What are the pros and cons of DaaS?

Desktop as a service stands out for its scalability, but IT admins should also keep factors such as customizability in mind when considering their desktop virtualization options.

As remote work has become more common, desktop virtualization -- and how to implement it -- has become an increasingly important decision for IT teams.

One way to deploy virtual desktops is desktop as a service (DaaS), where desktop OSes run inside VMs on servers in a third-party cloud provider's data center. Organizations can also implement VDI -- which entails building out their own virtualization infrastructure and running desktop OSes on on-premises servers -- or stick with traditional desktops.

DaaS outsources the work of hosting virtual desktops to a third-party provider. It does not require a substantial initial investment like VDI does, so DaaS stands out for its easy and inexpensive setup. Still, IT administrators should be aware of all the pros and cons of desktop as a service -- not just the cost -- to assess whether it is the best fit for their organizations.

Pros of DaaS

Lower upfront costs

One of the most significant advantages of DaaS is that there are lower upfront costs than VDI or regular desktops. VDI requires a costly investment in infrastructure to get started, whereas DaaS is typically priced on a per-user basis. Organizations that want to test virtualization can turn to DaaS and skip the costs and labor of building VDI when they may want to change their approach to desktop virtualization years down the road. The subscription model makes the costs involved in DaaS more predictable over the long term as well.

DaaS can also reduce license costs because it makes it easy to provision and deprovision virtual desktops based on when users need them. For startups that may want to onboard employees quickly, it can be helpful to be able to scale up simply and inexpensively with DaaS. Likewise, the scalability of desktop as a service can have cost benefits for organizations that employ seasonal workers. Once the season is over and seasonal employees leave, the virtual desktops they used can be deprovisioned easily, eliminating the license costs for those virtual desktops.

Flexibility

The scalability of DaaS is also beneficial on a logistical level for organizations and their IT teams. If an organization wants to scale up, IT can update the DaaS subscription instead of having to adjust the VDI capacity by increasing virtual resources with additional hardware. This is especially helpful for organizations that don't know what scale they want; DaaS can adjust to fluctuations in virtual desktop numbers without requiring any reworking.

DaaS also offers flexibility in the variety of endpoints cloud providers can easily support out of the box. No matter what type of device a user chooses to work on, the desktop environment is identical, as long as it has the necessary display resolution and remote desktop client software. DaaS generally offers the same UX as VDI, but the ability to choose from a wider range of endpoints and locations to work from and maintain an acceptable desktop environment can result in a better experience for end users.

Broader accessibility

Desktop as a service is available from anywhere, on any device. Because the virtual desktops are hosted in the cloud, they are accessible anywhere, as long as power and internet connectivity are available. With VDI, on the other hand, users must connect to their organization's corporate network directly or via a VPN to access their virtual desktops, which requires further security considerations.

The rise of remote work has highlighted the usefulness of DaaS for organizations that want to ensure business continuity through circumstances such as the COVID-19 pandemic. DaaS' ability to support a variety of endpoints is especially helpful for facilitating remote work. Regardless of whether users have PCs at home, they are able to access a virtual desktop with DaaS.

Some DaaS providers offer browser accessibility. This is a secure and simple way for users to access DaaS. Rather than installing the virtual desktop, a user can log in to a browser-accessible virtual desktop through any browser that the DaaS provider supports. Some examples of this option include the Web Access feature in Amazon WorkSpaces, Azure Virtual Desktop web client and DesktopReady.

Easier setup and management

Setting up DaaS is easy for IT. The most critical step is choosing the best DaaS provider to meet the organization's needs.

DaaS is an easier option for IT after setup as well. To successfully deploy and maintain VDI, IT departments must have the skill set and sufficient employees to stay on top of updates, data traffic and troubleshooting. DaaS providers have the resources and expertise to reliably manage many of these concerns, enabling IT teams to focus on addressing issues that are more specific to their organizations.

This can also provide security benefits. IT has less control over security with desktop as a service, but a DaaS provider likely has more up-to-date tools and knowledge, which can help IT manage and prevent any issues.

A chart comparing the infrastructure, management and cost differences between VDI and DaaS.

Cons of DaaS

Potentially higher long-term costs

While DaaS is less expensive than VDI in terms of initial investments, over time, the subscription costs that come with DaaS may accumulate to be higher than the upfront costs of VDI.

Additionally, depending on the licensing models that a vendor offers, DaaS can have higher license costs to account for the effort of hosting the virtual desktops. Most DaaS providers bundle the OS license with the cost of the virtual desktop, but organizations must weigh their options and keep these factors in mind to ensure that desktop as a service is the best approach financially. Pricing for DaaS is still more predictable and consistent than for VDI, but it's not necessarily less expensive in the long term.

Security and compliance regulations vary depending on the organization, so finding a DaaS package that fits perfectly can be difficult.

Less customizability

Another con of DaaS is that the one-size-fits-all approach also might not be ideal for every organization. Security and compliance regulations vary depending on the organization, so finding a DaaS package that fits perfectly can be difficult. Because organizations build it in-house, VDI enables IT to make more customizations -- such as disabling certain services for users -- to meet compliance standards and ensure VDI security. If an organization with strict compliance regulations wants to use DaaS to implement virtual desktops, choosing a provider that prioritizes these standards is vital.

For example, Evolve IP Workspaces is a DaaS provider that is third party-audited to meet compliance standards, such as HIPAA or GDPR. Providers that don't specifically take certain compliance standards into account should allow IT to check compliance measures or control the hypervisors' configurations and customize features.

Some DaaS packages won't have everything an organization might want. Different vendors offer different levels of customizability, and some offer more advanced management capabilities than others.

Less control

Desktop as a service offers little control over updates and security in general, which can lead to problems that IT cannot directly address. Many of these issues stem from the hosting concerns that come with using a public cloud. For example, if the public cloud that hosts the virtual desktops has an outage, an organization's productivity comes to a total halt.

Security is a significant factor in both the pros and cons of DaaS. Because having all resources in a single location -- such as a DaaS vendor's public cloud -- can help security, DaaS might seem like the most secure desktop virtualization option. Additionally, some organizations might prefer the security that a vendor can guarantee rather than having to trust IT staff to maintain a perfect security posture. However, some IT teams might be better prepared to handle their organization's unique security strategy than a third-party provider, and admins must consider cloud security concerns with DaaS.

Not having full control over connectivity can put organizations in situations they are unable to do anything about as well. If there's a connectivity issue, IT has less insight into the network and must wait on the provider to fix the problem. And, while UX might be better and easier to ensure with DaaS, if there are UX issues, the IT team can't handle them directly.

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