Desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) is far from a new concept. In fact, it has roots as far back as the late 1960s when IBM was utilising mainframes to centralise processing. This concept was expanded on with the client-server model in the 1990s before being super-charged by the more powerful servers and fibre-optic broadband connections of the 21st century.
Today's solutions can make outdated machines seem like they're running like brand new top-tier models by centralising computing resources and storage via the cloud. This means you can access your work desktop from literally any device with a compatible browser, as all the processing power is being taken care of in the cloud.
At a fundamental level, DaaS is a virtual desktop solution that uses a physical terminal to access a workspace hosted by a cloud provider. This not only centralises a company's entire desktop architecture but allows employees to access their workplace desktop remotely.
There is often some confusion between DaaS and a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). However, VDI still utilises on-site technology and that can be a slightly more expensive upkeep. DaaS, meanwhile, is completely cloud-based and uses third-party hosting.
In a world where remote working has become the new normal, this has obvious benefits. But while DaaS certainly has its place, it's not all that it's cracked up to be.
Technological change always results in market shifts and in the last 12 months, this change has been catalysed significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, Gartner projected an exponential growth of 95% in the DaaS sector in 2020 and while those figures might not have come to pass, in certain sectors there was certainly major adoption taking place.
In healthcare and education, in particular, the added security of DaaS from threats like ransomware and phishing attacks has made it incredibly popular and that popularity is probably going to increase in the coming months.
For one thing, the ability to access your work desktop from any device with an internet connection can be a major productivity boon, particularly to a small business where many employees are now working remotely. In a post-pandemic world, businesses are also looking to cut operating costs wherever possible.
DaaS cuts direct costs by removing the need for on-site servers. However, you're still paying for cloud resources and you'll soon find those bills racking up as you move past all but the most basic implementations.
While there are certainly some valid benefits for a DaaS solution, there is a reason why adoption is not yet universal. In fact, there are quite a few.
Bandwidth dependency - Being dependent on adequate bandwidth at the point of use is an obvious drawback. Opportunities to work effectively offline are severely limited with most DaaS solutions. Given the slow rollout of 5G and the fact that many rural areas are still struggling with fibre optic adoption, complete internet dependency might not be the most practical option for many businesses
Oversight concerns - DaaS is, by its very nature, always being monitored and this level of corporate oversight might not sit the right way with some employees who could be worried about privacy. This is particularly true in situations where the employees own home devices are being used for work
Not as cheap as you'd think - DaaS might not be as cost-effective as you'd think. In some cases, employees are still going to need devices to take home and those devices might need to be supplied by the business. The cloud computing resource is also not going to come cheap. This subscription will cover everything from the processing and storage to the applications and the management of the actual cloud facility itself. And like all monthly charge models, those costs soon add up
Powerless - If you need lots of power locally or don't have a central IT managed infrastructure, DaaS is simply not going to be able to offer you enough horsepower. For game developers and research facilities utilising powerful machine learning, or dedicated engineering applications, there is still no adequate replacement for a powerful on-site rig
Ultimately DaaS isn't all that new, it's just been better promoted in recent years. The emperor doesn't have any new clothes, but the clothes he's wearing do fit a little better.
It's not a structural change by any stretch of the imagination and we certainly don't see a future where we're all moving to DaaS. But what it does represent is an opportunity for enterprises to take greater control and do so safely.
DaaS might make more sense in 2021 than it did twenty years ago but it is not the only solution and it is certainly never going to be able to offer enough power to the businesses that rely on it. AI and machine learning, for example, are possible through DaaS but at a significant processing cost.
What DaaS offers is a choice. Nothing more and nothing less. But it's a choice that is never going to make sense for power users and is by no means the great wave of the future that some might have you believe it is.
31 Mar 2021
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