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To understand the difference between  Desktop as a Service (DaaS) and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), it's first important to define them.  That starts with virtual desktops and how DaaS and VDI fit into the bigger picture.

What are virtual desktops?

Virtual desktops involve a software solution that allows end-users to access applications, data, operating systems and services on any device. Vendors offer a range of products and services that enable businesses to deploy, manage, optimize and secure virtual desktops. Vendors enable these services in various ways, including DaaS and VDI.

What is DaaS?

DaaS in the end-user computing (EUC) market come in two main "flavors." The most common is when DaaS is offered by software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendors as a cloud-hosted control plane.  In this model, the management of the software and VDI broker is hosted by the DaaS provider, but the actual virtual desktops or applications are hosted in a customer-provided public or private cloud. Each cloud only requires a small "cloud connector" virtual machine to enable the creation and management of the virtual desktops from the DaaS control plane.

The second type of DaaS is a fully outsourced, cloud-based service offering that enables you to provide access to virtualized desktop environments on demand. The desktops are hosted by a service provider then configured based on your computing resource and storage requirements. The provider is also responsible for managing the backups, maintenance, patching and security of the virtual desktops.

In both scenarios, DaaS vendors enable you to securely provide users with access to desktop and virtual applications from any device and location. Employees can access a range of apps, from cloud-hosted software-as-a-service apps to full Windows virtual desktops and legacy, locally hosted apps, through their web browsers.

What is VDI?

VDI is the traditional form of technology that enables applications or systems to be abstracted from underlying, typically customer on-premises, hardware to end-users. It allows desktop workstations and server operating systems to run on virtual machines (VMs) and on-premises host servers. 

With VDI, the solution will typically be located in an on-site data center then managed and operated by in-house IT teams. The solution is managed from the data center and clients are deployed to end-users' machines to allow access to applications and operating systems as if the resources were installed locally on their device.

DaaS vs VDI - what are the differences? 

There are several differences between DaaS and VDI and in how organizations deploy the two solutions. 

Single-tenant vs. multi-tenant 

One of the most significant differences between VDI and DaaS is the model used to distribute the solution to users. VDI uses a single-tenant model which provides resources that are dedicated to one organization or end-user. It gives you total control over how you configure and distribute resources and removes the risk of your resource requirements being affected by the actions of another.

DaaS services typically deploy a multi-tenant model in which services are accessed from servers or data centers shared by multiple organizations. Your services are isolated, but the resources are shared. As a result, your resources or access to systems could be affected by another company's usage or lack of appropriate security levels if they're compromised. 

Platform management 

Another critical difference between DaaS and VDI is the level of maintenance you can expect to carry out. A VDI deployment is hosted on-premises, which means you'll be responsible for all aspects of installing, maintaining and managing the solution. You'll also need to purchase and maintain hardware and take responsibility for providing VMs to enable user access.

In a DaaS deployment, the infrastructure is hosted by the vendor, which means there's no responsibility for you to purchase equipment, maintain or manage the solution. The DaaS provider takes care of ensuring the availability of services, monitoring hardware, installing upgrades and troubleshooting any technical issues. For a DaaS control plane, you will be responsible for updating the virtual desktop agents which communicate to the cloud connectors. In a fully managed DaaS, this task is often provided by the provider. You'll also receive technical support from your provider for problems with the DaaS platform.

Solution cost

DaaS and VDI also differ in the amount you can expect to spend on accessing and running the solutions. A VDI solution carries significant capital expense (CapEx) costs, which often have inflection points with large one-time costs such as when a new storage array is required. However, in this model the costs are normally predictable, within the customers control and fit nicely with traditional enterprise budget management practices.

Using a DaaS control plane simplifies the maintenance of the management stack however the virtual desktops still require a hardware to run. They can be run out of a traditional data center or placed in one or multiple public clouds and the capacity is managed similarly to cloud infrastructure as a service (IaaS) with consumption-based pricing.

Fully managed DaaS requires virtually no CapEx outlay as all the hardware and infrastructure are hosted by a third-party vendor. Instead, you pay ongoing subscription fees to retain on-demand access to virtual desktops. This makes it easier to scale operations and ensures you only pay for the resources you use.

Level of control

VDI and DaaS also differ in the level of control you retain over your IT infrastructure. As VDI solutions are located on-premises and managed centrally, you have complete control of your applications, configurations and data. It's easier to guarantee users have access to the resources they need, and you can define the specific tools you need, where data needs to be stored, how systems should be monitored, and which users should have access to which resources.

With a DaaS deployment, the infrastructure is managed by a third party, which means control over configurations, data storage and monitoring are relinquished to your vendor. DaaS also requires users to have an internet connection to access services, making them vulnerable to web-borne data breaches and other security threats.

Level of freedom

Another key difference between DaaS and VDI solutions is the amount of flexibility allowed. Setting up and maintaining a VDI deployment can be time consuming and require expert technical and data center resources. Scalability is only as good as your ability to plan the server resources, so scaling up services relies on purchasing, installing and configuring additional hardware. However, this allows for maximum customizing of the hardware and software configurations to tailor them to your exact requirements.

DaaS deployments require minimal time to deploy. Your provider sets up and configures the infrastructure and platform, meaning you simply have to define settings and users for the desktop. Scaling is easier and less costly as you don't have to purchase new equipment or hardware as this is on the DaaS provider.  While gaining the freedom to scale, there is typically less access to the nuts and bolts of the system which means less customization.  Virtual desktops are typically only offered in menu sizes of "small, medium or large" and admin panels are focused more on day-to-day operations rather than customizing or tweaking the user experience.

DaaS vs VDI, which is right for your business?

DaaS vs VDI solutions both enable you to deploy high-performance virtual desktop experiences to some or all of your user base. Choosing between them depends on your organization's unique needs, resources, requirements and existing infrastructure.

A key factor in deciding between VDI and DaaS will be your organization's situation. If you have a high volume of remote workers, contract work or developers, DaaS often offers a more cost-effective and straightforward option as it utilizes the cloud and is easy to install and run. Whereas if you have a mature on-premises data center or highly regulated environment, then VDI may make more sense.  

If your organization already operates an on-premises data center, VDI could present a cost-effective option as it may require minimal setup costs and no ongoing consumption fees. Alternatively, if you primarily operate cloud-based services, DaaS will be the best option for you and your users.

Many organizations find that a hybrid model leveraging a DaaS solution for disaster recovery (DR) or for temporary capacity such as during mergers and acquisitions (M&A) while utilizing on-premises VDI for their traditional workforce a great balance.  This enables a more stable cost to the business while retaining the flexibility to rapidly scale to the cloud when additional capacity is required without pre-paying for the additional servers.

Deploy the right desktop solution with World Wide Technology

WWT can help your organization discover the right IT solutions that best meet your unique needs, resources and situation, be it a cloud-based or on-premises approach like DaaS or VDI or a hybrid model.

Discover how WWT can help your organization deploy the right solutions for your employees by exploring our full suite of end-user computing capabilities