How COVID-19 and remote work could influence wider adoption of desktop as a service

August 21 2020
by Raul Castanon-Martinez, John Abbott


The COVID-19 outbreak significantly disrupted the business world, leading organizations to implement travel restrictions and work-from-home (WFH) policies to protect employees while ensuring minimal disruption to their business operations. We recently covered how unified communications as a service (UCaaS) emerged as a key component for enabling remote workers and ensuring business continuity in the early days of the quarantine. Nearly six months into the lockdown, the landscape continues to evolve, with a substantial number of organizations looking to maintain travel restrictions and extend WFH policies going into 2021. This could influence the adoption of cloud-enabled technologies such as desktop as a service (DaaS), which is emerging as a viable alternative for addressing the requirements of a distributed work environment post-COVID-19.

The 451 Take

The COVID-19 outbreak will result in IT organizations looking at how they support remote work, with many organizations looking to extend their WFH and travel policies going into 2021. The adoption of technologies that enable remote workers was already gaining traction prior to the pandemic, and these factors could act as a catalyst and accelerate the adoption of tools that enable distributed work environments, such as DaaS.

Work-from-home is here to stay

According to 451 Research's Workforce Productivity & Collaboration survey, even before the COVID-19 outbreak there was a growing awareness of the need to support remote work. Results from our H2 2019 survey show that 70% of fast-growth-company employees were working at least some of their week on the go (e.g., mobile and remote employee situations). This trend is now expanding beyond fast-growth companies as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the formalization of remote working practices.

Conducted from May 26 to June 11, 451 Research's Digital Pulse, Coronavirus Flash Survey June 2020 is an event-driven survey designed to measure the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on businesses. It follows a similar survey conducted from March 10 to March 19 and offers a basis for tracking its impact over time. Our survey shows that, even as businesses look to reopen their workplaces, expanded WFH policies and travel restrictions will continue to be relevant for a substantial number of organizations and employees. Survey results show that two out of three (67%) organizations expect expanded work-from-home policies to remain in place long-term or permanently; this is a significant increase from the 38% that expressed this expectation in March, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Expected Persistence of Expanded Work-From-Home Policies 451 Research, Digital Pulse, Coronavirus Flash Survey June 2020

Survey responses also suggest that the demands of dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak are placing a strain on enterprise IT resources. The portion of businesses indicating they were currently or had previously experienced such a strain as an outcome of the outbreak increased substantially from March to June 2020. Forty-one percent (41%) of organizations surveyed in June claimed to be experiencing an increased strain on internal IT resources; an additional 25% said they had experienced increased IT strain but are not currently. This impact, reaching more than two-thirds of organizations, is broader than expected in March, when 43% said they didn't expect to experience any increased IT strain, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2
Figure 2: The Strain on IT Resources Is Broader Than Anticipated 451 Research, Digital Pulse, Coronavirus Flash Survey June 2020

DaaS for enabling a distributed work environment

Enabling a distributed work environment – which we describe as the technologies that come together to enable employees to securely access business applications and resources from any location, regardless of the network or device they choose to use – can involve complex technical, security and compliance requirements. It also entails supporting a wide range of use cases, including remote workers and employees in distributed locations (e.g., offices in different cities, regions, countries), as well as external collaboration with nonemployees (e.g., partners, clients and contractors). These factors require that IT organizations consider different approaches to enable their remote workforces.

Desktop virtualization, as enabled by virtual desktop infrastructure, was initially conceived as a means of centralized endpoint management and resource consolidation, with an on-premises datacenter providing access to back-end servers and storage. The endpoints might be thin clients or personal computers. However, the premise of DaaS is a further decoupling of the desktop environment and application software from the physical client device, with processing and data storage taking place on a cloud-based server, taking advantage of cloud consumption models and more flexible, on-demand resource allocation. This aligns well with the requirements of a distributed work environment, leading organizations to consider DaaS a viable alternative to address the requirements of a distributed workforce.

IGEL Universal Management Suite

IGEL's Universal Management Suite provides a centralized management point for up to tens of thousands of endpoints, and a Linux-based 'edge OS' for cloud workspaces. It works in conjunction with Citrix or VMware virtual desktop infrastructure software as the management plane, and with cloud and on-prem systems. Those now include full Windows 10 served from the Azure cloud for the first time since Microsoft introduced its Windows Virtual Desktop service in September 2019. It's a development that could significantly boost virtual desktop deployments. IGEL has the first Linux desktop client available for WVD. Ontario Regional Hospital has used the IGEL OS to extend the life of its existing endpoint devices, and claims to have saved an average of $1,200 per user in the process. It also reduced the number of admin staff from five full-time positions to a single part-time administrator.

Competitive landscape

Virtual desktop infrastructure and DaaS remain closely aligned. Citrix pioneered the idea of centrally hosted applications accessed as remote desktop services. It introduced a cloud management platform, the Citrix Cloud, in 2015, and works through a network of partners that use the platform as the basis for desktop-as-a-service offerings. VMware quickly extended its original server virtualization offerings to desktop virtualization, and now offers Workspace ONE and Horizon Cloud as a DaaS platform. Both Citrix and VMware work with the major cloud providers, but especially with Microsoft, which in 2019 made its Azure cloud a more attractive venue for Windows hosted desktops by introducing Windows Virtual Desktop. Citrix and VMware provide additional capabilities when utilizing WVD, including on-premises integration, multicloud, and additional client and protocol support. AWS first introduced its WorkSpaces hosted desktop service in 2013, building it from scratch.

Most DaaS providers build their services on top of one or more of Citrix, VMware, Microsoft or Amazon. There are alternatives, such as Workspot's Cloud Desktop Fabric (which can deliver cloud desktops in conjunction with Azure or Google Cloud Platform), Itopia (partnering with Google Cloud Platform) and IGEL's edge-OS for cloud workspaces (which works with multiclouds and with VMware or Citrix). CloudJumper (acquired by NetApp in April) is pitched as a Citrix and VMware alternative that works across Azure, AWS or Google clouds. DinCloud offers itself as a full-service alternative to all of the above, claiming to be better suited for smaller business and those with hybrid integration requirements.

Technology in this area continues to evolve. GPU-powered desktops may be more suitable for graphics-heavy application support, extending even to full remote workstations for computer-aided design and manufacturing. Virtualized GPUs accessible from the desktop can provide major savings through the consolidation of highly expensive compute resources. This may be extended to AI and ML applications in the future. There's also the concept of containerized desktops from companies such as Droplet Computing, which adds new levels of application isolation so that multiple device platforms can be supported, as well as offline operation when connecting to the cloud is not possible or desirable.