D.I.Why? In-House VDI vs Hosted Virtual Desktops
Virtual Desktop Infrastructure providers / VDI providers are in high demand as businesses seek out Work Anywhere computing solutions. So, before we get into the in-house vs. provider comparison, here’s a list of the top global providers and a link to Gartner’s DaaS Market guide for additional insight. For the full, downloadable document, follow the link to Virtual Desktop Infrastructure Providers – Comparing DIY to DaaS Providers.
Top 7 Global Hosted Virtual Desktop Infrastructure Providers 2020:
Evolve IP – United States
Diso – Switzerland
Anunta – India
Tehama – Canada
Kivito – Germany
Cloudalize – Belgium
Tilon – South Korea
Now, on to the meat of the post. In the world of virtual desktop solutions, there are a lot of variables and decisions to be made, but none of these are as paramount or as journey-defining as whether to build your own in-house VDI as a self-managed solution or to partner with a hosted virtual desktop provider for a partially or fully-managed DaaS / hosted virtual desktop solution.
It should come as no surprise that, in the IT world, we don’t do ourselves any favors when it comes to terminology and acronyms, and things like virtual desktop (VD), hosted virtual desktop (HDV), remote desktop, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) are often used interchangeably. I won’t even get started on Desktop(s)-as-a-Service … that little ‘S’ drives me nuts!
As a result, it can get a bit fuzzy when trying to understand exactly what solution you’re looking at. Given that, let’s take a quick moment to clarify terms so we can break things down into two categories.
First, we have VDI – short for Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. VDI, at its core, means that you are using some form of a central server/servers to house the virtual desktops you are making available to your users. For this post we will consider the term VDI to refer to a virtual desktop solution that you are building and managing within infrastructure that you manage – running either in an in-house datacenter or collocated with a provider.
Alternatively, we have DaaS – short for Desktop-as-a-Service. For all intents and purposes, DaaS is VDI; it uses the same components to deliver the same solution to achieve the same goals. The difference is that with DaaS, a provider is building, maintaining, and/or managing the platform that delivers the desktops to your users as a cloud-based service rather than doing it in-house… hence, the ‘as-a-Service.’
Now that we have defined them and understand the key difference between VDI and DaaS, how do you know which solution is right for you? Should you be looking to implement a VDI solution or contract for a DaaS solution? There are a few key things to take into consideration to aid in making the decision.
Considerations For Comparing In-house VDI vs. Hosted Virtual Desktops / DaaS:
- IT Staffing
- Areas of Focus
- Management & Support
- CAPEX vs OPEX
- ‘The Bucket Problem’
Many traditional approaches to differentiating virtual desktop solutions begins with budget and infrastructure, but to me, the most important factor regarding the right fit begins with your IT team.
In-house VDI vs. DaaS: Staffing
This isn’t really a question of headcount as much as it is a combination of ability and current workload. Organizations often tend to have difficulty striking a balance between having a large enough team with enough specialized technical ability and having the capacity to take on new and complex projects.
For example, a large IT team may have more capacity to take on work but will likely have varying skill levels throughout the team; whereas, you may have a small and technically-capable IT team which will already be at-or-near their capacity, working on other operational and administrative efforts.
This becomes extremely important because the process of designing, implementing, and managing an in-house VDI solution can be very complex and time-consuming work that will last as long as the solution is in-place.
Alternatively, engaging in a Desktop-as-a-Service solution model moves the complexity up-front as part of the discovery process, but you can then free your IT team for other priorities by shifting the responsibility of platform management of your virtual desktop solution to the provider.
It becomes a matter of whether your organization wants to make a long-term commitment to increasing IT personnel and /or providing additional training or, leveraging the resources, knowledge, and personnel of a provider.
In-house VDI vs. DaaS: Infrastructure
Similar to personnel resources, we need to account for infrastructure resources. Running an in-house virtual desktop infrastructure platform will require significant server hardware resources, licensing, shared storage, and additional network capacity, along with devices for both the internal LAN and the WAN to ensure sufficient external connectivity to accommodate your users.
While it is not uncommon for organizations running their own datacenter to have some overhead capacity available, it typically isn’t enough to build and operate an in-house VDI solution. This, then, requires making a significant investment in increasing your datacenter footprint, not only in terms of adding the required infrastructure, but also in accounting for any increased space, HVAC, and power requirements.
For organizations currently performing their own Disaster Recovery and/or Business Continuity solutions, they must also account for how they will protect any in-house VDI. Where many IT teams tend to go wrong here is in the practice of repurposing ‘old’ equipment or recently retired infrastructure that they may have just upgraded. While done with the best intentions, this can lead to significant future issues as the reliability and supportability of those devices will always be in question; otherwise, why upgrade it to begin with?
The takeaway is that an in-house VDI solution may be a great fit for your organization as long as you are willing to make the commitment for the required infrastructure and accompanying facilities concerns and can fit this solution into your strategic approach to business continuity.
On the other hand, the Desktop-as-a-Service solutions model can help alleviate the concerns around purchasing, configuring, maintaining, and supporting the additional infrastructure required, as well as blend more seamlessly into a continuity strategy given the more flexible nature of cloud-based solutions. (continued below!)
In-house VDI vs. DaaS: Management
For virtual desktop management and support, we’ve already covered the platform-side from a personnel and infrastructure perspective; however, when it comes to desktop management, in my opinion, the industry has historically made a mistake in that it tends to see both VDI and DaaS as solutions that will eliminate the administrative burden of managing desktops.
Frankly, that’s incorrect. Either solution can greatly reduce the administrative burden, but neither truly does away with it.
With both solutions, much of the administrative burden is shifted from managing desktops to managing images/templates, and many IT teams inadvertently make their jobs more complex by limiting their ability to utilize automation tools to assist with things like patching and antivirus management when deploying dynamic desktop environments (Note: we’ll address this more in a future blog post comparing and contrasting Static vs Dynamic DaaS solutions).
Having said all of this, there is a lot to be gained through streamlining either a VDI or DaaS solution to use as few images as possible; I like to refer to this as ‘simplification-through-standardization’ – the more you can provide a consistent user experience with fewer variables, the easier that solution is to support and manage.
In this case, VDI and DaaS are neck-and-neck with neither having much of a practical advantage over the other, but one of the ancillary benefits of a DaaS solution is in working with a provider who has a myriad of experience having worked with clients, designing these solutions. The right partner will share the lessons-learned and guide your business based on what they have seen clients do both successfully and unsuccessfully.
In-house VDI vs. DaaS: Costs
In terms of virtual desktop budgets, I have to caveat my thoughts by saying that, historically, I’m not a ‘financials’ guy any more than I have ever needed to be, so we’re probably not going to get into much nuance when it comes to tax deductions, organizational budgeting impacts, and expense amortization. You will have a far better idea of your organization’s preference for capital expenditure (CAPEX) vs operational expenditure (OPEX) and reasons therein.
The important thing to note for the purposes of our discussion is that CAPEX-leaning organizations, who are more open to making the significant investment in the required infrastructure, would seem to be a better fit for VDI, whereas OPEX-leaning organizations would be a much more natural fit for the subscription-based approach of DaaS.
What about when we look at the technology-side of CAPEX vs OPEX, though? Are there any differences there?
This is where I would like to introduce what I refer to as ‘The Bucket Problem.’ I have three buckets, each of which can hold twenty gallons. Any amount up to sixty gallons, total, I can easily accommodate within those buckets; whether that’s three buckets with ten gallons each, or two with fifteen each, and one with seven. I am completely fine as long as I stay within the sixty gallons that I have allotted to myself.
What happens when I get to gallon number 61, though? Now, I have a decision to make. Do I run out and buy another twenty-gallon bucket knowing that I’m not going to get close to that eighty-gallon-mark for a long time, so I’m buying a lot of extra capacity that I don’t immediately need, or do I just get a five-gallon bucket to kick the problem down the road a while but which leaves me with an asymmetrical and internally inconsistent solution?
This is the exact problem businesses face with an internal VDI, CAPEX-driven model. Once you start to get near the capacity of available desktops and begin to start planning for growth, you need to determine how you will grow the environment. This also makes locking-in an exact price per user difficult, because, to our earlier example, that 61st gallon of water is now costing you as much as gallons forty-one through sixty are as a whole.
One of the primary benefits of a DaaS platform with a subscription model is that every user has the same cost which remains consistent as the platform grows. This Predictable Cost Model makes growth, especially for Merger & Acquisition-driven companies, much easier than with an in-house VDI solution.
Another virtual desktop budget consideration is whether or not everyone in your company needs DaaS or VDI. Solutions, like Evolve IP’s Virtual Desktops, can help further reduce costs by providing a single virtual desktop platform that allows IT to deliver DaaS to only those users who need a cloud desktop, while the rest of the business’ employees can access SaaS and legacy line-of-business applications via SSO and MFA. One platform, completely secure, and everything runs the same way on laptops, desktops, tablets, and mobile devices.
So, when it comes to VDI vs. DaaS, which is the right fit for your organization? Well… that’s not an answer that anyone else can give you. My personal suggestion would be to make sure that you give both equal considerations and be sure to run a Total Cost of Ownership comparison as part of your evaluation process. That will give a firm grasp of all of the financial considerations of both solutions.
When comparing TCO for a do-it-yourself VDI solution to a subscription-based cloud DaaS solution be sure to include easily neglected elements like personnel headcount, capacity, training, licensing, data center costs, additional external bandwidth, etc. If you don’t include these pieces upfront, those costs will end up surprising you later.
In-house VDI vs. DaaS: Providers
Also, try to find a way to quantify the intangibles such as the benefit of working with a provider who has experience (shameless plug – Evolve IP is VMware’s largest DaaS provider in the world and we’ve been in every DaaS Gartner Market Guide since inception) and whether your organization may be able to benefit from ancillary services like additional management or support from a provider which may have the added benefit of additional discounts or economy of scale savings.