Cloud desktops are an approach to end-user computing where virtual desktops and applications are hosted on cloud-based resources rather than resources in an on-premises corporate data center.
Also known as cloud virtual desktops, cloud hosted desktops, or Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS), cloud desktops can be accessed from anywhere, using any device, as long as they are connected to the internet. VMware Horizon Cloud is an example of a cloud hosted desktop provider.
Near-ubiquitous adoption of cloud-based services like Office 365, coupled the global increase in remote work driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as ongoing adoption of digital transformation is providing fuel to the growth of this market. According to Verified Market Research, the market for cloud desktops is projected to reach over USD 11 Billion by 2026.
Typically, desktop virtualization platforms allow users to access Windows desktops or applications that are running in a different physical location. This is accomplished with a platform that consists of, at a high level:
- A server running in a datacenter that has one or more instances of Windows running on it
- Desktop virtualization infrastructure manages the configuration of those instances of Windows and assigns users to them.
- A gateway to secure access from outside the datacenter.
- And endpoint device from which a user can access their virtual desktop or application. This can be a laptop, desktop, or mobile device. It can also be a “thin client” – a device dedicated to accessing virtual desktops and applications, or a simple web browser.
- A remote protocol through which video, audio, keyboard, and mouse data is shared between the user’s endpoint and the desktop.
Put simply, when an end user attempts to connect with their endpoint device, the remote protocol establishes a connection, through the gateway, to desktop virtualization infrastructure, which then routes the user’s connection to the virtual desktop or application that has been assigned to them.
Cloud Desktops are no different, except that with Cloud Desktops, the desktop virtualization infrastructure and datacenter resources are hosted and managed by a third-party provider.
Cloud desktops offer a variety of benefits to both businesses and end users. Since cloud desktops are virtual, many users can be supported on a single virtual machine (VM), offering economies of scale. Organizations can spin up new ‘desktops’ for employees rapidly, without the need to procure physical computers for the employee’s use.
Because many users can share a single instance of Windows, organizations can realize greater economies of scale, spreading the cost of an instance across multiple users. This is commonly called Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH) or multi-session. Should a use case demand a one user to one instance approach, typically called Virtual Desktop Infrastructure or VDI, this can also be accomplished.
In either scenario, leveraging the cloud means that customers only need to pay for the resources they’re actually consuming at any point in time. Organizations can spin up new desktops for employees rapidly, without the need to procure physical computers. When those resources are no longer needed, they can be turned off, at which point the customer is no longer charged. Other pricing models exist, but consumption-based pricing is a unique benefit of Cloud Desktops.
The COVID-19 pandemic accentuated the need for employees to access their computers from home – or from anywhere. Additionally, businesses continue to evolve to an around-the-clock business model, so the ability to have 24/7 unfettered access to corporate resources benefits workers as well as employers.
Here are some additional benefits that can be realized by utilizing cloud desktops:
Increased productivity. Anywhere, anytime access directly translates to more productivity and efficiency, since employees can perform business-critical tasks from home, at a coffee shop, in an airport lounge kiosk, or virtually anywhere they have a mobile device that is internet-connected.
Savings. Organizations can save in several ways by adopting cloud desktops. Since employees can access their desktop from any device, there is no need to take CAPEX hits to the IT budget to provision expensive, high-performance laptops or desktops for their business use. The life of existing client devices can be extended, since the heavy lifting of computing is all done at the cloud host. On the operations side, many organizations find they can reduce their IT support needs as well, saving additional funds on a month-to-month basis.
Enhanced security. The physical security of most hyperscale cloud providers is legendary, far exceeding that of all but the most security-conscious organizations. Additionally, since business applications and data reside in the cloud rather than on the device, a lost device does not present a business threat, and a dropped or broken device used to access the cloud hosted desktop has no impact on the data and applications already stored in the cloud.
Self-service simplicity. Cloud desktops can be provisioned, accessed, and de-provisioned whenever needed – in seconds or minutes. Instead of ordered a desktop from a manufacturer or reseller, IT teams can provision a cloud hosted desktop while a new hire is filling out paperwork and have it ready for use by the time they reach their desk.
Increased agility. Cloud desktops receive updates to applications and utilities automatically, with no need to ‘push’ updates to individual users. From a user perspective, the ability to use virtually any device to access their virtual desktop or applications means that whether they prefer PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, or Android they will see the same applications that perform in the same way and have them available at their fingertips whenever they need to.
Work from anywhere. The COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated the ongoing transition from on-premises to remote working. Even before the pandemic sent employees home, Fast Company had predicted that more than 50 percent of the workforce would be working remotely by 2020; the pandemic put that number closer to 100 percent for many organizations. Employees routinely work from home on BYOD devices, which puts pressure on security, application compatibility and access, and ensuring that devices are patched and updated. Cloud desktops meet all these challenges, while enabling employees to work from wherever they wish.
Securing casual users. Contractors and other casual users are often left out of the corporate access equation, forced to rely on email or be invited to use a collaboration tool to perform their function. This is not only inefficient, but it can also lead to exfiltration of sensitive or regulated data as well. Some organizations give contractors full access to enterprise resources, which also can present risks. This can balloon to a large problem for organizations that rely on hundreds or thousands of contractors every day. Cloud desktops present a way for the organization to spin up access for contractors or other users but limit that access to a very narrow set of applications and data. With cloud desktops, there is no need to grant unfettered access, and contractor desktops can be deprovisioned as soon as the contract is fulfilled.
Mergers and acquisitions. Cloud desktops can assist in many ways during an acquisition, from supporting ‘deal rooms’ where members of both organizations share access to documents and applications relevant to the transaction, to enabling an IT organization to rapidly provision desktops for a slew of new employees acquired as result of the closing of a deal. This also enables teams to continue working on their existing devices while becoming familiar with the new cloud desktops, further increasing productivity and enabling newly hired teams to hit the ground running.
Disaster recovery and business continuity (DR/BC). Ransomware incidents have highlighted the importance of having a solid backup, DR, and BC plan. Physical disasters such as pandemics, floods or hurricanes can leave a business inaccessible or keep key employees from reaching the workplace to access digital resources. Cloud desktops provide relief from all these scenarios, mitigating the risk of misplaced work and accidental data exposure that could constitute a data breach.
Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) servers can be deployed on-premises or in the Cloud. Organizations may have opted for on-premises VDI to meet security or regulatory mandates, or for their own governance reasons. This demands that an organization’s IT department be responsible for the management of the VMs that power VDI, as well as the underlying infrastructure, which itself would need periodic maintenance and replacement after its useful life was up.
On-premises infrastructure requires significant investment in server and storage hardware as well as for network bandwidth adequate for the expected number of simultaneous users; however, cloud desktops require no such investment or maintenance, just a predictable, monthly subscription.
Cloud desktops empower end users to manage their own accounts, create directories, control applications, run administrative tools, and add applets and gadgets to their hosted desktop, with less administrative overhead.
By eliminating the need to purchase new hardware when users are added, cloud desktops simplify desktop computing and its support, increases scalability, and is an ideal computing paradigm for young companies or those experiencing rapid growth.