VDI vs DaaS: What’s the difference?

Like servers, desktops are another area where virtualization is becoming the norm. According to Spiceworks 2020 State of Virtualization Technology report, 32% of businesses have deployed VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) already, and another 12% plan to by 2021.

In a post-COVID-19 world, the fact that VDI simplifies support for remote work is a huge upside. While remote work support is a major talking point these days, it is far from the only driver of VDI’s popularity. Reduced infrastructure TCO (total cost of ownership), enhanced control over sensitive data, and simplified management and DR (disaster recovery) all contribute to VDI’s success.

At the same time as VDI popularity has grown, so has DaaS (Desktop as a Service). In fact, Gartner projects the DaaS market will grow by 95.4% in 2020. Like VDI, DaaS is a means of providing desktop services without tying them to desktop hardware. As a result, it offers many of the same upsides.

Obviously, this all begs the question: “what’s the difference between VDI and DaaS?”. The short answer is: VDI is single-tenant while DaaS is a multi-tenant solution provided by a cloud vendor. Of course, there is more nuance to the topics than that. Here, we’ll explore the question in-depth, take a closer look at the pros and cons of on-prem VDI vs DaaS cloud services, and provide you with the information you need to decide if VDI or DaaS is right for you.

What is VDI?

Virtual desktop infrastructure a.k.a. VDI is the hosting and delivery of desktop services to users from a central server(s).

With VDI, the central server(s) run virtual machines that deploy desktop environments (e.g. a Windows 10 desktop) that users access remotely from another device (e.g. a laptop, tablet, or thin client). The central servers in this case can be on-premises or cloud servers.  All of the computing and storage resources for the desktop reside on the centralized server as opposed to the device the user accesses the desktop from. With VDI, deployments are single-tenant, meaning all resources are dedicated to one organization.

Popular VDI solutions include VMware Horizon and Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops.

Persistent vs nonpersistent VDI

Under the umbrella of VDI, there are two different types, persistent VDI and nonpersistent VDI.

  • Persistent VDI delivers the same desktop each time a user connects. That is, if a user makes changes or saves files to their desktop, they will be there the next time they log in. That means persistent VDI is effectively the virtualization of traditional physical workstation computers.
  • Nonpersistent VDI delivers a generic desktop on each connection. With nonpersistent VDI, changes are not saved across logins. Nonpersistent VDI makes sense in environments where users need access to specific desktop resources, but don’t need to customize their workstations. If you need a VDI solution for

The benefits of VDI

There are numerous business advantages to VDI when compared to traditional desktop PCs. Those benefits include:

  • Stronger data security. VDI enables businesses to have more visibility and control over the data that users access, move, and copy. It also limits threats from insecure accessories (e.g. a compromised USB flash drive) being connected to company PCs. Further, as opposed to data being saved on multiple endpoints that must be adequately locked down, it is all stored on corporate servers. Lost devices won’t compromise critical data.
  • Simplified Management. Because VDI desktops are virtualized, the process of deploying, patching, configuring, and updating systems is streamlined. Centralized management software allows IT teams to handle management in one place, as opposed to needing to account for hardware scattered across an enterprise.
  • More robust disaster recovery. As desktops are software-based virtual machines with VDI, creating and restoring backups is much simpler. If a given desktop is corrupted or compromised, a new one can be spun up from a previous backup or snapshot much quicker than a new laptop or desktop can be provisioned.
  • Greater flexibility/accessibility. With VDI, if users can connect to the network (e.g. via VPN), they can access their desktops. This means businesses can support remote work and BYOD (bring your own device) effectively and efficiently.
  • Improved resource utilization. It’s rare for a desktop PC to use all its processing, memory, and storage resources. By running centralized servers, IT can track resource consumption and optimize utilization without negatively impacting user experience.
  • Better TCO. By simplifying management, streamlining IT operations, allowing users to be productive from effectively anywhere with an internet connection, maximizing resource utilization, and greatly reducing the need for PC hardware investment, VDI can lead to significantly lower total cost of ownership.

What is DaaS?

DaaS a.k.a. Desktop as a Service is similar to VDI, but deployed as a multi-tenant model from a cloud vendor.

To paraphrase Kenneth Oestreich of Citrix: DaaS is VDI that is someone else’s problem.

As a result, once you understand VDI, DaaS is easy to grasp. DaaS also offers virtualized desktop services for users. As a result, it has many of the same benefits as VDI relative to traditional hardware-based workstation deployments. What makes DaaS different is a multi-tenant service offered by a cloud vendor. Examples of DaaS solutions are AWS WorkSpaces and Windows Virtual Desktop.

The DaaS model is consistent with many other “as a Service” models. Businesses have access to only their data in the cloud, but actual server resources are shared between the vendor’s customers dynamically.

Comparing VDI and DaaS

It seems VDI and DaaS deliver the same product to users — a virtual desktop – so which one is better? Of course, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer, so let’s compare the pros and cons.

VDI, being a single-tenant solution has these advantages over DaaS:

  • More control. With VDI, you generally have complete control over how your infrastructure, data, and configurations are managed. With DaaS, the provider is in control of many aspects of your deployment, limiting your control.
  • Complete data sovereignty. With DaaS, you must inherently use the provider’s cloud. Which can create data sovereignty, security, and compliance challenges that are difficult to overcome. With VDI, you can retain complete data sovereignty.
  • No “noisy neighbor” problems. Single-tenant means just you. There is no need to worry about another organization overutilizing resources and causing service disruption.
  • Internet not required. If you need an on-premises only solution, VDI can make that happen. DaaS, on the other hand, is inherently dependent on access to a provider’s cloud in most cases.

DaaS, being a managed multi-tenant has these advantages over VDI:

  • Simplified management. With DaaS, the underlying infrastructure is abstracted away. This means much less configuration, patching, and management for IT to worry about. Other than the client devices that access the desktops, there are generally no hardware requirements. With VDI, you’ll often need to source the server resources yourself.
  • Faster to provision. VDI is often complex to configure and launch. DaaS is designed to remove that complexity and allow you to hit the ground running. As opposed to provisioning the server-side of things, you simply configure the desktops for your users and go.
  • Lower upfront costs. Like most cloud solutions, DaaS is almost exclusively opex. There is next to zero upfront capital investment required. Conversely, many VDI deployments, particularly on-premises can require significant upfront capex.
  • Better scalability & flexibility. Because DaaS cost is mostly opex and the provider generally has all the room to scale you can ask for, scaling with DaaS is significantly easier than with VDI.

Making a decision on VDI vs DaaS

In many ways, the VDI vs DaaS debate mirrors other single-tenant vs multi-tenant debates. Capex vs opex and control vs simplicity & scalability are common themes.

If flexibility and simplicity are most important to you, DaaS is more likely to fit your needs. If data sovereignty, compliance, and control matter most, VDI might be your answer. There are viable VDI and DaaS solutions for a wide variety of use-cases today, so it boils down weighing the pros and cons of each model against your unique business needs.