Jul 14 2022

How VDI and DaaS Help Companies Thrive in a World of Hybrid Work

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure and Desktop as a Service are related solutions that simplify remote work for employers and staff.

As the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, it’s becoming clear that the need to shift to remote work during lockdowns was far from a temporary measure. The past two years have offered a proof of concept of sorts for how effective and popular hybrid work models are for workforces across industries. As a result, many businesses are looking to transition from temporary remote solutions to permanent ones — or taking on permanent remote work for the first time altogether.

With computers, tablets and phones serving as the lifeblood of the workday in most industries, executive decision-makers looking to adopt hybrid work models may ask themselves, “What computer user experience do we want to provide our employees, at home and the office?”

Increasingly, a virtual desktop approach — either in the form of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) or Desktop as a Service (DaaS) — is the answer to that question. Here’s a primer on what those technologies are, how they work and what benefits they offer.

What Is Desktop Virtualization (VDI) And Why Is It Important?

VDI is a method of creating simulated desktop environments through a company’s on-premises data center, which can be accessed remotely through a network connection. The user experience is almost no different from the experience of using a personal desktop at home, except for the connection to a server.

The intent is to streamline and simplify how hybrid workers access the tools they need to do their work. “The idea behind VDI is centralizing the resources the user needs,” says Adam Lotz, senior director of product marketing at Citrix, which offers virtualization technology. “It can provide a consistent experience for users, wherever they connect from.”

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How Does VDI Compare To Desktop as a Service?

Like desktop virtualization, Desktop as a Service grants workers remote access to a virtual iteration of a desktop that lives elsewhere. A notable difference is that with DaaS, virtual desktops are made available through the cloud by a third-party service provider — not a company’s self-managed servers — supported by virtualization technology from providers such as Citrix, VMware, Avaya and others.

How Does Desktop Virtualization Work?

The first requirement of VDI is to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to create the servers and data centers that will host virtual machines. The VMs then live on the servers with a business’s chosen operating system and apps. All of this is the responsibility of the organization deploying desktop virtualization, and should be overseen by a skilled IT department, which will manage hardware, software, security updates and patches.

Remote employees can connect to a virtual desktop using a tablet, smartphone, desktop or laptop that has access to the company’s network. Often, thin clients or zero clients — computers that have no onboard operating system or storage — are used because of their cost-effectiveness and suitability for remote work.

Virtual desktops come in two forms: A persistent virtual desktop is a singular instance that preserves an employee’s personalized applications, data and settings from login to login. A nonpersistent virtual desktop gives users a clean slate each time they log in for work.

How Does Desktop as a Service Work?

DaaS shares some commonalities with desktop virtualization. Employees still access the virtual iteration of a persistent or nonpersistent desktop using a device of their choice, but the virtual machines are not hosted on on-premises servers. Instead, they are managed offsite by a third-party cloud-service provider such as Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud or Amazon Web Services and accessed through an application or web browser.

After companies choose a provider, partner and subscription plan, the setup process is quick. “We can be up and running in a matter of minutes or hours compared with the days or weeks that it could take if you had to procure hardware so that you could install that software on-premises,” says Sachin Sharma, director of product marketing for VMware Horizon, the company’s virtual desktop and DaaS offering. 

Spinning VMs up or down is quick and easy, and has proved especially helpful for companies with seasonal workers or contractors who require temporary access, or companies that experience fluctuations in their workforce. Once a company is up and running with DaaS, its third-party provider oversees all maintenance, security, storage and upgrades.

LEARN MORE: Discover how VMware is making virtualization easy for businesses.

What Are the Benefits of VDI and DaaS?

VDI and DaaS share some clear benefits.

They both offer workers a consistent user experience, from any location, that replicates the one they would have in a headquarters or branch office. “It can restore your work environment, and you can have that be consistent — regardless of location, device or connectivity,” says Lotz. As more companies or employees migrate to hybrid models, that consistency will prove helpful.

VDI and DaaS also both offer security benefits. The increased endpoints that result from further adoption of hybrid work also increases a company’s vulnerability to cyberattacks and phishing. But with a virtualized infrastructure, a server is the only entry point for an attack and is typically well protected. “Your data lives inside the firewall instead of being scattered in somebody's end-user access device,” says Sharma.

Another bonus for those adopting virtualized desktop experiences is a lighter load for IT staff. Whether it’s within the company or through a third-party provider, “managing everything within one place, instead of in a distributed fashion, really helps IT reduce the time they spend in deploying patches, updating machines and updating VMs,” says Sharma.

Sachin Sharma
We can be up and running in a matter of minutes or hours compared with days or weeks."

Sachin Sharma Director, Product Marketing at VMware Horizon

That said, in recent years, DaaS has pulled ahead of VDI thanks to several additional benefits it can offer.

Eliminating upfront capital expenses is one, explains Lotz: “You don't have to spend $5 million up front for three racks of servers.”

DaaS also eliminates the need for seeking out scarce IT staff with specialized skills to oversee those servers. “There are fewer experts out there who know how to manage the hardware and manage VDI in general,” says Sharma.

Because third-party providers manage a company’s DaaS needs, business IT staff are free to focus on other critical operations. “You don’t need to spend 25 percent of your IT time managing servers and doing patches and upgrading,” says Lotz. “It means you can actually pay more attention to your business needs, not watching the lights on the servers.”

DaaS is also more adaptable and cost-effective for a business’s fluctuating needs during periods of growth, downturn or seasonal change. With desktop virtualization, scaling up would require purchasing more hardware infrastructure, and scaling down would mean you’ve paid for servers you aren’t using. With DaaS, you can scale as needed and pay only for what you actually use.

Last, the most significant benefit DaaS offers is the ability to future proof. All signs point to both hybrid work models and DaaS becoming the standard across industries. “Everyone wants to be out of the business of running a data center,” says Lotz. “Everybody wants to move to the cloud — if not today, then three years from now, five years from now.”

It's why, according to Gartner, DaaS revenue grew by a staggering 98 percent in 2020, and roughly by 68 percent in 2021. The same Gartner report also indicates that by 2024, 80 percent of virtual desktops will be provided through DaaS. “It's a major shift,” explains Sharma.

As workforces across industries move increasingly to remote and hybrid work models, offering employees a virtual desktop will be critical for companies that want to remain competitive, regardless of the option they choose.

Chainarong Prasertthai/Getty Images

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