What is DaaS and How to Make a Case for It

Desktop-as-a-Service is virtual applications and desktops hosted in hybrid and multiple public clouds. This secure, remote-work, application-streaming technology scales quickly and can shift costs away from CAPEX.

By Dipti Parmar

By Dipti Parmar May 05, 2021

Remember when the workplace was one giant office where lots of people sat together and went about their daily tasks on desktop computers that had similar hardware, software and user interface?

For large organizations – private and public – delivering a responsive, reliable and secure user experience to employee computers is a challenge. Add to that the need to maintain and update the OS and applications on that fleet of computers. It can take a horde of IT staff just to keep operations going.

The advent of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) solved this problem to a great extent by letting organizations create a simple and easy-to-use but powerful Virtual Desktop and Application solution that enabled users to log in to the data center from a wide variety of devices in multiple locations while providing them with the same set of OS and applications and a consistent user interface.

Post-COVID, workplace realities and practices have changed permanently. Remote work went from being an option to a necessity in many cases, even as companies were already encouraging bring your own device (BYOD) with the dual goals of empowering their users and saving hardware costs.

There are many reasons companies move to public cloud computing. 

“Some want to consume virtual applications and desktops as a Service,” said Ruben Spruijt, senior technologist at Nutanix.  “There’ no need to worry about securing, maintaining and supporting the underlying infrastructure.” 

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Spruijt said IT teams typically want to run applications close to their data, which often live in public cloud services. 

“There’s also a desire to move to OPEX-driven from CAPEX-driven approach to paying for usage,” he said. Then there’s a need for a great user experience (UX) for running virtual applications and desktops close to the users by leveraging the more than 100 cloud regions of Azure/AWS/GCP.

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And that has, in turn, led to the rise and spread of DaaS.

What is DaaS?

DaaS is a service that makes it possible for end-user to run any application in a browser while IT teams don't need to worry about the underlying platform. DaaS is VDI made simple. While the DaaS solution is a service, the virtual applications and desktops can run in public clouds and on-premises.

DaaS provides similar functional capabilities as VDI, including any time, anywhere, secure access to applications with centralized management, without the need to design, procure, deploy, and manage the necessary hardware and software in-house. IT teams can simply contract their virtual machine needs to a public or private cloud vendor, saving upfront capital expenditure, minimizing operational disruption, and giving end users a better, more consistent experience.

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The DaaS control plane "the brains" are offered as a service by vendors such as Amazon, Citrix, Microsoft, Nutanix and VMware. When the DaaS service can support a hybrid cloud, such as Nutanix Frame, the workload machines running the actual virtual applications and desktops can run on-premises and in public clouds. Some of the DaaS vendors do support mono public cloud-only.

Apart from these, the decision to implement DaaS – and do so successfully – depends on organizational, technical and functional factors, including:

  • the use case and characteristics of the workload
  • data storage, access, and proximity constraints
  • the bandwidth and quality of the network connection to each user
  • application management requirements
  • the types and configurations of endpoint devices
  • the organization’s security and identity management policies
  • the structure and focus of the IT budget

Differences Between VDI and DaaS 

Designing, building, running and maintaining a VDI in-house requires specialized IT staff, while DaaS comes with its requirements. Spruijt said it’s essential to understand the differences between VDI and DaaS.

“The main things to compare include organizational capabilities, platform, cost, geography and elasticity,” he said.

Organizational capabilities – VDI requires a build-your-own approach and IT staff to design, support and update the system, while DaaS is about consuming VDI as a service.

Platform – VDI Yearly manual update cycle, mature, tested and proven, and isn’t dependent on internet connectivity. DaaS Automatically updated weekly, Emerging technology, Relies on internet connectivity. 

Cost – VDI CapEx consumption model and Fixed workload VM costs. DaaS Pure OpEx or CapEx/OpEx and Flexible workload VM/IaaS costs

Geography – VDI runs on local region and co-location data centers. DaaS is available global cloud services from different regions and can leverage on-premises infrastructure in hybrid cloud workload setup.

Elasticity – VDI requires moderate deployment time and fixed capacity, while DaaS is quick to set up and flexible to use.

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“DaaS is service, so it’s mostly an OPEX driven approach, pay for the consumption,” said Spruijt. “Especially when the workload machines are running in public cloud. Modern DaaS solutions are able to support public clouds and on-premises  – it’s hybrid and multi-public cloud. It’s simple and constantly improving since it is a service. 

He said it allows IT teams to run virtual desktop and applications close to the data, which can be multi-region in public clouds supporting a distributed workforce or on-premises.

VDI and DaaS Work Together

Many enterprises are now adding DaaS solutions to complement and sometimes evaluate their existing VDI deployments. This would be ideal in the following use cases:

  • Temporary workers: DaaS lets organizations provision and de-provision desktops and apps for seasonal or contract workers or consultants on-demand or on a project basis without resizing their VDI deployments. They can be given temporary workspaces in the cloud that don’t expose the entire organizational network, data, or IP to them.
  • Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery: With VDI, IT teams can create a 2nd data center; the value of DaaS is Service, multi-cloud, hybrid cloud and easier to leverage public cloud for DR/BC.
  • Extra resource needs: With DaaS, public cloud resources can spin up GPU-based resources on-demand. No need to procure and maintain the GPU-based machines, as is the case with a VDI deployment.
  • Testing and development: Developers and power users can easily set up and configure testing environments in DaaS with a quick approval process, eliminating the risk of shadow IT to a large extent. Further, new projects can be tested at full production levels and user load with minimal, time-limited investments, which is impossible in VDI.

Making a case for DaaS

If DaaS seems like the right tool for the job, it’s time to articulate why.

Eliminate challenges posed by desktops and laptops – DaaS does away with the maintenance and security concerns about laptop devices with traditional VPN solutions instantly. Complex software doesn’t need to be installed or run locally on the user’s device anymore; DaaS can “SaaSify” Windows applications for users who can run them via a simple browser. Plus, files and data generated by these applications are stored and accessed directly from the cloud, where they remain secure and controlled.

All this means that the life of laptops and desktops is extended quite a bit as they require minimal processing power, memory, and storage. The productivity of the user is no longer dependent on the capability or reliability of the device.

Further, new users can simply be moved to Chromebook and Google Enterprise and run Windows apps in a cloud-native fashion. 

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For instance, California’s Oakland Unified School District could bridge the digital divide and standardize the e-learning experience for all their students without exhausting their budget by distributing Google Chromebooks (which cost much less than a typical laptop) to 25,000 kids from low-income families.

Scale from one to one thousand users – and back – It would be injudicious (to put it nicely) to deploy a VDI with bells and whistles for a few virtual desktops for a specific workload or project. Suppose the organization wants to scale its capacity quickly for that workload. In that case, DaaS enables the addition of thousands of instances of the same “digital workspace” without having to buy the latest hardware or hiring specialized IT staff to set it up.

A side benefit is that onboarding new users and employees is pretty quick – they get immediate access to the tools, applications, data, and files they need with role-based virtual desktops.

Pay only for usage – This is probably one of the biggest advantages of DaaS. The upfront expenditure needed for building a data center with a VDI capable of hosting hundreds of users nips many a business initiative in the bud. With DaaS, CAPEX is practically reduced to zero. The pay-as-you-go model offered by public cloud vendors ensures costs are optimized to the level of a simple monthly invoice.

Streamline remote work – Even before the pandemic, remote work practices were on the rise. Today, users and workers need – and thrive on – more flexibility than ever. DaaS enables employees to log in and work from anywhere using just a good internet connection. This allows businesses to expand their presence to new markets, be more visible and accessible to their customers, and get a wider pool of employees.

DaaS over private cloud kept Maryland Lottery and Gaming, an independent agency of the State of Maryland, operating at full strength when COVID-19 struck, even as other IT departments scrambled to find solutions. 

“We had a decent number of teleworkers already, but we knew there would be more as soon as people had to stay home due to the coronavirus,” said CIO Jeff Patchen, who set up a virtual desktop solution with Nutanix Prism and Frame in a few days while working from home!

Critical mobility challenges such as consistent and fast user experience, security, data compliance, and availability and integration of multiple systems and applications are all resolved by a DaaS environment.

Enable BYOD – BYOD is leading the shift to “user-centric” IT and both businesses and public organizations are wholeheartedly embracing the concept. Today, many companies buy their employees a device of their choice to enable a seamless experience between their personal and professional lives, increasing their comfort, efficiency, and productivity in the process.

Of course, the organization saves on the cost of maintaining and upgrading these machines periodically while resting assured their data is safe and secure at all times in their cloud or data center.

“With Frame, we did away with having to purchase laptops and going through the process of issuing a laptop to the end-user," said Patchen. It typically takes his team an hour to get a telecommuting employee’s laptop set up, tested and profiled.

Maintain control of the environment – Cloud, flexibility, BYOD, user-centric, point-and-click management – these words don’t reassure enterprise IT teams they’ll have control over their network and environment. Quite to the contrary, DaaS offers admins greater visibility and cost-based control at a granular level. Granting and removing access to data and applications, or even specialized resources such as GPUs on an as-needed basis, is a breeze.

For organizations operating in industries with stringent compliance requirements, some DaaS providers offer managed desktop and application services using the company’s infrastructure.

How DaaS Works

Many IT leaders make the mistake of assuming that once they have DaaS in place, there’s no work left for the team to do. This is the deceptive simplicity of DaaS. IT will still be responsible for setting up, maintaining, and supporting the overall infrastructure and workloads and applications that run on DaaS.

Software-defined workspace: The all caps YOU stands for the most important cog in the wheel – the CTO, IT architect, or administrator who is directly responsible for defining and managing workspaces and applications that end users will access, as well as for deciding how the required software will be procured, deployed, and configured.

The virtual workspace includes the image with the OS user profile and applications (with settings), set up and managed centrally. These applications often need to integrate or connect with other backend systems such as web services, database services, and file services (from both identity management and networking perspectives) to function correctly, which brings us to the next layer.

DaaS: This layer is what distinguishes DaaS deployments from their VDI counterparts. The DaaS broker is delivered as a service and handles provisioning, security, data access, and application management functions within the virtual desktop environment. It instructs the virtual infrastructure within the underlying public or private cloud to create, delete, power on/off, or reboot the VMs that run the workload. It also connects with identity providers such as Okta or Azure AD to guarantee secure, role-based access control and gateway services via web services or APIs.

With VDI, the broker and its supporting services run in the data center under the responsibility of the IT team. With DaaS, these are offered as a managed service running in the cloud. An enterprise cloud vendor such as Nutanix can help ensure that the broker and its associated services are updated and conform to pre-agreed SLAs.

The organization’s IT team still needs to ask a lot of questions to the DaaS provider and evaluate answers carefully before finalizing one.

  • Was the DaaS solution designed from the ground up as a cloud-native service or did it start as a software solution later packaged as a service?
  • Will DaaS be deployed as a single (mono)cloud or multicloud solution in the organization?
  • Would some part of the environment be managed from on-premises infrastructure owned by the organization?
  • Does the organization need a pay-as-you-go solution for a specified number of total or concurrent users? Can they grow or shrink this number on-demand without penalty?
  • What is the level of support for persistent and non-persistent desktops?
  • Which desktop OS is needed? Does the solution provide an updated catalog from which admins or users can choose the applications for their virtual desktops?
  • How does the solution handle core capabilities such as image management, capacity management, identity integration, and personal cloud storage integration (such as Google Drive or Dropbox)?
  • How are the performance and user experience in different LAN and WAN environments when using an HTML5 browser to run virtual desktops and apps?
  • How soon can the environment be deployed? What is the level of training required for both admins and users?

IaaS: All virtual apps and desktop sessions ultimately run on VMs, which in turn run on data center infrastructure (whether on-premises or at the cloud vendor’s) such as Nutanix HCI or IaaS provided by Microsoft Azure, AWS, or Google Cloud Platform.

On-premises infrastructure is better suited

  • for predictable, consistent workloads
  • to achieve fixed costs when the peak load capacity is fully utilized 24x7
  • when data needs to be stored locally

A public cloud IaaS can be chosen

  • for the agility of processes and quick access to resources
  • to support variable or seasonal workloads that are susceptible to frequent bursts
  • to achieve a usage-based, pay as you go, cost model
  • when it’s cheaper and easier to store data in the cloud
  • when the workforce is spread across multiple geographic regions where cloud support is available

Cloud-first doesn’t mean cloud-only, much better than cloud first is a cloud smart approach. The DaaS broker should function well in a hybrid cloud environment that best addresses the needs of the business.

Choose Strategy over Tactics

DaaS has tremendous advantages for organizations of any size in any industry. IT teams are constantly looking for ways to simplify day-to-day operations and automate tactical services and end-user support wherever possible to focus on strategic initiatives and the delivery of new applications and services.

DaaS enables exactly that by making it possible to integrate and continuously deliver emerging technologies. It frees up critical IT resources, allowing companies to focus on innovation or move ahead full steam along their digital transformation journey.

Dipti Parmar is a marketing consultant and contributing writer to Nutanix. She writes columns on major tech and business publications such as IDG’s CIO.com, Adobe’s CMO.com, Entrepreneur Mag, and Inc. Follow her on Twitter @dipTparmar and connect with her on LinkedIn.

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