the workplace is inaccessible or malfunctioning, employees can continue to work remotely with secure access to all of their applications and data. Also, DaaS providers do consistent backups, replicate data to other locations, provide fail-over capabilities, and even offer disaster recovery capabilities to reduce risk to an organization’s day-to-day operations.
  • Optimize call center resources – Virtual desktops are a cost-effective way to provide agents with the applications and data they need. They can also enable agents to work remotely, helping cut costs of maintaining and managing so much square footage of office space. 
  • Meet seasonal or temporary demand – Because DaaS scales so quickly and easily, it’s a great fit for organizations that experience sharp peaks in infrastructure demands. 
  • Minimize disruption during mergers and acquisitions (M&A) – Things can get really complex, really quickly, during a merger or acquisition. DaaS can help onboard employees on their varying devices and in widespread locations. 
  • Run graphics-heavy applications – It can get expensive to equip many physical workstations with high-end graphics software and tools. With DaaS, employees get the applications they need on any operating system, and admin can allocate access and CPU cycles to users when they need it. 
  • Give partners or contractors secure access to data – Instead of having to give external stakeholders dedicated physical devices to access an organization’s data and applications, the organization can assign them a virtual desktop through DaaS and the stakeholder can log into the systems from their own devices. 
  • Reduce carbon footprint – With DaaS and BYOD, an organization can significantly reduce its hardware expenditures, which also translates into less power consumption, less need for cooling, and less electronic waste to dispose of. 
  • Get unlimited storage potential – Because DaaS keeps all of an organization’s files and data in the cloud, that storage can expand infinitely as needed, whereas an on-premises datacenter would eventually reach a capacity limit.

The differences between DaaS and VDI

While they are similar, VDI is not the same thing as DaaS. VDI is built, deployed, managed, and operated by the organization itself on its own premises. It requires a high level of IT skill and expertise and significant up-front costs. With DaaS, an organization gets similar virtual desktop environments and capabilities as VDI, but a third-party cloud services provider handles all the hardware, deployment, management, and maintenance. It’s essentially VDI that someone else hosts and manages. 

Compared to DaaS, VDI may be cheaper in the long run, depending on the specifics of the deployment. While DaaS providers have lower up-front expenditures due to no CapEx investment, the cost of DaaS deployments varies depending on the subscription model and the features included, such as VM instance size and software entitlements (licenses).

Regulatory requirements of specific industries and countries may not allow DaaS. For example, the healthcare industry has HIPAA regulations and the financial industry has SEC regulations. Different regions have regulations around data sovereignty, such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules in the European Union.

VDI provides greater control over the virtualized desktops and the underlying hosting virtualization infrastructure. For example, there are technical requirements that DaaS does not meet, such as USB redirection or using multiple monitors.

VDI also enables greater control over issues such as performance, such that you can manage performance without having to “buy up,” as you would with DaaS. VDI allows you to keep your sensitive data on-premises.

You can, however, run DaaS in your own private cloud on-premises. VDI also removes a layer when faced with troubleshooting - this approach may be preferable if you have the expertise and sufficient resources.

However, it’s not necessary to choose one or the other. These two approaches can complement each other. Some users prefer to have a DaaS overlay of their VDI deployment. For example, the DaaS market allows the user to modernize legacy applications with zero code refactoring.

Not all legacy Windows apps perform well in a DaaS environment due to latency or hardware requirements. By having both an on-premises and cloud-hosted option, you can cover more conditions and have a high-quality and secure cloud computing user experience.

What is the importance of DaaS?

DaaS has an extremely important role in today’s modern enterprises. It enables a hybrid work model by giving employees secure, consistent access to business-critical applications and data from their multiple personal devices. This allows them to work remotely and choose which device they want to work on. Their persistent virtual desktops will look the same across all of their devices and they can make changes to the desktop on one device and those changes will be saved in the cloud.

In addition to enabling hybrid work models, DaaS allows you to take advantage of BYOD initiatives, which can save your organization significant costs and time spent provisioning, updating, managing, and maintaining physical corporate devices.

With DaaS, you get VDI’s benefits of centralization, scalability, security, and ease of management – but don’t have to handle provisioning, security, maintenance, upgrades, patching, and backups, don’t have to pay up-front for physical equipment, and don’t have to troubleshoot issues when they appear. You simply get the ease and flexibility of secure anytime, anywhere access to the applications, data, and systems you need to stay productive.

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