DaaS vs. VDI: What's the Difference?

DaaS, or Desktop as a Service, and VDI, or Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, are both important technologies that allow companies to provide virtual desktops to their employees anywhere, anytime. These two are booming thanks to today's hybrid work environment. In fact, the global virtual desktop market is expected to surpass 33.42 billion US dollars by 2028.

Now, DaaS and VDI can be very confusing because the quick understanding is that they offer the same service: virtual desktops. But they bear significant differences that fundamentally define their suitability for different scenarios.

Read on to understand how these two virtualization approaches differ and under what circumstances you might want to choose one over the other.

What is DaaS?

DaaS is a cloud computing infrastructure that provides virtual desktops over the internet, which are licensed with a per-user subscription. The service provider manages the back-end for enterprises that find managing virtual desktop infrastructures resource-consuming and expensive. 

DaaS typically includes maintenance, data storage, updates, and backup. DaaS service providers may also handle applications and security, or the users may opt to manage these aspects individually.

There are two core types of DaaS: persistent and non-persistent.

  • In persistent DaaS, users can customize a desktop so that it is the same every time they log in. Therefore, it will require storage, which makes it expensive.
  • In non-persistent DaaS, the desktop is wiped every time a user logs out. 

Benefits of DaaS

  • Easy to manage: The service provider manages and maintains the virtual desktops, easing the stress on the user's IT team.
  • Highly scalable: The cloud isn't limited to the user's server space, making it scalable as the needs of the business change.
  • Potential savings and predictable costs: A subscription model is predictable in terms of costs, depending on the number of users. Businesses can plan better and allocate definite resources. In case of any changes in pricing, the providers will always issue a notification in advance.
  • Modern and agile: DaaS makes it easy to deploy new apps and eliminate outdated infrastructure.

Drawbacks of DaaS

  • Recurring costs: A subscription model means continually paying for service. If you compute the amount you spend over a long period of time, it might turn out to be so much more than you might have incurred if your company were to own the infrastructure. 
  • Limited control: Though DaaS saves the users hours of management and maintenance, it does so by taking control from the user. This becomes a challenge for companies with highly specific, sensitive operations. 

The big cloud players such as AWS and Microsoft Azure now offer DaaS as part of their cloud products. This just demonstrates how quickly DaaS has grown to curve a lucrative segment so attractive that most big tech players are keen to claim a share of the market. But it's not only the big companies that are offering DaaS. In fact, there are several players whose core service is DaaS, presenting flexible options that benefit both small and large businesses.

What is VDI?

VDI is a user-owned virtual desktop infrastructure. It's the opposite of DaaS in terms of ownership and management. So while DaaS is owned and managed by a cloud service provider, VDI is owned and managed by the business that uses it. The infrastructure is hosted on a centralized server from where the virtual desktops are distributed to end-users on request.

VIDIs were traditionally deployed in on-premise ecosystems, but these days you'll find VDI solutions that are deployed in the cloud. This model makes it much easier to build the infrastructure, especially the critical components such as servers, hypervisors, and even cooling systems. 

A VDI infrastructure enables users to access virtual desktops from any location or device, and the host servers do all the processing. Users connect to their desktops via a software-based getaway called a connection broker. This gateway acts as an intermediary between the server and the end-user.

Like DaaS, VDI can also be either persistent or non-persistent:

  • In persistent VDI, the end-user uses the same desktop to connect to the host server each time. The user can personalize the desktop to meet specific needs because changes are saved after a connection reset. Desktops in a persistent VDI environment are similar to a personal physical desktop.
  • In non-persistent VDI, users connect to anonymous desktops where changes are not saved. In this case the VDI becomes cheaper and more straightforward because it does not maintain individualized desktops between sessions.

Benefits of VDI

  • Long-term savings: While the initial investment is quite up there, the long term savings are quite significant especially for a business that is predictable with no major scaling needs in the future.
  • Control over the infrastructure: IT teams can utilize the management, security tools, monitoring, and other essential tools as the need arises.
  • Data security: Businesses that handle sensitive and confidential data have control over it and can adopt any security measures internally.
  • Streamlined experience: The operating systems, applications, and shared tools are optimized for the user’s unique network.
  • Dedicated resources: VDI is usually hosted on internal servers, and all resources are dedicated to the end user.

Drawbacks of VDI

  • High initial costs: Buying a new server, deploying, and preparing a data center can be expensive. Furthermore, VDI requires maintenance and upgrading from time to time. 
  • Network performance: VDI must be deployed near the end-users’ location for optimized user experience. This means that if your location does not have a supportive ecosystem to accommodate the infrastructure, then your teams can struggle all the way from implementation to management.
  • Requires robust IT: All hardware, operating systems, security updates, and software are managed in-house and will require highly trained maintenance and support staff.  

DaaS vs. VDI: What's the main difference?

We can already see that DaaS and VDI are incredibly similar. Both allow users to access virtual desktops, a crucial resource in the world of hybrid work. However, there are significant differences between the two.

The key difference is that DaaS is managed by a third-party provider whereas VDI is managed by the company i.e the user. While DaaS can be shared by many companies, VDI can only be used by the company that owns it.

Here is a look at the main differences between DaaS and VDI that are worth taking into account when choosing between DaaS vs. VDI:

1. Management

VDI is usually managed internally in the user's data center. The user's internal IT team handles the deployment, integration, maintenance, data security, software and hardware updates.

In contrast, a third-party service provider manages DaaS and hosts it in the public cloud, mostly. The service provider handles maintenance, deployment, integration, and upgrades. In some circumstances, the provider may allow the user to manage some apps and data security.

2. Control

VDI offers the user complete control, including network performance, maintenance, security, troubleshooting, plus all hardware and software updates. Though some data centers provide additional support, the bulk of the burden falls on the users' in-house IT team.

On the other hand, the DaaS provider handles management and maintenance, thus providing users with limited internal control. This feature also enables the service provider to offer advanced security features.

3. Flexibility and scalability

VDI configuration and deployment is customized to the user's current needs. Thus, VDI is less scalable and flexible. It may slow down a business if the user's servers cannot support a sudden spike in workforce or if security practices are outdated and become a data security risk. As a result, VDI needs robust business continuity planning to match up to the virtual desktop setup, upgrade requests, and software needs as the business grows. 

In contrast, DaaS is flexible and scalable because the service provider supplies the infrastructure, resources, and integrations to support the user's current and future needs. Because of this, it is ideal for constantly changing businesses that require more agile and scalable solutions. The provider will only raise the subscription fees during scaling, which is an efficient solution for many users.

4. Resource accessibility

Since VDI is based on a single-tenant architecture, the resources and distribution are allocated to a single user. The end-user does not share servers with other businesses, eliminating the risk of interruption or interference from other users. However, this also means that all the resources are inaccessible when the data center is down. This is a significant challenge for companies that run 24/7 or face unpredictable business disruptions.

DaaS is a multi-tenant model, meaning multiple users share resources, which can interfere with the quality of services. However, some service providers offer advanced solutions to mitigate downtime. Furthermore, on-premise DaaS relies on the internet, which could affect accessibility for some regions.

5. Costs

VDI requires heavy upfront investment to set up data centers plus servers to host and support the virtual desktops. However, the cost will be limited to the initial expenses if the workforce remains fairly the same in number for the foreseeable future. It could also translate to savings if the infrastructure doesn't require upgrades.

On the other hand, deploying DaaS requires lower upfront costs because the service provider is responsible for the infrastructure. The subscription model also allows users to scale their investments to meet their needs. 

Use cases where DaaS is best suited

  1. Startups and small enterprises: DaaS is ideal for startups and small enterprises seeking to spend less on buying and maintaining on-premise IT infrastructure.
  2. Green organizations: DaaS allows organizations to contribute to conserving the environment because it minimizes the use of on-premise hardware. This results in lower carbon footprint and reduced electronic wastage.
  3. Companies without IT teams: DaaS is easy to deploy, and the service providers handle the deployment, maintenance, upgrades, and security. This allows organizations that lack IT departments to use their virtual desktops effectively.
  4. Contractors: Some companies outsource projects to contractors. Such companies can leverage DaaS instead of supplying company-owned devices to contractors.
  5. Organizations with a variable workforce: DaaS is highly scalable and flexible, and this makes it ideal for organizations with unstable workforce. Such companies can pay for subscriptions depending on the number of users at a given time.

Use cases where VDI is best suited

  1. Remote work: VDI enables easy deployment and upgrade of virtual desktops from a centralized location. This explains why companies with huge numbers of remote workers prefer VDI. 
  2. Bring your own device (BYOD): VDI is a perfect solution for business environments requiring staff to use their own devices. Since processing occurs on a centralized server, several devices can be used without worrying about costs.
  3. Shift or task-based work: Non-persistent VDI is ideal for call centers that use the same software for many employees performing limited tasks.
  4. Graphic-intensive apps: VDI enables companies to run high-end software and graphic-intensive apps without tying much capital on desktop operating systems.
  5. Educational Institutions: VDI allows IT departments to provide students with virtual desktops with necessary restrictions throughout the period of their enrollment.

Leading DaaS and VDI solutions

Many offer DaaS or VDI solutions, while others offer both. The following table shows the top DaaS and VDI solutions, based on our analysis of the current market. 

Top DaaS solutionsTop VDI  solutions

Amazon WorkSpaces

Virtual Box

V2 Cloud

Horizon 7

Windows Virtual Desktop

Nerdio Manager for Enterprise

Citrix DaaS

Workspot-Enterprise Desktop Cloud

Nutanix Frame

Cameyo

Read our recommended article: The cost of cloud compared to on-premise

Conclusion

From the differences that distinguish DaaS vs.VDI, it's clear that DaaS is suitable for businesses that need a virtual desktop solution that does not require a substantial initial investment to deploy. But if your business runs complex operations with a high demand for virtual desktops, then VDI is more appropriate. The VDI infrastructure can handle intense demand, making it perfect for companies whose growth depends on powerful virtual desktops under the firm control of the company. This is important because big operations require systems that guarantee superior reliability, and VDIs can offer this.

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