Workspot enters the DaaS space. Here's our full analysis of their Windows 10 on Azure platform:

Workspot is doing more than just DaaS, adding in some managed services on top of their management plane and orchestration. Could this be the kind of DaaS offering that catches on?

Tomorrow, Workspot will be releasing a new Azure-based DaaS platform called DaaS 2.0. You may already know Workspot for their VDI 2.0 product, which Jack and I awarded the Best of VMworld 2016 award in the Desktop Virtualization and Mobility category. We chose VDI 2.0 because their platform made it easy to orchestrate a VDI environment on premises or in the cloud via their cloud-based management plane, and because they still have their secure mobile workspace container that provides access to those virtual desktops and applications along with other applications and data. DaaS 2.0 takes all the benefits of VDI 2.0, and then some, and brings them to the cloud.

The market has shifted

According to Workspot, their pipeline has flipped to where most of their new customers are looking for a DaaS option as opposed to traditional on-premises options. I’ve noted that the DaaS market is maturing, but this is the first time I’ve heard of that level of interest in DaaS. Workspot has a mid-market focus, so the raised interest could be limited to that sector.

Whatever the driving force may be, Workspot is in a unique position because they’ve already built a cloud-based management plane on Azure. Until now, it hasn’t been as simple as pointing that to Azure to create VMs, but the relationship and proof of concept were already done.

(VDI 2.0 did let you run VDI VMs from Azure, but you had to create and manage the Azure infrastructure. In that situation, it was just hosted VDI.)

Deploying desktops on cloud platforms has proved to be challenging, especially for companies that don’t have the resources to deliver traditional VDI. If you don’t have resources to dedicate to on-premises deployments, you probably also don’t have resources to dedicate to learning the ins and outs of a certain cloud platform. That’s where DaaS 2.0 comes in. What we have here is not simply Workspot’s cloud management plus some Azure instances. We have a DaaS platform that’s owned, implemented and managed by Workspot that also incorporates all the features of VDI 2.0. In fact, since they share the management plane, you can manage both VDI 2.0 and DaaS 2.0 from the same place. You never have to deal with Azure.

What’s more, DaaS 2.0 isn’t just stopping at giving you an empty shell of a desktop. They also taking on the burden of managing images, templates, networking, security, and even application/OS updates. More on that later.

All of this adds up to the main value prop of DaaS 2.0: the relief from having to do this yourself. It’s nearly identical to the way Microsoft is selling Office 365. With O365, you don’t have to worry about building and hosting Exchange anymore. Microsoft takes care of everything, and in return you get to reallocate resources to other projects and remove a significant burden from your department.

That’s what they’re doing with DaaS 2.0. You no longer have to worry about building and managing VDI or DaaS on your own. Workspot assumes the operational risk throughout the life of the project and beyond, meaning you won’t find yourself in a situation where you’ve made a huge investment only to learn way down the road that it’s not going to work out for some reason. They even walk you through the onboarding process and make sure you’re up and running before you start paying.

At least that’s the general idea. Let’s look at how this works.

How it works

Azure is basically hidden in DaaS 2.0, so everything you do to interact with it will be through Workspot’s management console. When you order up some DaaS, you’ll be responsible for sending them one or more template VMs. Workspot has built all the orchestration and automation to provision those templates into their system, so they take care of all the Azure stuff. In fact, Workspot is technically the Azure tenant, not you. You still get the security and isolation of SDN and the ability to peer to other networks you may have on Azure, but you don’t have to set up your desktop environment on your own.

In addition to having a single management console, Workspot has put a lot of work into power management, usage reporting, billing, and more. These are all things you’d have to do on your own if you wanted to put desktops into Azure. They’ve also built all the networking, image management, and security functions you would need from Azure into their console.

Those customers that are worried about someone else managing their Azure can rest easy. Every VM is a VHD, so you can still pull them down as a backup, and should you choose to disavow yourselves of DaaS 2.0, you can move those VHDs over into your Azure environment. I’m not suggesting you would, but I always think it’s prudent to have an DaaS exit strategy.

Support

I mentioned earlier that Workspot will be offering some level of management beyond that of traditional dollar-a-day DaaS providers. The plan, which is still be worked out, is to offer assistance with building templates, image management, and software updates. In a way, this helps both Workspot and the customer, because Workspot gets to make sure that everything works in conjunction with the power monitoring, usage, and other optimizations that they’ve built into their platform, and you get an optimized image.

Windows 10

DaaS 2.0 will feature Windows 10 desktops as opposed to single-user Server VMs. This is interesting because while Microsoft has acknowledged that they’ll allow Windows 10 Enterprise to run in multi-tenant environments, nobody has actually done it yet. Back in October 2015, and again in May 2016, Microsoft mentioned that they would be allowing Windows 10 to run in multi-tenant environments. This would start with Azure, and possibly expand through a partner program to other providers.

It sounds great, but it hasn’t yet been rolled out. All signs point to Q1, which means DaaS 2.0 won’t be ready for production use until then. In the meantime, though, Microsoft is allowing non-production use of Windows 10 in Azure, so you can do all your testing and be ready to rock when it finally happens.

Ideal customers

The target market for DaaS 2.0 is unsurprisingly the same market as VDI 2.0. That includes:

  • Mid-market companies in the 500-5,000 user ballpark
  • Green field environments that need some sort of datacenter-hosted desktop
  • Legacy Citrix customers running XenApp 6.5 or older (basically anyone running IMA) that need to do a forklift migration anyway
  • Existing customers running VDI 2.0, since they can transition from fully on-prem to on-prem HCI to Azure, or any blend in between.

Workspot has customers from a wide range of verticals, including federal and local government, legal, finance, healthcare, logistics, and education. While these customers are not all using DaaS 2.0 at launch, they have put their trust in the cloud management plane.

Non-ideal customers

The primary groups of companies that are not good candidates right now are those that have more than 5,000 users and those that require everything to reside on-premises. Companies that require their desktop workloads on-premises but are OK with having the management in the cloud can wait for Azure Stack to be released, which DaaS 2.0 will support on Day 0.

Addressing the challenges of DaaS integration

I had many of the challenges of DaaS fresh on my mind after writing a few articles on the topic over the past few weeks, so I subjected Workspot to a smattering of questions about how they handle certain situations. In general, they subscribe to the idea that unless you are 100% cloud, the only way to effectively do DaaS is to treat your DaaS environment as a remote branch office. With that in mind, part of the on-boarding process is to create a network extension in the cloud to connect your local environment to theirs.

They plan to handle Active Directory integration in a few ways, either by placing a read-only domain controller in the cloud or by authentication over the VPN. You can also use Azure-managed domain services, which is probably most useful to Office 365 customers.

For user data (in the event you’re not using OneDrive or some other EFSS platform), they’re assuming that you’ll replicate some, but not all data to the cloud, similar to how you would handle a branch office. The same goes for user profiles and other types of non-application data.

Application data, specifically large data stores, are another story. Replicating data is difficult, but not impossible. Still, they anticipate that if you have large stores of application data on-premises, you’ll probably be accessing it across the VPN. If you happen to have that data stored in (or replicated to) Azure, you can use network peering to connect your desktop environment to your data stores, which they’ve exposed via their management console.

Loose ends

There are still a few loose ends that need to be tied before this product takes off. While the GA release of DaaS 2.0 is tomorrow, they still don’t have pricing worked out. They’re in a tricky spot because they’re offering more services than your average dollar-a-day DaaS provider, but they also need to be able to compete with them. I talked to them at length about this, and it sounds like they’re shooting for something in the neighborhood of $100/user/month. When you factor in the application and image management, I can see that being in the right ballpark, but I’m not sold just yet. Ultimately, it will come down to what services the customers want and how much they’re willing to pay (not to mention what the competition is doing).

The licensing limitation (some things never change, right?) isn’t a huge roadblock because using Windows 10 in a multitenant environment is allowed as long as the workload is not a production one. That means you’ll be able to test the waters of DaaS 2.0 until the new license is formalized, and who’s beginning a new project in December anyway?

A look ahead

It’s hard to talk about roadmaps when DaaS 2.0 hasn’t even been released (that will happen tomorrow, December 6th, at the Gartner Data Center, Infrastructure & Operations Managemetn Conference), but there are a few things on the horizon. First, though the VHD files that make up VMs in VDI 2.0 and DaaS 2.0 are portable, they aren’t interchangeable without some work. Workspot’s goal is to make it so that VM templates can be created that are portable between platforms, which will make it easier to move from on-premises traditional VDI to HCI, then on to DaaS.

Second, it’s worth mentioning that they will support the GPU-enabled N-Series instances when those are finally released to the public, so 3D workloads will also work on DaaS 2.0.

The other thing that could be coming down the road (I’m speculating here) is an opportunity for partners to get involved with Workspot to provide some of the additional management that they offer on top of the desktop itself. Currently Workspot intends to do that in-house, but if customers need more (or less?) than Workspot offers, it’s possible that we’ll see them bring in some additional help in the form of partners.

Wrap up

Depending on the level of additional services that Workspot provides and the eventual cost, this could be the kind of DaaS solution that many companies have been looking for. After all, traditional DaaS only appeals to companies that have the resources on hand to continue doing image and application management. Right there, you’ve eliminated a sizeable portion of the market. By bundling together the infrastructure and some next-level management, Workspot might be in a position to make some noise.

Stay tuned to Workspot.com for the announcement and more information, and please let us know what you think in the comments.

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Is there any word from Microsoft about when the multi-tenant Windows 10 will actually go into effect? Could cause customers to hesitate a few months?
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