Desktop-as-a-Service is an interesting way for IT execs to provide cloud-based Windows desktop sessions, as well as shared resources such as storage. DaaS can help companies roll out new desktops and support Bring Your Own Device policies.
DaaS or Hosted Virtual Desktop (HVD) providers offer a pristine, policy-controlled session (either persistent or ad hoc) that can be accessed by a wide variety of devices. If you have an iPad3 and a Bluetooth keyboard, you're in. Mac? You're in. An old and wheezing Windows XP patched-to-death machine? You're in. The machine used to access a DaaS session is largely irrelevant to the session's use, which can be for standard "office" functions, or as part of an application-specific setup.
The products we tested ranged from simple to comprehensive. All of the DaaS service providers in our test--Desktone, dinCloud, ICC Global Hosting, Applications2u, and Nivio--used a Citrix infrastructure to provide desktop sessions. But each of them arrived at their product offering from a different perspective, and sometimes, with a different attitude.
For this test, we accessed cloud-based sessions in three different ways: Comcast residential broadband, Comcast 'business' broadband (higher data rate), and through several different VM configurations via our data center installation at nFrame in Carmel, Ind.
We logged on via browsers or through the DaaS vendor's proprietary application. Nivio could use Flash or HTML5; Desktone used Quest vWorkspace, while the rest used varying Citrix apps to logon to the HVDs.
We liked Nivio for its very simple configuration. And Nivio's "happiness messages" (headers and banners that customers could configure with their own slogans) showed that it wants to appeal to more than just stodgy geek-types. DinCloud had strong and fast performance.
Desktone was highly configurable. ICCGlobalHosting (ICCGH) had a strong vertical application feel, and Applications2u seemed targeted towards independent software vendors (ISV) and application providers that prefer an entire desktop offering rather than just a web-based app.
Some of the service providers in this test have an involved customer intake process (Desktone, dinCloud, and ICCGH), while others were more like "desktops on the hoof" (Applications2u and Nivio). The intake process is important for several reasons as the number of decisions that need to be made prior to deployment require planning and thought.
We could only find support for hosted Windows (Windows 7 and Windows 2008R2 "terminal") sessions. You can't find Mac OS because of Apple's licensing constraints, and hosted Linux sessions are difficult to find.
In terms of productivity applications, most of the vendors could supply Microsoft Office and SharePoint. They also expressed a willingness to brand DaaS desktops with organizational logos, "stock" applications and resource links, as well as to negotiate preloaded software for both persistent and ad hoc sessions.
How DaaS works
In the simplest form, DaaS is like Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), Virtual Network Control (VNC), and similar provisioning that dates back to the the PCAnywhere days, where you got screen, keyboard, and mouse (at minimum) connected to another computer, so as to use that system as though you were sitting comfortably nearby.
Today's iteration is Virtual Device Interface-Infrastructure (VDI), which includes the basics, plus sound, local drive, and local ports (like USB). VDI can be accomplished on premise or in the cloud.
DaaS service providers are the gateway for cloud-based connectivity, which includes virtualized desktop sessions and applied administrative constraints. The selling points are hosted external applications, shared storage resources, joining DaaS resources as extensions of an existing (or new) Active Directory infrastructure, and extended device compatibility in a BYOD scenario.
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