When it comes to delivering desktop environments to end users, modern IT operations teams have two choices.
One is the old-fashioned approach of relying on physical PCs or laptops. The other is taking advantage of desktop-as-a-service, or DaaS, a type of cloud service that delivers virtual, cloud-based desktop environments.
From the perspective of support, management, and security, the DaaS approach offers a variety of benefits for ITOps teams. But there are also some important caveats to be aware of before committing to DaaS. This article explains the details by walking through the pros and cons of DaaS for ITOps engineers.
What Is DaaS?
Desktop-as-a-service, or DaaS, is a cloud-based platform that hosts virtual desktop environments and allows users to connect to them over the network. In other words, with DaaS, ITOps teams create virtual machine instances to host desktop environments, then give users remote access to those environments over a network.
The purpose of DaaS is to replace physical computers as the main component of a business's end-user desktop infrastructure. As noted below, DaaS doesn't totally eliminate the need for physical devices (because users require some kind of device when accessing cloud-based desktops), but it can significantly reduce the scale and complexity of the desktop PC infrastructure that IT operations teams need to support.
DaaS services have existed for well over a decade from vendors such as VMware, Citrix, Microsoft Azure, and AWS. But the COVID-19 pandemic spurred a massive increase in adoption of DaaS, as businesses turned to cloud desktops as a means of making desktop computing resources available to remote and hybrid workers.
Benefits of DaaS for ITOps
From the perspective of IT operations teams responsible for setting up and managing desktop infrastructure, DaaS offers a variety of valuable benefits.
Fast desktop setup
ITOps teams can launch cloud-based desktop instances in just minutes, and users can start using them as soon as launch is complete. That's a lot faster, and it requires much less effort, than waiting for physical PCs to ship, then provisioning them and delivering them to users.
Reduced physical PC support
Although users of a DaaS platform need some kind of physical device when accessing remote, cloud-based desktop instances, the desktop instances themselves (including all applications and data) are hosted in the cloud. As a result, the devices users rely on to connect have lower hardware requirements and tend to require less support than traditional PCs.
This translates to fewer PC setup and maintenance requests for ITOps teams to address.
Greater desktop reliability
Cloud-based virtual desktop instances, which run on professionally managed and continuously monitored servers, tend to be more reliable than traditional PCs, which can fail for any number of reasons — from a failed disk drive to users spilling coffee across their keyboards.
As a result, DaaS tends to result in better uptime rates for desktop infrastructure, while simultaneously reducing ITOps management effort.
With DaaS, all desktop data and applications remain on central servers in the cloud. This reduces physical desktop security risks, such as unauthorized access to sensitive data by malicious parties who steal an employee's laptop.
It also makes it easier in some respects to monitor and protect desktop data, since all security operations can be managed centrally instead of having to deploy and enforce security rules across a fleet of scattered PCs and laptops.
For IT operations teams, DaaS offers the critical benefit of PC infrastructure that is consistent and standardized. Instead of having to support a wide range of different types of desktop computers from varying vendors and with varying hardware configurations, DaaS makes it possible to run desktop instances on standardized virtual hardware in the cloud.
From a support and management perspective, this saves a lot of time because it eliminates the need for ITOps teams to understand the nuances of different hardware devices.
Disadvantages of DaaS
On the other hand, before committing to DaaS as a replacement for traditional PCs, ITOps teams should assess the potential drawbacks of DaaS:
- Architectural complexity: Like most cloud services, DaaS platforms are complex and can be configured in a variety of ways. Planning the optimal deployment from a cost, performance, and security perspective can be complicated — and DaaS providers don't always go out of their way to make planning simple, since it's not in their interest to help businesses spend less.
- Physical devices still needed: As noted above, DaaS users require some type of physical device for connecting to cloud desktop sessions. That means that DaaS doesn't totally eliminate the need for ITOps teams to provide and support physical PCs or laptops. In some ways, DaaS could complicate this requirement, especially if it leads to greater use of BYOD devices (which employees could leverage to connect to DaaS sessions).
- Cost risks: Although most DaaS platforms offer pay-as-you-go pricing that doesn't require any upfront capital investment, poor DaaS planning or management could lead to high total cost of ownership in the long run. To address this challenge, ITOps teams need to work extra hard to avoid cost risks like setting up too many desktop instances or over-provisioning them.
For many businesses, the benefits of DaaS will outweigh the challenges described above, but it's critical nonetheless to be aware of the potential pitfalls of DaaS.
Should ITOps Teams Use DaaS?
In general, DaaS makes desktop infrastructure easier to deploy, manage, and secure than physical PCs. But before ditching traditional PCs in favor of cloud-based virtual desktops, IT operations teams must critically evaluate their ability to design and support optimal DaaS environments — just as they should when replacing any kind of on-premises resource with a cloud alternative.
About the authorChristopher Tozzi is a technology analyst with subject matter expertise in cloud computing, application development, open source software, virtualization, containers and more. He also lectures at a major university in the Albany, New York, area. His book, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” was published by MIT Press.