The working world is demanding to be cut loose from their desks, instead of relying on the capabilities of remote access for their desktop environments. To provide these capabilities, IT has seen desktop virtualization options grow more prevalent. Desktop virtualization enables IT to deploy a hosted OS to remote clients. There are multiple ways to implement virtual desktops, including Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) vs Desktop as a Service (DaaS). Both technologies can help organizations provide business continuity to remote employees and offer the ability to scale up or down quickly as employee bases change. From a user perspective, these methods are most successful when they provide the same user experience a person would get from a physical, local desktop.

What is Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)? 

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) technology enables businesses to deliver desktops via virtual machines. The desktops are hosted on-premises or in the cloud and are managed from a central server rather than on a local PC and deployed to user clients. Since VDIs are centrally located, the business’ IT team is responsible for managing them. The hardware, software, licensing, and deployment are all handled in-house.

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What is Desktop as a Service (DaaS)?

Desktop as a Service (DaaS) is similar to VDI but is provided as a managed service from cloud vendors. In DaaS services, virtual desktops are hosted on managed cloud infrastructure and remotely delivered to user clients. These services can be combined with the cloud providers’ other services and are billed on a subscription basis.

VDI vs DaaS: 5 Key Differences

Although the result is similar, VDI software and DaaS deployments have different benefits and challenges. Below is a comparison of these two options explaining these differences.

VDI vs DaaS: Tenants

Keeping with the home analogy, VDI deployments are like a single-family home whereas most DaaS services are akin to an apartment complex where many families share dedicated, centralized compute resources. VDI uses a single-tenant model with resources dedicated to a single organization or user. The business purchasing the VDI has complete control over the configuration and distribution of resources. There is no risk of other families moving in and affecting their solution’s deployment.

In contrast, most DaaS services are based on multi-tenant models. Multiple organizations share the infrastructure on which the DaaS solution is hosted. Although each client shares the infrastructure, they only have access to their resources and data, much like an individual residing in an apartment building can only access and pays for the utilities (e.g., water, lights) in their apartment.

VDI vs DaaS: Platform

In VDI deployments, you are responsible for all installation, maintenance, and management. If deployments are hosted on-premises, this means maintaining and housing hardware in addition to virtual machines. If deployments are hosted in the off-site private cloud, your host provider maintains and may manage infrastructure for you.

With DaaS deployments, your infrastructure is managed, and you are not responsible for maintenance or management. The provider handles hardware monitoring, upgrades, availability, and troubleshooting. With DaaS, you also get access to technical support from your provider.

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VDI vs DaaS: Cost 

VDI platforms have a high deployment cost, as an organization must find space for a data center, purchase or lease hardware and accessories and manage a host of other associated costs. There is also the cost of the ongoing support the VDI will need.

DaaS providers take on tall the virtual desktop setup costs, and organizations need little or no expertise to manage the infrastructure. This might seem cost-effective, but the expenses not only include a base fee but there will be ongoing subscription fees that’ll increase relative to the number of users you have.

VDI vs DaaS: Flexibility and scalability

On-premises VDI configuration and deployment are generally tailored to an organization’s current needs (unless they have invested in robust business continuity planning). Because of this, businesses that are constantly changing or growing may require more agility and scale than their on-premises VDI was built to support. As businesses evolve, so do the technology and software needs, and with each virtual desktop setup, maintenance, and upgrade request comes more IT resources and expenditures. VDI can also slow your business down if your servers can’t support the size of your workforce or if security practices become outdated, putting data at risk.

In contrast, DaaS is very flexible, since the service providers supply the infrastructure, integrations, and resources to support your company’s current and future needs. While scaling DaaS will raise subscription costs, the ability to invest efficiently based on need makes it an efficient solution for many organizations.

VDI vs DaaS: Access to resources

VDI deployment is based on a single-tenant model, meaning resources and distribution are dedicated to a single organization. Because you are not sharing servers with other organizations, there is no risk of interference or interruption from other users’ demands.

This also means, however, that when your data center is down, all resources are unusable. This can present a challenge for businesses that operate 24/7 or encounter unexpected business disruptions, such as weather or power failures.

With DaaS, most services are multi-tenant, meaning you dynamically share resources with other organizations, which could interfere with service should there be a disruption. Some solutions do, however, offer advanced options to mitigate resource downtime. Additionally, DaaS requires access to the internet which can impact accessibility for some users or regions.

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How does COVID-19 affect VDI vs DaaS decision-making?

DaaS is still a newer technology, and it’s growing along with the rest of the Everything as a Service (XaaS) world. In the future, work desktops may all be thin clients connected to the cloud, but we’re not quite there yet, especially in light of Gartner’s data that DaaS adoption has been slower than expected.

“The reality is that VDI as technologies are more mature than DaaS,” Hill said. Maturity may not matter if COVID-19 keeps businesses distributed to home offices. Gartner made another excellent point in favor of DaaS adoption in its digital workplace trends article: It’s costly to invest in VDI. DaaS prices vary widely from vendor to vendor, but with remote work likely to be permanent even after the pandemic ends, those costs may be preferable to in-house deployments.

If pandemic-triggered remote work trends continue, many physical offices may never reopen, which is another nail in the coffin for the data center in favor of a complete transition to the cloud.