Comparing DaaS vs. SaaS and how they work

There are many services organizations can purchase to simplify business processes and IT management, and DaaS and SaaS are two of the most common examples.

As business technology vendors prioritize service-based models, IT teams and executives must familiarize themselves with the terminology and functions of these services.

Complicating this process is the similarity between "as a service" acronyms, including desktop as a service (DaaS), software as a service (SaaS) and many others. In some cases, organizations can subscribe to one, two or several of these services concurrently to deliver users all the resources they need to work.

A major trend in the modern enterprise is converting Capex to Opex, which often takes the form of purchasing these services for users. Rather than manage all aspects of applications and desktops in-house, these services outsource the hosting and some of the management to free up IT for more complicated and specialized tasks.

Before organizations can fully outsource these processes via a subscription service, they must carefully form a strategy based on their needs. That process should begin by clearly defining options and including the key user-focused technologies, DaaS and SaaS.

What is DaaS and what does it do?

DaaS is a popular virtualization technology in which a third-party vendor hosts and delivers virtual desktops to customers. These virtual desktops serve as users' workstations where they can access applications, data, services and other work-related resources.

This technology is an alternative to VDI, where organizations host virtual desktops within an in-house data center. By moving from VDI to DaaS, organizations can shift Capex to Opex and free up all the IT labor hours and expenses of building, maintaining and operating VDI through their own data centers. DaaS vendors offer flexible plans where organizations can determine their desktops' requirements and how much desktop management the customer is responsible for.

DaaS also offers a reasonable entry point for desktop virtualization if an organization is considering a move away from physical desktops running local OSes. The service model lets organizations attain the benefits of virtualization -- such as easier remote access for IT and centralized management -- without the upfront cost of building up VDI internally. Further, smaller organizations might not have the resources -- or the need -- to create an entire VDI environment in a data center. DaaS is also a good fit for smaller organizations that need to quickly scale.

Common DaaS use cases

If an organization has 100 knowledge workers and 50 task workers that only need one application connected to their credentials, DaaS can help deliver those apps. A DaaS provider can deliver 100 desktops with the full Microsoft 365 suite, any other line-of-business apps and 50 non-persistent desktops with that single application for task workers. This way, organizations only pay for the licenses, storage and other necessary resources while delivering a complete workstation. Organizations can also be sure there aren't other programs and apps that might serve as a distraction from work tasks.

What is SaaS and what does it do?

SaaS delivers applications to users via the internet instead of running an application locally on an endpoint. This model offers many of the same benefits of DaaS, but fulfills a very different role.

Organizations purchase licenses for the desired software -- usually common business applications -- for all users that need access to these programs, and the SaaS provider delivers those applications to the endpoint. However, not all applications are a good fit for SaaS.

Common uses for SaaS

The best fit for SaaS are universal applications that many users require, such as suites of productivity apps.

The best fit for SaaS are universal applications that many users require, such as suites of productivity apps. Microsoft 365 is a common instance of SaaS in a business setting because employees usually need several applications within this service, such as Outlook, Word and Excel. Alternatively, organizations can use Google Workspace to deliver similar functionalities with Gmail, Docs and Sheets.

Custom applications that organizations have developed in-house aren't as good of a fit for SaaS, as these vendors tend to focus on their first-party software. The same is true for legacy applications that require in-house testing for compatibility and might not perform as desired when running on different platforms. Organizations could try to containerize such applications, host them virtually and deliver them via the internet, but that isn't SaaS -- it's application virtualization.

Organizations that subscribe to SaaS offerings can manage applications centrally and immediately push out updates and patches with minimal downtime and no risk of outdated software running. Up-to-date applications mean fewer security risks and quick deployment of new features.

Daas vs. SaaS comparison

DaaS and SaaS have several similarities, but they're ultimately more different than alike. As their names imply, desktop as a service focuses on delivering a desktop, while software as a service focuses on applications.

Organizations can deploy DaaS and SaaS for users -- in fact, this approach allows for some synergy within IT management tasks. DaaS and SaaS offer similar benefits in the following ways:

  • Both services provide the benefits of virtualization without the back-end work required.
  • DaaS and SaaS are both highly scalable for initial deployment or increases and decreases in the workforce.
  • IT can deliver either of these services to users via browser-based portals.

Providing all business resources within a single browser portal helps IT minimize bloat from extraneous and unneeded applications on desktops. It also helps data security ensure that all business files and data are only accessible within company-approved platforms. However, it's unlikely an organization would want to run both services via a browser.

Can DaaS and SaaS function together?

DaaS and SaaS can run alongside one another to deliver desktops, applications and other services, and in some cases, can complement one another well.

Some examples of environments that include DaaS and/or SaaS include the following:

  • Local desktop OS with SaaS applications.
  • Virtual desktop via DaaS with SaaS applications.
  • Virtual desktop via DaaS with applications the organization hosts on its own via a method such as application layering.
A diagram showing how application layering delivers virtual apps alongside virtual desktops.

If an organization has users that work while traveling a significant amount of time or at locations with unreliable internet connection, IT teams should consider avoiding these services and deploy local applications to a local desktop OS.

However, consider an accounting firm with 1,000 users working in a large office building that requires productivity software and an accounting program available as SaaS. IT could reasonably rely on DaaS and SaaS for all of these users' needs. But if this firm has a specific team that requires a custom line-of-business application, IT might need to deploy that application manually so it runs on the local device or find a way to deliver that application virtually via alternative methods of hosting.

Now consider an organization with 100 users who are usually remote. The decision to run DaaS and SaaS may rely on the stability of a user's home internet. This might be a case where organizations should deploy laptops with Windows or macOS running on the endpoint while providing their productivity applications via SaaS running in a browser.

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