A number of my colleagues attended GTC (GPU Technology Conference) last week. As a company that builds custom desktop computers, we’re interested in any new technologies that might change how our customers work on computers. One company that caught our attention is Paperspace which is a fully-managed agentless VDI. It’s not much different from most VDI services offered today, but Paperspace plans to sell a tiny puck-shaped device for $50 that makes it cheap for anyone to access their computer in the cloud.
Not that a $50 puck is going to replace a full-sized desktop PC anytime soon, but as storage and now CPU and GPU processing migrates to the cloud, it’s something we keep an eye on. Paperspace hasn’t officially launched, but it’s clear what they are trying to do here. By offering a cheap (and probably free in the future) device, they can sell a differentiated VDI service starting around $10/month.
This week I want to take a look at some of the changes we’re seeing in desktop computing. VDI has been around for a while now, and I wonder how it is doing compared to DaaS given all the attention paid to cloud computing these days. This is an example of where software and hardware meet, and it’s often difficult to differentiate the two.
In spite of the crowd who believes much of the enterprise computing infrastructure will be moved to the cloud, VDI continues to be a viable option. VMware, Hyper-V, and XenServer keep chugging along, offering a virtual platform that’s trusted by many large companies.
VDI is often used as a “catch-all” for virtualized desktops, regardless of origination, but it’s emerging as the term used to describe an individualized operating system to each user. While processing power has seen major performance jumps, VDI still requires a substantial investment in hardware and infrastructure, which keeps it related to primarily larger companies who can afford the investment.
So while VDI is still with us, some say it won’t be long before it’s replaced by another technology. Keith Townsend, owner of the Virtualized Geek blog, believes that most organizations will get to the point where they don’t rely on legacy applications and that end-user applications will be platform agnostic. “Vendors will gradually web enable their applications or come up with completely different application models that make the local desktop OS irrelevant,” he says.
Today’s end users focus less on the platform and more on the applications they need to do their jobs. Moving between Windows, Linux, or Mac is basically a non-issue today. VDI will continue to adapt to the end user or it will be slowly replaced.
Last year I attended a presentation at Dixie State University where the promise of not having to manage the virtual infrastructure was music to the ears of most IT people on hand. The presenter has been involved in a number of large VDI and DaaS projects, and he was certain DaaS was the future.
Much of the discussion was centered on BYOD initiatives that was only grudgingly embraced. DaaS was pitched as a security solution because company data is stored on a secure cloud instead of individual devices. Factor in the cost savings of not having to manage another network, servers and software licenses… what’s not to like?
Well, for starters, DaaS tends to work best for smaller companies (fewer than 100 employees). It also works for businesses with seasonal employees, high turnover, or those with a lot of remote users. DaaS allows these companies to quickly scale up and down to meet their needs with minimal IT involvement.
The three major DaaS providers today are VMware Horizon Air, Amazon WorkSpaces and Citrix XenDesktop. And while not a pure DaaS offering, Microsoft offers Azure RemoteApp that runs Windows applications on Azure. There are rumors that Microsoft is working on a true DaaS solution. We’ll see.
It would be simplistic to say that VDI is the past and DaaS is the future. There will always be enough large companies with the capex to support a VDI infrastructure. It’s not that these companies couldn’t migrate to DaaS, but many have no plans to relinquish control of their infrastructure.
Startups and smaller companies will continue to look for solutions that require a smaller up-front investment. The idea of being able to spin up a desktop for a new employee for around $35 a month is compelling. At some point that cost savings might be too large to ignore. William Van Winkle from tom’s IT PRO said it comes down to the bottom line:
“Ultimately, the difference between the two solutions is a financial one. DaaS allows some companies to streamline their infrastructure and reduce the expenditures associated with equipment and IT staff in exchange for a predictable “per user/per month” pricing model. It’s not that different from leasing a car instead of buying one.”
With inexpensive devices like the Chromebooks, tablets, and gadgets like the Paperweight (Paperspace’s puck-shaped device), the solution that’s around a decade from now may be the one that best addresses BYOD and all the security and data issues it brings with it.
Photo credit: Nicolas Raymond via Freestock.ca