Wait long enough and it seems that just about any in-house IT operation eventually moves to the cloud.
That even holds true for some recently hatched services. Take virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), for example. VDI, which was considered a bit exotic just a few years ago, is making its cloud transformation as Desktop as a Service (DaaS). VDI had been an on-premises technology, in which virtual desktops -- operating systems and applications -- are streamed from an organization's data center to end-user devices. DaaS takes that desktop delivery function and places it in the cloud.
Channel companies hope to take advantage of the DaaS trend, and they may end up getting a lift from two IT industry heavyweights whose recent ventures have helped raise the profile of the cloud service. VMware late last year acquired Desktone, one of the early movers in the DaaS market. In March, Amazon Web Services (AWS) rolled out its WorkSpaces cloud-based desktop service, which had been offered as a limited preview since fall 2013.
Even with the entry of the larger DaaS providers, some industry executives concede the service will take a while to fully catch on.
Jon Wallace, CTO for cloud and emerging technologies at AppSense, said DaaS remains at an early stage of development. But he noted that the fundamentals for market acceptance are in place. He compared DaaS to the application service provider (ASP) industry of the late 1990s. ASPs struggled with Internet connectivity and bandwidth issues, he said. Those problems have since dissipated.
"Bandwidth is good and cheap, and cloud resources are cheap," Wallace said. "All the ingredients are there to make Desktop as a Service successful. Once it starts going, I think it will happen very quickly."
DaaS is already having an impact at ComputerSupport.com. The Boston-based company has been offering on-premises managed IT services since its founding in 2006 and began offering cloud-based services, including DaaS, in 2009. Last year, the cloud-based offering IT AnyWhere Cloud became the company's leading service. IT AnyWhere Cloud uses Citrix technology to deliver applications or desktops and AWS for infrastructure services.
Jon WallaceCTO for cloud and emerging technologies, AppSense
He estimated that 90% of his company's customers are evaluating or making plans to move to the service. He said some companies will stay with the managed services provider (MSP) model, in particular larger companies with more than 100 employees and firms with custom applications such as enterprise resource management that can't run in the cloud.
DaaS' appeal stems from a few factors. One contributor is the complexity of managing virtual desktops in-house. In addition, VDI typically requires an investment in servers, networking, storage and virtualization software. The customer must also acquire the expertise to manage the virtual environment. The logistical challenges and expense can prove an adoption barrier, especially for smaller businesses.
DaaS, in contrast, provides a virtual desktop deployment option that is "a lot more efficient and a lot less expensive," Bensonoff noted. The cloud approach also offers customers "the ability to stay a step ahead of the technology" and avoid the need to periodically upgrade on-premises VDI, he added.
"It's certainly increasing awareness among customers and also increasing awareness among partners," said Chip Buck, co-founder and chief technology officer at IndependenceIT, an Allentown, Pa.-based company that provides a DaaS software platform.
IndependenceIT's platform, called Cloud Workspace Suite, delivers desktops and applications as a cloud service. The company first developed a DaaS service in 1999. Back then, the product was termed a "managed desktop service," Buck noted. IndependenceIT originally used a combination of Windows Server 2000 and Citrix software to provide the service, but over time, the company abandoned Citrix and developed its own software.
The company now offers its DaaS platform, currently hosted on Microsoft's Azure cloud, to companies setting up their own DaaS operations. IndependenceIT's sales activities primarily target partners such as large independent software vendors and telecom companies. MSPs also use the platform. The partners' end customers are typically small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) with 500 or fewer seats.
Bensonoff said the press coverage surrounding AWS and VMware heightened customer awareness. The arrival of the major players has made the adoption of DaaS more acceptable, he said. But Bensonoff said he believes the general trend toward cloud computing in recent years has played a larger role in winning over the SMB space.
Wallace, meanwhile, said the increasing use of mobile devices in the enterprise will fuel demand for DaaS. He said mobile devices will drive DaaS in light of the need to access core line-of-business or secure applications for which mobile access methods are limited.
"In large enterprises, there are still many client/server or even legacy applications that will not be able to run on newer or mobile platforms, which will help the adoption of DaaS," Wallace said.
The elastic nature of DaaS will also help DaaS providers create customer niches. For example, DaaS would let an organization launch virtual desktops for software developers working on a temporary project, Wallace noted. Those desktops could then be powered down when no longer needed.
AppSense offers DesktopNow, a product that aims to simplify the management of physical or virtual Windows desktops. Customers have been using AppSense's technology to improve their VDI setups. Now DaaS providers are coming to AppSense with questions about how to improve the cloud desktop user experience. Wallace said service providers want to take customers from physical desktops to DaaS and still preserve the look and feel of a conventional desktop.
"In essence, DaaS is VDI delivery from the cloud," Wallace said. "So all of the challenges that exist in VDI exist in DaaS as well."
Obstacles for channel players moving into DaaS include the relative newness of the service and customers' hesitations regarding emerging cloud-based services. Wallace said the worry factor applies to DaaS as it has with other cloud-based services. Prospective customers are worried about cloud reliability, app performance, user experience and security.
Networking technology, however, doesn't appear to be a market inhibitor. The cloud has matured since those earlier ASP and managed desktop days. Bandwidth -- the original barrier to entry -- is now very affordable and ubiquitous, Buck noted.
"The cloud had come into its own," Buck said. "A 3G cell connection is a fine user experience for a cloud desktop."
Another challenge could emerge from the arrival of Amazon and VMware. While lending credibility to DaaS, the companies could also pose a competitive threat over time. That potential conflict already drives partners to IndependenceIT's DaaS platform, according to the company. Seth Bostock, CEO of IndependenceIT, said his partners are wary of linking up with Amazon or VMware.
"The partners ... are not interested in handing over their customers to those big companies," Bostock said.
The concern, he said, is that a larger firm will take customers direct. The IndependenceIT platform, however, lets the partners offer DaaS from their own data centers.
"They own the contract and deliver the service versus handing it over," Bostock said.
Bostock said his company's partner base grew 220% in 2013.
Channel partners may also gain some protection from differences in market focus. Bostock said his partners' customers tend to be SMBs, while Amazon and VMware appear to be targeting enterprise accounts that have more sophisticated IT talent on the back end.
In addition, channel partners have the opportunity to provide additional value. Bensonoff noted that while AWS has built a low-cost desktop platform, there's still the need to make the platform run the applications and services SMBs require.
Support for the cloud offering is another necessity, he added. ComputerSupport.com's cloud service bundles single sign-on, file sharing, instant messaging, email and 24/7 support among other components.
Collaboration -- the ability to communicate and share data internally and externally -- is the technology piece most SMBs desire, Bensonoff said. But, on its own, a desktop workspace won't help them accomplish that goal.
"They need additional components," he noted.