When I wrote about the state of DaaS in 2016 a few weeks ago I more or less landed on the point that DaaS was still maturing and adoption would continue to be slow as use cases evolve. One of the reasons for slow adoption that I left out is that DaaS is just a desktop shell, and you still have to do all the other things (OS, apps, profiles, etc.) that you would have to do for VDI. That point alone makes DaaS useful only to companies that are good at image management but aren’t so skilled at the infrastructure side of things.
Shortly after that, I wrote about Workspot’s DaaS 2.0 platform, which adds in some image and application management on top of the desktop shell. Those two features start to make DaaS more appealing to a broader range of customers. It’s a midmarket solution, but I’ve yet to see anyone use DaaS that would be considered a large-cap company (at least not at full scale. Some are using DaaS, but the implementation is more like a midmarket one).
Even with some additional management capabilities, though, DaaS is still only helpful if you reduce your reliance on on-premises resources. Things get tricky when you have to connect back to your local datacenter for applications, authentication, and data. It’s not insurmountable, but your project gets a heck of a lot more complicated than just “our VDI is over there now.” To put it succinctly, the more you leverage the cloud for the rest of your IT, the better your chances of success with DaaS will be.
Last week I met a company called Nerdio. They’re a DaaS provider, but they’re more than that. DaaS sort of fell into their laps, actually. Back in 2005 they started operating as a managed service provider that offered a hosted backups platform. Over time, that grew into other services, like RDSH and VDI. Today, Nerdio has a complete managed service that offers not only desktops, but a full IaaS offering that includes:
- Office 365
- Disaster Recovery
- Security and Antivirus
- Automated Provisioning
- Remote Monitoring
- User-friendly management
They include all of these features in their platform, which isn’t all that implausible since you’d have to build it anyway if you were doing it yourself. What’s interesting is that they have it all automated and you simply subscribe to it.
Nerdio’s platform is intended to replace on-premises IT, which they’ve successfully sold directly to customers for years. Recently, though, they’ve begun to transition from selling direct to leveraging partners that can add other services on top of the Nerdio platform–things like help desk and migration services. Everything still runs in the Nerdio datacenter, but rather than Nerdio managing everything under the sun including the customers, integrators manage customers and individual deployments while Nerdio makes the backend hum.
Their typical customer size is on the low end of the midmarket companies, anywhere up to 500 seats. Depending on the complexity of the workload, they could support more. The entire platform is based on VMware, with vSphere as the backend and Horizon 7 as the desktop virtualization layer. Each customer is completely isolated and has their own Horizon environment. As I mentioned earlier, though, they don’t just do desktops. Nerdio also provides infrastructure (as part of the per-user subscription cost) to run other datacenter workloads like file and application servers.
On top of that, the Nerdio platform also gives customers Office 365, automated antivirus, content filtering, internet security, data encryption, spam filters, backup, and disaster recovery. For DR, they have an out-of-state hot site facility that you can deploy to at any time in just 75 minutes.
That’s a lot of features dumped out on paper. Let’s take a step back and look at what all this costs.
Pricing breaks down into three different editions: Professional, Performance, and Enterprise, which cost $100/user/month, $150/user/month, and $200/user/month respectively. The main differences between each of the platforms is not the services offered (even the $100 plan comes with Office 365 and all the other stuff I mentioned above), rather, it’s the amount of resources you get in the Nerdio datacenter.
For example, on the VDI side, the Professional plan includes 50 Mbps internet speed, 100GB hard drive, dual monitor support, 2 vCPUs, and 4GB of RAM. Performance plan users get 250 Mbps internet, 150GB SSD, 6GB of RAM, and support for four displays, while Enterprise users get gigabit download speeds, 200GB of SSD storage, four vCPUs, 8 GB of RAM and support for four displays. (Nerdio uses Windows Server 2012 or Server 2016 single-user VMs for obvious licensing reasons, but they can support Windows 7 and Windows 10 if needed.)
Regarding infrastructure, each customer is entitled to a certain amount of vRAM and SAN storage, plus an additional amount for each subscribed user. This vRAM and SAN storage can be divided up as needed to accommodate any other infrastructure needs, like application and file servers. Rather than spewing out loads of information again, you can the breakdown yourself at getnerdio.com/plans. There, you’ll also see a breakdown of the security, data protection and DR offerings for each plan.
Nerdio’s place in the industry
I’m not sure if this is DaaS or managed IaaS or managed VDI or if there is even a difference at this point. I’m excited to see that a platform like this exists because it will sniff out more use cases while also showing that this level of managed services doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Consider that your basic dollar-a-day DaaS desktops don’t come with A/V and content filtering and you can start to justify the difference in cost. Add in Office 365 and the fact that you’re entitled to place your other workloads on their platform and you start wondering “what’s the catch?”
It certainly makes me wonder what Workspot will do since they are thinking of charging around $100 (which to me means that they’re starting at that number) for a service that doesn’t have all these features.
I also like that a platform exists that is being tailored to leverage integrators and allow them to keep providing the services that they offer. Integrators and partners have largely been ignored with DaaS, and though they can build and offer their own sort of managed services, having a platform like Nerdio eliminates a lot of redundant work and offers some decent margins on recurring revenue. Nerdio’s management can be delegated, too, so partners can assume some responsibility and delegate some management features to their savvier customers.
I will say that there are some limiting factors that will keep Nerdio in the SMB space for the foreseeable future. The fact that they have a single datacenter (near Chicago) is something that will not sit well with some companies. They have another on the East Coast that serves as their DR site, but that isn’t enough to support large, mission-critical, multi-geo workloads that larger companies will need. You have to start somewhere, though, so hopefully we’ll see that change.
Another reason is that the platform is not set up to accommodate complex use cases like GPU and POS. They do have some customers running those workloads, but as with all DaaS, the platform relies on the similarity of desktops between use cases. Fringe uses tends to break the model. There’s nothing stopping Nerdio (or anyone else) from building in automation and workflows around those fringe use cases in the future, though, especially if they prove to be good use cases for DaaS.
As you can tell I’m excited about this. I know it’s not for everyone, but I think it’s a unique offering in a market that has been pretty stagnant for the past few years. We’re finally seeing affordable bundling of services along with DaaS that make DaaS a more viable option. As these environments continue to mature and grow, some of the lessons learned in these early stages can be applied at a larger scale. All of a sudden I’m looking forward to DaaS in 2017!