Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS): A Complete Guide

By: IBM Cloud Education

Learn how to deliver virtual desktops from the cloud to enhance user productivity, improve security and control costs.

  • Provide a robust desktop experience to users by leveraging a managed cloud platform comprising the latest hardware and software
  • Enhance mobile and remote productivity by delivering a consistent desktop experience across a variety of devices
  • Improve data security — avoid installing applications and storing data on local devices
  • Reduce administrative burdens and control costs

Many organizations are looking for an alternative to the traditional desktop deployment model, in which IT administrators install an operating system and applications on every employee device. With that model, administrators often spend too much time and money installing software, managing upgrades and updates, and attempting to secure the devices.

The traditional desktop deployment model is also a poor fit for an increasingly mobile and remote workforce. Employees today frequently work remotely and while traveling — and they use a wide variety of devices, including desktops, laptops and mobile devices. To maximize remote and mobile productivity, organizations must provide a strong and consistent user experience across all of those devices, enabling workers to easily access the same applications and data no matter what device they are using.

As organizations choose new approaches for delivering applications and data, security must be a top priority. Organizations must ensure that data does not fall into the wrong hands, even if a device is lost or stolen.

A desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) model could be the solution. With the right DaaS offering, your organization can give users convenient, consistent access to applications and data across devices, safeguard sensitive information, streamline administration and reduce expenditures.

What is desktop-as-a-service (DaaS)?

The DaaS model is a way of delivering complete virtual desktop environments to users including operating systems, applications, files and user preferences from the cloud. The desktops run in virtual machines hosted on compute, storage and network infrastructure managed by the cloud provider. Users can access their desktop environment from a wide variety of devices, including PCs, laptops, tablets and some smartphones.

DaaS vs. virtual desktop infrastructure

Like DaaS offerings, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solutions deliver desktops to devices from a centralized data center. But the infrastructure underlying the VDI solution is often located on premises and typically managed by the organization’s IT group.

With the DaaS model, the compute, storage and network infrastructure are managed by a cloud provider. The organization providing desktops to its employees can manage the desktop operating system, applications, anti-virus software and any other desktop-related tasks — or work with a third-party managed desktop service provider.

DaaS provides all the benefits of a cloud-based managed service. For example, with DaaS, you eliminate the large up-front costs of building the VDI on premises. DaaS offerings typically use a subscription model that requires no up-front investment. You also offload all the administrative work required to support, maintain, patch and upgrade the VDI.

Why use DaaS?

A DaaS approach can provide a powerful and flexible user experience:

  • Enhance remote and mobile productivity: Employees can connect to their work environments at home or while traveling, from almost any device. They can securely access their applications, files, desktop preferences and more.
  • Support multiple devices: A DaaS approach enables you to support a wide variety of devices, including desktops, laptops, tablets and even some smartphones.

DaaS also helps reduce administrative burdens and control costs:

  • Accelerate onboarding: Your administrators no longer need to spend excessive time loading software on each new computer. With DaaS, you can connect the user’s device to a preconfigured virtual desktop in minutes.
  • Capitalize on the latest hardware: The right cloud provider will make sure your desktops are running on the latest systems in the data center. Because your users will be taking advantage of data center processing and memory resources, you can extend your device refresh cycle.
  • Eliminate hardware management: Your IT administrators no longer have to spend time maintaining, patching, upgrading or scaling infrastructure resources. Your DaaS provider takes care of that work for you, so your administrators can focus on other tasks.
  • Control infrastructure costs: The DaaS model lets you deliver virtual desktops without the costs of buying or operating the underlying compute, storage and network infrastructure.
  • Adopt flexible consumption model: A pay-as-you-go or annual pricing model enables you to add or remove users easily and cost-effectively.

DaaS can also bolster security and help ensure compliance:

  • Safeguard data: If an employee’s laptop or tablet is stolen, sensitive data is less likely to be compromised. As long as authentication controls are in place, data stays protected in the cloud. Meanwhile, the employee can get back to work using another machine.
  • Simplify compliance: With the right service provider, you can store your applications and data in an ISO- and HIPAA-compliant data center — without having to do the work of establishing or maintaining that compliance.

Examples of successful DaaS deployments

The DaaS model has proven successful in numerous situations:

  • Call-center, part-time and shift work: Organizations can support large call centers or other shift-work environments where each workstation supports several employees over the course of a day. With a DaaS approach, each employee has a unique login to access his or her desktop.
  • Software developers: Instead of switching between multiple computers or maintaining multiple operating systems on a single computer, developers can easily access several distinct virtual desktops. You can help accelerate testing and improve quality assurance while purchasing fewer devices.
  • Healthcare providers: Doctors and nurses can access applications, notes and patient files no matter which exam room or hallway computer they use. Storing all data and applications on a HIPAA-certified cloud safeguards patient information. A stolen laptop could be a mild inconvenience instead of a catastrophic data breach.
  • University labs: Students and teachers can connect to their work from any computer in a computer lab, staff room, library or dorm room by linking to their virtual desktop. Universities can make expensive, limited-license applications available to many students by letting them share a single remote desktop.
  • Seasonal or contract work: When an employee leaves the company, there’s no need to wipe and reconfigure the computer. A new virtual desktop can be provisioned and the old one can be retired in minutes. You can onboard or off-board users quickly, which is vital for jobs with high turnover.
  • Remote and mobile workers: You can enhance remote and mobile productivity while bolstering data security. With DaaS, your employees aren’t tethered to a physical computer in a fixed location. Instead, they can securely access their files from any computer or mobile device, anywhere in the world.
  • Mergers and acquisitions: With a DaaS model, you can add many new employees to your organization’s network without having to deploy new local computers. The newly acquired staff can continue to use their existing equipment while connecting to the applications and files of their new employer.

Key considerations for implementing DaaS

Considering the DaaS model? Keep in mind that a DaaS approach still requires you to handle the licensing and management for your preferred operating system and applications. Be sure to factor in software costs and IT management costs before beginning DaaS implementation. 

DaaS is often the best fit for organizations that have large numbers of employees using the same desktop environment. Managing multiple unique environments can be time- and labor-intensive.

What do you need to implement DaaS?

Before you implement the DaaS model, you should evaluate your specific needs to avoid overspending or under-purchasing.

Begin by understanding your performance needs. Do you need high-powered vCPUs to render complex 3D animation? How about streamlined systems used mainly for productivity applications? Once you know your application needs, you can deploy the proper mix of high- and low-powered virtual desktops to minimize costs while providing the tools your workforce needs to succeed.

While you will offload infrastructure management to your cloud provider, your IT team might need to bolster your organization’s networking infrastructure. A good DaaS provider can minimize latency by establishing a dedicated host for each tenant, but the speed and responsiveness of your virtual desktops depend on your site’s bandwidth. Fast, reliable, powerful connections are necessary to ensure a smooth user experience, and powerful networks require skilled maintenance. Make sure you’re staffed to support this infrastructure.

DaaS is excellent for on-demand expansion, so there’s little benefit in over-purchasing licenses. If you have shift workers or a part-time staff that may not need simultaneous access, consider limiting costs by sharing licenses. The same license can access multiple virtual desktops, but only one at a time.

How to evaluate a DaaS solution

What should you look for in a DaaS provider? First, your provider should have significant experience and expertise in DaaS. Setting up and managing the VDI environment for DaaS — including the virtualization layer, servers, storage and networking — can be a complex undertaking. To avoid introducing risks, work with a proven provider that demonstrates sufficient DaaS and VDI expertise.

Second, make sure the provider offers data center locations in your preferred geographies. Ideally, you want those data centers close to your users to minimize network latency. If your organization has global users, choose a provider that can deliver virtual desktops from multiple points across the globe.

Third, consider working with a provider that offers dedicated hosting options. Dedicated hosting can help you achieve your required level of performance and provide the isolation to comply with strict data privacy or other regulations.

Finally, make sure the provider offers the flexibility and scalability for change. Can you scale up or back on demand as your needs evolve? Can you quickly provision new virtual desktops from your pre-established desktop image?

The right DaaS provider will deliver a personalized deployment plan that meets your user experience and security goals while reducing your desktop support burdens.

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