VMware Horizon

VDI vs. DaaS: Which is better for your virtual desktop and app environment?

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) are often interchangeably used terms, but are they really the same? Depending on who you talk to about VDI vs. DaaS, you may hear them defined in terms relating to agility, flexibility, and control. However, as more organizations adopt “-as-a-Service” models it is important to differentiate between them and identify which use cases suit which model better. Remote and hybrid work is pushing the boundaries on both.  

This blog is an introduction to the concepts of VDI and DaaS and why you should select VDI vs. DaaS, or even consider a combination of both. You can also refer to our infographic that gives a glimpse of VDI vs. DaaS for high-level understanding.  

What is VDI? 

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is a technology that refers to the use of virtual machines (VMs) that IT uses to provide and manage virtual desktops. VDI hosts desktop environments on centralized servers and deploys them to end users on request via a remote display protocol. It is worth noting that organizations can also leverage solutions such as VMware App Volumes to deliver apps at scale and simplify their VDI management.  

A VDI environment can be set up on premises, in a public cloud, or even in a hybrid and/or multi-cloud deployment. It also provides apps, available inside virtual desktops, for end users to use for their day-to-day functions.  

VDI has proven to be very effective during times like pandemics or natural disasters, when your employees cannot be present at their usual physical work location. It offers advantages such as user mobility, ease of access, and flexibility without compromising data security.  

Benefits of VDI 

  • Remote access. End users can connect to their virtual desktop from any location through any device, making it easy for employees to access all their files and applications and to work remotely from anywhere in the world. 
  • Cost savings. Since compute processing is done centrally on a server, the hardware requirements for end devices are less rigid. Users can access their virtual desktops from older devices, thin clients, or even tablets, reducing the need for IT to purchase new and expensive hardware. 
  • Security. In a VDI environment, data lives on a server rather than an end-client device. This serves to protect data if an endpoint device is ever stolen or compromised. Plus, you can provide access to certain environments depending on a user’s credentials, and multi-factor authentication to make it more secure.  
  • Centralized management. VDI’s centralized format allows IT to easily patch, update, or configure all virtual desktops in an environment. A central control plane helps IT admins manage the environment better no matter the user’s location and device.  

Challenges of VDI  

Here’s a list of common VDI challenges, but it’s worth noting that using cloud-based VDI can help you tackle some of them. You can explore end-to-end solutions from VMware that are leveraged by thousands of customers globally and make your VDI very reliable.  

  • Infrastructure costs. Because VDI is mostly managed on premises, the IT organization needs to purchase their own hardware for compute, storage, and networking. Plus, IT needs to spend on software components such as hypervisors, monitoring tools, and more, which can add up fast.  
  • High level of management expertise required. With VDIs, internal IT teams need to manage the entire VDI environment, so it is important that they are experts at virtualization, monitoring, app lifecycle management, and more. A few typical tasks may include maintaining the right level of access, network management, imaging, and app management. 
  • Security. Although you can set your stringent security parameters for your own VDI environment, it is essential that you have the best security solutions at your disposal. It is also important you maintain your software, network, and applications so there are no backdoors. VMware offers many industry-recognized infrastructure and endpoint security solutions, including Carbon Black Endpoint, which has integrations with VMware Horizon.  

Common VDI use cases 

  • Remote/hybrid work. Because VDI makes virtual desktops easy to deploy and update from a centralized location, an increasing number of companies are implementing VDI to support remote workers and hybrid workplaces. 
  • Bring your own device (BYOD). VDI is an ideal solution for environments that allow or require employees and contractors to use their own devices. As compute processing is done on a centralized server, VDI allows the use of a wider range of devices such as thin clients, tablets, or even smartphones. It also offers better risk mitigation, because data lives on the server and is not retained on the end-client device. 
  • Task or shift work. Nonpersistent VDI, which is a stateless virtual machine image, is particularly well suited to organizations such as call centers, which have many employees who use the same software to perform limited tasks and do not need access to multiple applications.  

What is DaaS? 

Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) covers a range of desktop virtualization business models where a service provider or vendor will manage the infrastructure, management plane, and sometimes the desktops themselves as a service. Frequently, DaaS offerings are sold per user or per virtual desktop, so that environments can scale smoothly, one user at a time. This is opposed to traditional models that may scale in larger increments, due to the need to buy server hardware. This model also makes it easier to scale back down if needed. 

DaaS helps take away another layer of management from IT as most of the environment is managed by a vendor (see image below for more context). It moves the expense model from CapEx to OpEx because the organization does not have to invest in hardware and software capacity beforehand.  

In this image, you can see how our various VMware Horizon offerings exemplify different models of VDI and DaaS. 

Types of VDI and DaaS

Not all DaaS is the same. For example, Gartner divides DaaS into three categories: client-defined, vendor-defined, and managed DaaS.  

In this blog when I mention DaaS, I refer to managed DaaS, which means it is completely managed by vendors. In this scenario, the cloud service provider/vendor manages the infrastructure, operating system, image and license management, and end-user support.  

In comparison, client-defined DaaS is when a client specifies various pieces of solutions that they want to leverage and what the user experience will be like. This way, they can get some features of best-of-breed VDI solutions without having to manage them. Vendor-defined DaaS, as its name implies, is defined and managed by the vendor. In this case the client manages the virtual machine configurations.  

Benefits of DaaS 

  • Vendor managed. This is the biggest benefit, where a client does not have to deal with any parts of the puzzle, as it is all managed by the vendor. Thus, customers can focus on their core business differentiators instead of becoming a VDI and app expert. Managed DaaS helps keep your IT organization focused and leaner. You won’t need to stay up late when new patches or new OS versions are released. 
  • Scalability. When a company plans to merge with another, the IT team may not be able to wait for infrastructure to be purchased and scaled. They likely need desktops, and they need them fast. Managed DaaS solves this challenge in a shorter amount of time and with additional capacity at their disposal.  
  • Anywhere presence. Managed DaaS gives a great advantage of using capacity anywhere in the world. Of course, it is limited by where the vendor has presence and has capacity available. Growing your own IT team’s reach globally can take months of planning and years of execution effort. 
  • More predictable costs. If you want to avoid any surprise costs, managed DaaS can help because costs are very well defined and can be kept under control by moving to an OpEx model. 

Challenges of DaaS 

  • Security. For some organizations, DaaS represents the opportunity to leverage the security expertise and resources of a service provider. However, organizations in highly regulated and security-conscious industries such as government, healthcare, and financial services will have more work to do to find a vendor that meets their requirements. Or, they may not find the risks of shared resources to be acceptable. 
  • Uncontrolled cost spikes. Although DaaS comes with the promise of less costs, over time you might have more zombie/unused resources that eat up your budget. This can inflate the costs when you don’t have the right cloud cost management tools. Establishing the right KPIs can help keep your infrastructure costs low.  
  • Less flexibility. When you buy a vendor-defined solution you cannot customize your environment beyond a certain point. If you need levers to change the configuration or use the hardware which is lying free in your on-premises environment, you might be better off developing a client-defined DaaS or a pure VDI environment.  

Common use cases for DaaS 

  • Long-term project support. As organizations expand in new regions it can be both time-consuming and hard work to set up new resources quickly. Using DaaS can solve that challenge while it also supports scaling.  
  • Short-term needs. Managed DaaS can prove helpful for your short-term needs, such as surges in customer volumes because of discounts, workforce expansion, healthcare emergencies, and more. Instead of buying new infrastructure and resources, then managing and securing them, you can rely on DaaS.  
  • Reduction in management responsibilities. Not every growing organization has a big IT budget. Moreover, in times when finding the right talent is rare and expensive you can leave the management of your desktop virtualization environment to an expert. Also, making sure your environment is running around the clock can prove challenging if you support a global customer base. DaaS provides you with the right tools at a predictable price point, and you don’t need in-depth knowledge of all systems.  

VDI vs. DaaS: 3 main differences 

  1. Management. VDI usually needs more management since it is home grown when it comes to the desktop and apps. A more skilled workforce is required unless you use best-of-breed solutions, such as those provided by VMware. In contrast, the DaaS environment is managed by the vendor. Apps would still need some hands-on management from IT. However, the learning curve and skills required are not as extensive as for VDI.  
  1. Cost. VDI leverages on-premises infrastructure and can therefore be more expensive. IT also needs to account for additional capacity required for scalability. Then add the power, cooling, and space costs. In the case of DaaS, you pay as you go, and so this option can be less expensive. However, these costs can grow with the environment and thus IT needs to stay vigilant.  
  1. Flexibility of end-user experience. VDI can provide more flexibility in terms of VM resources and desktop configuration options, so as a result, the user experience can be more finely tuned to different use cases and workloads. Plus, by using solutions like App Volumes, IT can further simplify app lifecycle management. With DaaS, most use cases need customization and more time investment. Or in some instances, certain use cases might even be challenging to replicate.  

As you discover what the right solution is for you, remember that VMware can support all your needs. Our range of VDI and DaaS solutions can help you balance costs and the responsibilities you want to take on while providing an unparalleled user experience. You can talk with our VDI experts today to learn more about which solution will satisfy your needs. Or you can start with a free trial of VMware Horizon.