The modern workplace is increasingly characterized by remote and contingent workers, BYOD policies, and the need for 24/7 access to data. My position as the CEO of USWired has given me a firsthand look at both the positive impact the cloud can have on businesses and the barriers to its adoption. We’ve seen a growing demand for cloud-hosted desktop as a service, but many people don’t know what factors to consider when adopting DaaS.
Under the Hood of a Hosted Desktop
DaaS allows users to access critical applications and files at any time — no matter where in the world they are — from any smart device, regardless of its operating system.
In other words, cloud-hosted desktops mean enhanced workflow across devices.
You can start a working session on your Windows laptop, and if it runs out of battery life, you can pick up right where you left off on your iPad. Ultimately, this increased accessibility translates to increased productivity.
Housing data and files remotely also provide additional security. DaaS solutions typically come with enterprise-grade firewalls, intrusion detection, and malware protection, and they secure your data through encryption, regular backups, and multifactor authentication. These security features mean that it’s harder for attackers to breach your network, and the fact that your business data is stored remotely makes a complete recovery from an on-premise disaster far more likely.
In short, DaaS makes your business more resilient.
There are also benefits from a financial standpoint. Because the cost of hosting your desktop in the cloud is dependent on your needs, you only pay for what you use. It enables you to avoid the expenses that come with upgrading hardware or installing new platforms, as the only requirement for accessing a hosted desktop is a connected device.
Finding the Best Cloud Provider for Your Needs
Not all virtual desktop providers are created equal, and choosing one that fails to deliver what you’re looking for can be a significant drain on resources.
One of the common mistakes business leaders make: choosing the wrong provider, so start your process by doing plenty of research.
Jot down the names of providers that are well-reviewed or mentioned in publications. Ask for recommendations from your professional network. Once you have a list, visit the providers’ websites to see whether they offer the services that you need and the prices that fit your budget.
After you’ve narrowed your list to three or four options, call them to discuss your hosted desktop needs. Ask for references, and make sure they are authorized by the respective vendors (Microsoft, Citrix, etc.). Vet providers by asking the following questions:
- Is uptime guaranteed? DaaS providers should be able to offer close to a 100% uptime, or system reliability. Good providers will guarantee near-perfect reliability. Inquire about support resources available for when issues do inevitably arise. Most providers should offer extended support hours and services.
- Will my privacy be protected? DaaS providers typically have access to data that belongs to all clients. Ask for details about how a provider ensures confidentiality. Ask about technical security features, and make sure that your provider is located in a geographically secure area — damage to its facilities could affect your business.
- Can the provider comply with industry regulations? If you work in a highly regulated industry such as finance or healthcare, for instance, you’ll face unique legal requirements. Make sure a provider has experience working in your environment.
- What is the lag time? Data stored in the cloud has to travel between servers and devices so that users could experience lag time during particular transactions. Specific high-performance, graphics-intensive applications, such as computer-aided design and drafting, may need a dedicated graphics processing unit as part of their hosted desktop configuration to achieve an acceptable level of performance. Depending on the underlying technology a vendor uses for the hosted desktop and your Internet connection, lag time may or may not be an issue. Citrix’s Virtual Desktop (formerly called XenDesktop) claims near-native performance, for example. Regardless, you should discuss your specific performance requirements with any potential provider.
Implementing Hosted Desktops With Minimum Disruption
When you’ve secured a partnership with a provider you trust, work with those experts to create a nimble, specialized DaaS platform that meets your company’s needs.
Your company’s DaaS platform will not look like any other company’s platform, and that’s a good thing. Walk through the following steps with your selected provider to determine the best program for your needs:
1. Decide how much control you’ll allow users.
A hosted desktop can either be shared among all users or dedicated to each user. Work with your cloud provider to determine which approach makes the most sense for your company’s workflow and regulations.
Shared desktops allow higher-ups greater control over what users can do. When users log in, they can customize their desktop and have private folders to store documents. However, they can’t install applications themselves. A shared hosted desktop is ideal for businesses that need to limit application or data use.
Dedicated desktops provide maximum flexibility for users but limited control for the business owner. In addition to customizing desktops, users can install any application. A dedicated, hosted desktop is ideal for businesses that want maximum flexibility for their users.
2. Decide which applications and data should remain on-premise.
Even with DaaS, many businesses choose to maintain some applications or data storage in-house. This is an important discussion to have with your provider. For example, would it make more sense for your company to run the email system through the cloud but payroll through on-premise servers? Does your industry have regulations about keeping sensitive data on-site? Be sure also to consider the requirements of vendors whose applications you are considering moving to the cloud.
If you have decided to have applications running on-premise as well as in the cloud, you need a hosted desktop capable of running a hybrid cloud. The provider typically will set up a virtual private network, or VPN, to your on-premise network so that your hosted desktop can access your on-premise applications as if you were using a locally networked office desktop.
3. Obtain a second internet line.
The cloud provides security in case of a disaster or other interruptions that would otherwise bring operations to a halt. However, access is key. Invest in a second internet line to protect your data, applications, and transactions in case the primary line goes down. You should not use the same internet provider for your second line as for your primary line, in case one has a blackout. Ask your cloud provider for a recommendation.
4. Account for the transition.
It shouldn’t take long for a provider to configure your virtual desktop. Depending on the DaaS provider, it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 24 hours to provision a hosted desktop. The reason for this wide range is that some DaaS providers completely automate the provisioning (requiring no human intervention); others have to manually provision the desktop (which requires a human being to receive the work order and then schedule an engineer to configure and spin up the desktop).
What will take the longest is employees becoming comfortable with the new system, so you’ll likely need to provide training and encourage plenty of patience.
Ask your provider for training, resources, and support.
A virtual desktop can be a game-changer for your business, but choosing the wrong provider can turn DaaS into an obstacle rather than a solution. Find a provider who is willing to spend time learning about your objectives and your unique needs and who understands your industry. The best providers will give you useful input and recommendations that steer you toward the right solution.