Andy Wolber | 20 Sep, 2020
Even in the modern cloud era, DaaS can help your organization solve specific technical and business challenges
Desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) providers offer systems that you access over the internet, either from a browser or installed app. You use a computer you have in front of you to access a system that runs Windows, Linux, or macOS — and apps — elsewhere. In some ways, this carries on a tradition that extends back to the 1970s, when people used a terminal to access a central time-shared system across a local network.
In the current era of cloud computing, a desktop-as-a-service architecture can seem outdated: Why access apps on a remote operating system when a more modern solution might work with just a web browser? The short answer is that a desktop-as-a-service doesn’t solve a problem for most people, since you need a system to access a remote system. Because of this, most people will want to purchase a computer with the operating system and apps they need regularly.
However, desktops-as-a-service make sense in a few specific settings, as detailed below. Notably, DaaS can help your organization solve not only technical challenges (e.g., how do we get access to a high performance system?), but also business challenges (e.g., do we really need to buy new hardware if we only need it short-term?).
Fractional access to high-performance processing power motivates many architecture firms, designers, gamers, and programmers to use desktop-as-a-service providers. These customers prefer to purchase a relatively affordable system, then pay to access a much more powerful system on an as-needed basis. A powerful remote system can reduce the time it takes to compile a program or render complex graphics. No need to buy-and-replace hardware anymore. Instead, just configure a new virtual system with a faster processor, graphics, or more memory — and access it over your high-speed internet connection from your laptop, Chromebook, or even a tablet.
Organizations might deploy this sort of setup for part-time or contract workers, transitional arrangements (e.g., a merger, acquisition, or other organizational consolidation), or to provide managed access to external users (e.g., consultants). In each of these cases, DaaS allows the organization to provide access to systems and applications, without the need to purchase hardware.
Similarly, short-term access to specific operating systems may be of benefit for specific users. For example, developers who need access to one or more macOS, Windows, or Linux systems, may prefer to create and access those systems virtually, rather than constantly switching between different physical devices.
Organizations sometimes prefer to defer capital investments in hardware, and instead allocate more operating expenses toward software services. In plain language: You may not need to buy a new computer; instead, you can pay to access a better computer as a service. Generally, speaking, expensive hardware will be treated according to accounting principles as an asset that depreciates over time, while a software subscription will be treated as an operating expense.
Of course, the accounting implications of a computer hardware purchase vary, depending on your organization’s policies, the cost of the computer you buy, and how long your organization plans to use the hardware. (Note: Many organizations treat hardware purchases below a determined threshold as an operating expense.) At a large scale, though, the decision either to acquire hardware or pay for software services may be material from an accounting perspective. IT and finance leaders in an organization can make well-considered choices about the blend between capital expenditures (for hardware assets) and variable subscription costs (for software services).
Two of the most prominent vendors of DaaS are, of course, Microsoft and Amazon. As the maker of Windows, Microsoft in 2019 started offering Windows Virtual Desktop to anyone who wants to sign up and pay with a credit card. Amazon offers both Windows and Linux desktops with their Amazon WorkSpaces solution. Similarly easy-to-configure and access offerings are available from many other vendors, as well, including Kamatera, as well as Workstream by Paperspace. The macOS options, MacinCloud.com and MacStadium.com, both pitch their services as useful for developers.
Does your organization deploy any desktop-as-a-service options? In what situations do you choose to use DaaS instead of a more modern cloud-based solution? How have technical or business needs influenced your DaaS choices?
Andy Wolber (Twitter: @awolber) helps people understand and leverage technology. He's a contributing writer for TechRepublic, and has taught Nonprofit and Government Technology for Grand Valley State University. Prior staff roles include positions with Michigan Nonprofit Association, the Dallas Historical Society, and Dallas Black Dance Theatre. He's also served as a volunteer leader for the Technology Advisory Committee of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, as well as the Dallas Arts District Friends. He holds an MBA/MA in Arts Administration and a BA in Music Theory & Composition. Andy lives in Albuquerque, NM with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.
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