Delivering the Desktop – An MSP Opportunity

Desktop as a Service (DaaS) could become the new normal for organisations seeking to simplify the provision and maintenance of their PC estate. At the same time DaaS is looking like a great and growing application opportunity for managed service providers.

Desktop as a Service (DaaS) DaaS, like any Cloud based service is about how you do computing and not where you do computing.

Remember the days of trying to keep all your office PC licenses up to date? What a nightmare it was for organisations of any size to remain honest – let alone have everyone on the same versions of operating systems and business applications.

If ever an application did not have to look far for a problem, then DaaS was never going to be in need of a trip to Specsavers.

In recent times DaaS has been a market in blossom and to some extent riding the wave of applications that were already on their way to the cloud, but it became more serious along journey with big players such as Amazon, VMware, Google and Microsoft et al all wanting a share of the action.

Likewise, DaaS just seems a perfect fit for Managed Services Suppliers (MSPs) and for many the supply and management of user desktops is just another application in their portfolio.

People Ask…

What is the difference between VDI and DaaS?

VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) and DaaS (Desktop as a Service) are both cloud-hosted desktops and even serve similar functions. … VDI environments are usually located in an on-site data centre managed by IT administrators and staff. DaaS is a fully outsourced solution that provides virtual desktops to businesses.

Speaking to UKFast’s CTO Neil Lathwood, we asked what are the key elements required to deliver a secure, scalable, high-performance desktop environment?

“People want to be able to work anywhere, at any time, on any device. Obviously, businesses want that to be secure and efficient at the same time.

On the security side, it’s important to consider both software security and encryption, and the physical security that comes with hosting the solution in an accredited data centre.

For FASTdesk, the security management is a big sell, because we handle that end-to-end for our clients.

Businesses don’t have to worry about where their data is in terms of endpoints like laptops and other devices, and things getting lost or stolen. When the data is stored centrally in a secure DC the loss of a work device turns from a potential GDPR catastrophe into a minor inconvenience.

Customers want us to support their applications without any additional hassle. Many businesses have legacy applications that traditionally were difficult to put up in the cloud, but we work closely with our customers to make whatever application they may need available remotely via the FASTdesk network.

For start-ups and small businesses there’s a significant cost to launching IT. There’s the cost of your local kit plus ongoing running costs, and then you need to employ someone to manage that, and you might not have that expertise in a small team. At that point it makes perfect sense to offload all of that to someone else to manage it all for you at a fixed cost per user per month.

When businesses want to scale users they can do so on a predictable, sliding scale. They don’t need to worry about reaching a tipping point with capacity on their server or in their server room or managing increased user numbers. We take all that out of their hands, and nowadays most businesses are very happy with that.”

Commenting on the view that hourly usage rates from Amazon for their Windows or Linux desktop Workspaces are the ultimate in flexibility, Lathwood says, ‘It is great in terms of flexibility but there’s still a base level of knowledge needed to be able to run it’.

“Access to a support team is one of the things people like about FASTdesk, because it takes away that need for specialist knowledge. It’s very hard to justify outsourcing your IT if you still need the same number of senior IT staff to run the platform.

With AWS and Azure it’s difficult to do a cost analysis against replacing your internal resource, because you just don’t know. It could be cheaper one month and more expensive the next, so your finance team will not thank you.

It’s the same issue we see with a lot of Azure and AWS. You only really get an idea of what the cost looks like after you’ve run it for a while, and then at that point you’re stuck because your systems are built around it.

You probably never find anyone who’s gone to AWS and said, ‘I’ve saved money’. They might like the flexibility and some of the feature sets around it, but to save money and run at a predictable cost, which is what most businesses need, is almost impossible.”

DaaS – continuous data backup and synchronisation means compliance is now an easier task.

What is DaaS?

Desktop as a Service (DaaS) is the provisioning of remote hosted virtual desktops using a remote server to host personal computer desktops simultaneously. The days of IT professionals marching from computer to computer performing the same tasks on multiple PCs are thankfully over. With desktop as a service, after a major upgrade is integrated, there should be no need to perform any tasks at an employee level—in-house or remote. Their machines are effectively the same, all of which are accessing data and applications through the cloud service provider without storing anything locally.

A quick look at the benefits of desktop as a service highlights –

Cost Effectiveness: One of the key benefits of virtual desktops, compared to traditional workstations, is that DaaS can dramatically reduce the total cost ownership (TCO). According to an IDC white paper, desktop as a service can reduce hardware ‘Capital Expenditure (CAPEX)’ by 56% annually and also reduce the ‘Operating Expenditure (OPEX)’ annually.

On average, a virtual desktop costs two times less than a traditional PC due to its longer life, absence of a local hard disk, and reduced power consumption.

Windows 7 upgrade and migrations are forcing organisations to look into expensive upgrades of both the server, desktop and laptop estate. Virtual desktop service, on the other hand, enables companies to reuse their existing hardware and extend the life of the investment they have already made.

Better security and compliance: The problem with personal computers in a business environment is that they can be hacked, lost or stolen. Virtual desktops address this issue quite simply. If there is no sensitive information stored on any hard drive, or if there is no hard drive at all, as is the case with most thin client hardware, there is nothing to steal.

While traditional PCs face the threat of users downloading malicious files and infecting the corporate LAN, the cloud desktop cannot function as a zombie host and it is quite difficult for viruses to infiltrate through remote displays. Therefore, rendering a virtual desktop carries a low risk in terms of security.

Organisations with virtual desktops can centralise updates at the remote location; continuous data backup and synchronisation means compliance is now an easier task.

Mobility: Ever tried to work from home but forgot your USB stick containing all your recent work documents at the office? Now think about hibernating your virtual desktop at the office and resuming that same virtual desktop at home with all your windows still opened. Moreover, desktop as a service keeps remote workers connected.

With a virtual desktop, you can access your complete personal PC desktop experience from anywhere, using any device, including iPads, Macbooks, tablets and other mobile devices, as well as your existing desktops, laptops and thin clients. You can access both Microsoft Windows and Linux-based operating systems on your device.

Flexibility: Virtual desktops are implemented and scaled quickly. Deployment of new software, applications, and updates takes minutes instead of days.

Virtual desktop service can remove application compatibility issues with all applications running on all systems. Desktop scalability without additional CAPEX.

Moreover, ‘Desktop as a Service’ (DaaS) provides companies with a ready-made disaster recovery (DR) strategy to get their desktops up and running quickly after any disaster. Thus, with a virtual desktop, you are not only reducing the costs of managing IT, but you are expanding the reach of your organisation by making your employees more mobile and responsive.

Issues

If all this sounds like a pitch for DaaS it is easy to understand why. So what’s the problem?

A couple of issues stand out. The channel have understandably had a problem with the cloud model. More specifically, in this market , making the transition away from the traditional transaction based method of sell, supply and maintain to the OPEX based consumption solution. It’s been the same issue for a whole bunch of resellers – that transitions delayed the widespread uptake of hosted telephony for example.

The second issue is equally obvious and to illustrate this point what follows is a direct lift from a comments page of a DaaS supplier:

Concerned user? I love the proposition of a cloud desktop but I’d be very nervous committing my whole desktop to the cloud because of concerns with connectivity. The UK is full of connectivity black spots whether you’re talking about broadband or mobile internet. Do these solutions provide some sort of offline work mode where it keeps a local synced version of your desktop so you can work offline? If not, this solution is not going to be good for companies whose staff are often on the move.

Sadly the supplier committed the cardinal sin of not replying.

Reseller Use Case

UKFast reseller BitSol Telecom has implemented a hosted desktop solution for Altringham based law firm Haworth Holt Bell (HHB) using the vendor’s FASTdesk service.

Mike Donovan from BitSol commented, “It is difficult for any firm to make a change and in my experience law firms, in particular, find it hard as they tend to stick with a trusted supplier. HHB took a ‘leap of faith’ agreeing to move to FASTdesk, a cloud-based solution, supplied by ourselves in partnership with UKFast.”

Donovan explained, “We put a low-level design document together for the UKFast team who built the environment in to which we migrated the HHB data.

On this occasion, it was with great difficulty, as the incumbent supplier didn’t want to let them go and put a lot of obstacles in their way, which we had to work around.

The migration took place successfully over a weekend so there was no disruption to the service. When everyone came in Monday morning, the emails were working, all the files were there and the Practice Management System was working perfectly.”

HHB have not look back since, with their Richard Bell agreeing that making the move was the right decision.

“We’ve not had any of the problems we had before. It’s been a breath of fresh air; we now have an incredible service and can’t believe that we remained with the previous supplier for so many years.

The legal sector is evolving in a data-driven world

We use FASTdesk on a daily basis. We access our emails and all our files through the system and I can also use it from home; it’s magnificent. I would certainly recommend BitSol and UKFast I think it’s a good partnership and seems to work very well for us.”

Commenting on the partnership Mike Donovan said: “It’s a big deal for us to partner with UKFast. As a new company it gives us the credibility we don’t yet have. UKFast has one of the best infrastructures in the UK providing an ongoing service that’s very reliable. We’ve also got UKFast’s call centre support behind us so we are not a small operation; we are effectively as big as UKFast.”

Donovan says BitSol Telecom are looking to grow and develop alongside UKFast.

“In the last few weeks we have shown national companies the UKFast proposition and been successful because of it. I’m hopeful the future holds great opportunities for BitSol Telecom to expand.”

Ed Says…

DaaS seems a bit of a natural for MSPs looking to expand their services portfolio. DaaS creates a more centralised interface to manage customers’ desktops, business-related software updates, and troubleshooting. It strengthens security infrastructure to protect corporate data from malicious users and reduces IT support time for desktop management tasks.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine