The expanding DaaS market, the big players and healthy competition

Firstly let me make an apology for referring to HVD, VDI, HVDI, DaaS, HD, VD etc under the umbrella term of “DaaS” (Desktop-as-a-Service). Guise will kill me.

Every January we hear “this is the year for VDI”, or “will this be the year for VDI”, or “will VDI ever arrive?” (my previous blog). Well I’m here to tell you this year IS and HAS been the year for VDI already.  VDI is now mainstream. If a business doesn’t already have it, they’re either considering it, they have it on the back burner or they’ve ruled it out for one of a number of reasons. It’s safe to say there are now tens of millions of virtual desktops and billions of virtual servers.

If a business doesn’t already have it, they’re either considering it, they have it on the back burner or they’ve ruled it out.

So why are there so many technical blogs antagonising over VDI? I’ll tell you. There are two main reasons…  Firstly for the IT Supplier, it’s far less profitable. In my previous life I ran an IT Support company, our only major outgoings were our staff and operational costs. If we billed £600 per day for onsite support, the majority would be profit. If we billed a customer £1,000 per month for contracted remote IT Support, the majority would be profit. Now consider VDI; you have to pay for staff (circa 25%), Microsoft and Citrix / VMWare licensing (circa 20%), Servers + Storage + Multiple Datacentres + DR (circa 30%), operational costs (circa 10%) leaving around 10% profit. Compared to 50%+ profit for offering traditional IT Support. Most HVD providers I know report an annual loss.

I only know of two companies who actually have Citrix HDX 2 working with 100% accuracy and finesse… it’s complicated to set up

Secondly, it’s complicated to set up. I only know of two companies who actually have Citrix HDX 2 working with 100% accuracy and finesse. It’s not just a case of switching HDX on, but managing around 12 different settings on the server, infrastructure and endpoint device. I only know of a handful of HVD providers who understand how to mirror web interfaces across multiple datacentres. If not configured correctly, there are 101 things that can go wrong. If any of part of the stack falls over, the VDI goes down, and VDI’s name sake is disparaged.

So, it’s expensive and complicated.  I whole heartedly concur. But, what if a HVD provider builds a reliable infrastructure and is able to generate a profit through economies of scale. I’ve realised a HVDI will become profitable at around 3,000 users if you are charging £50 – £60 per desktop per month (lower than £50 and you cannot generate a profit).

Ok so now let’s discern the negative impulsion from traditional IT suppliers, and consultants alike. I don’t think anyone will disagree that if a VDI is stable, fast and cost effective, the benefits far outweigh any other form of Business computing. Detailing every benefit is not within the context of this blog; but we are all aware that anywhere access, from any device, for any application (SaaS or non-SaaS), Disaster Recovery and cost effectiveness are huge benefactors. Add to this the ongoing management of hardware, software and constant upgrading of the platform by the service provider really is the answer for ease of use and access for most businesses. Going a step further; Big Data Analytics because your infrastructure is centralised can add some serious weight.

I don’t think anyone will disagree that if a VDI is stable, fast and cost effective, the benefits far outweigh any other form of Business computing.

All of the above brings me to my next point and reconfirms why the “big players” now have their own DaaS offerings. Now that VDI is mainstream and in place in around 25-50% of medium sized businesses, it was only a matter of time until the big players moved into this area. This is a strong message and reaffirms that HVD and cloud services soon will be mandatory, not optional.

I could end the blog here… And I would be happy to, concluding how far VDI has come in the last 25 years. And since I started providing VDI 10 years ago, now most IT companies have this offering in their artillery either offering it themselves or via resale. VESK doubled in size in 2013, without investment, just from extremely hard work and running a very reliable and high performance VDI. And now, some of the largest IT companies in the world AND the two largest cloud providers in the world are offering hosted desktops.

But there is one immense distinction to make between the big cloud players and specialist HVD firms. The big players don’t quite have it right, so let’s take a closer look at who is offering HVD:  Amazon, Google, Microsoft (rumoured Project Mohoro) and VMWare.

Amazon WorkspacesSigning up for a Workspaces desktop is fairly easy and the control panel is very good. The basic version of Workspaces is $50 with Office. Ok, so now you have a Windows virtual desktop, great right?

Not really, you still need your applications installed and your VDI built. You still need Exchange and Active Directory access.  There is no customisation of the desktop at all, the resolution is very low. I could just imagine giving a Workspaces demo desktop to a prospect and the reaction on their face when they realise the task ahead.  Their data centres are in the US, and many UK businesses are either not permitted to host their data in the US for compliance reasons (such as law firms) or because the latency and access speeds would equate to poor performance.

So on top of the basic version of Workspaces at $50, you would also need a local IT firm to build the Active Directory environment, migrate and manage the applications on to AWS using Amazon’s bespoke API’s and programming tools. In total, realistically you would be looking at around $120 (£85) per desktop per month for the desktop and ongoing management without 1st Line / Onsite support. And it’s only viable if you are in the US.

VMWare, Google and Microsoft’s offerings are all very similar. To summarise; Desktone try to explain why they are better than Citrix, their same argument over and over again is that Citrix wasn’t built for multi-tenant and hosted environments, but more for private cloud deployments. Every single point made on their Desktone Vs Citrix table is now incumbent, apart from one (not requiring SQL licenses). Again, data is stored in the US and a true test is to demo a Desktone desktop vs VESK, you’ll see the performance of VESK exceeds that of a Desktone desktop.

Every single VDI we have built for our customers is different, there is no one size fits all.

Where Microsoft is concerned – could you imagine calling Microsoft and asking for help with Excel? It won’t happen, so you basically need an IT supplier to build and architect the VDI. Every single VDI we have built for our customers is different, there is no one size fits all. You see, a pattern is starting to emerge.

So why the VESK infrastructure?
Apart from the obvious benefits of running a cloud service for your business, a few are listed above, there’s always a more bespoke benefit for every company, usually these differ vastly. Some businesses require high levels of DR, some require BYOD or migrating all of their applications into the cloud and integrating their applications. But what differentiates VESK from the usual, or known benefits ?

Firstly it’s performance. The reason VESK desktops are so quick to respond is because of the way they are setup, firstly a correct configuration of Citrix and Microsoft services but secondly and more importantly; the hardware. Through years of experience, we have built different SAN pools for different IO requirements. Exchange logs require extremely fast random read IO so the disks hosting the Exchange logs are configured differently. Microsoft desktops sit on one pool, but the Microsoft page files sit on another pool of smaller and therefore faster SSDs.

All performance derives from the fastest SSDs currently available and these SSDs are replaced every 12 months. But the performance goes deeper than SSDs, the actual disks where Exchange, application and desktop data reside are also customised for their workload depending on the requirement of the specific area of the VDI. We monitor every ‘bit’ of information and data flow across our VDI and implement customisations based on the analysis of data reporting. That’s why when you log into a VDI it’s extremely fast, opening a 40GB Exchange email account and searching is instant and access between applications is instant.

Deep breath, and finally: UK datacentres ensure fast access across Europe rather than slower access across the Atlantic.

Secondly it’s integration of applications and bespoke customer configurations. Therefore you only need to work with one cloud services provider plus your line of business application providers. Most businesses will require add-on applications for Exchange and sometimes Office. Complex bespoke group and security policies, personalised AD configurations, DFS file replication, VPN’s for application integration are part of the VESK implementation.

These are all realistic requirements for the majority of businesses. Commoditising DaaS by making the whole process of building desktops automated through control panels and API’s is an inherent problem because some level of integration, awareness of the customer, and communication with the hosting provider is required.

When you log into a VDI it’s extremely fast searching is instant and access between applications is instant.

To summarise
The big players will be successful in passing desktops to macro-sized businesses and also the Channel. The majority of businesses will use smaller HVD providers who are able to be agile and have a specific understanding of the customer’s needs.

UK businesses will more than likely not host their desktops in the US for one of two reasons; latency or compliance. The cost of hosting with Amazon/Mohoro will be more than using a local HVD provider when considering all costs involved.

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