As Desktop as a Service grows, Citrix gives boost to DaaS providers

Despite issues with Microsoft's licensing policy, the Desktop as a Service market is poised for growth. Citrix eases providers' foray into DaaS with its Cloud Provider Pack.

Despite the ongoing controversy with Microsoft's Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) licensing policy, the DaaS market is expected to grow over the next few years. With the recent release of its Cloud Provider Pack, Citrix is trying to make it easier for its cloud provider partners to pursue this growing opportunity.

"Whereas before I was trying to beat down doors and educate people, I've had people ringing my phone like crazy lately" about Desktop as a Service, said Robert Bye, president and CEO of nGenx, a cloud provider and Citrix partner based in Overland Park, Kan. "I can't hire fast enough to keep up with demand."

After years of sluggish growth as the technology matured, the emerging Desktop-as-a-Service market is finally turning the corner, according to a recent 451 Research report, Desktops as a Service. The overall desktop virtualization ecosystem is expected to grow to $5.6 billion in 2015, up from $1.6 billion in 2009, according to the report. Much of that growth is expected to be driven by Desktop as a Service, but the report did not specify exactly how much revenue would come from DaaS.

What is Desktop as a Service?

Like many cloud services, Desktop as a Service (DaaS) is loosely defined. 

According to 451 Research, DaaS must be offered by a third-party provider and includes "any combination of session-based computing; a desktop connection broker; user and application virtualization; a protocol or client hypervisor; and network, security and storage optimization."

Desktop as a Service isn't necessarily synonymous with cloud-based virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) services, according to 451 Research. Whereas DaaS usually refers to session-based computing and shared operating systems (OSes), VDI end users have dedicated OSes.

The reason for this discrepancy is that Microsoft does not offer a Service Provider License Agreement (SPLA) for VDI. As a result, nearly all Citrix-based Desktop-as-a-Service offerings are actually a pairing of Microsoft's session-based Remote Desktop Services (RDS) and Citrix XenApp, according to 451 Research analyst Karin Kelley.

The research firm defines the desktop virtualization ecosystem as services based on: server-, client-, cloud- and operating system-hosted desktop virtualization; session-based computing; application virtualization; and management, which includes user virtualization

Small- to medium-sized businesses (SMB) are expected to drive most of that growth, according to 451 Research projections.

"We're definitely seeing a lot more interest as the technology matures," said Jeff Kaplan, CEO of Breakthrough Technology Group (BTG), a cloud and managed services provider (MSP) based in Morganville, N.J. "Conversations are now more about implementations, assessments and how to do it, whereas three months ago, it was 'Tell me what it is.'"

After having sold Desktop as a Service since 2000, nGenx's DaaS revenue for 2011 grew 100% year-over-year. Bye expects to well exceed that growth rate in 2012 -- gains primarily fueled by the popularity of the white label cloud service nGenx sells to its channel, which includes MSPs and telcos.

As the volume of sales has grown, so too has the size of those deals as customers become more bullish on Desktop as a Service, he said. In years past, DaaS deployments were typically for 25 to 75 seats; now, 100- to 200-seat deals are the norm, Bye said.

"It's exploding," he said, attributing much of that growth to bring your own device (BYOD) and IT consumerization trends. Customers who haven't upgraded their desktops since 2008 are looking for more cost-effective deployment models as they begin spending on IT again, he added.

Citrix improves orchestration, hybrid cloud and mobility support

Citrix's Cloud Provider Pack -- a free software add-on for certified Citrix partners using XenApp Premium Edition -- includes a range of features designed to make Desktop as a Service easier for service providers to build, sell and manage. Broadly, the new features address three areas: cloud orchestration, hybrid cloud and mobility.

The new orchestration technology, developed under the codename Project Rainmaker, offers a single console for managing and designing Desktop as a Service in a multi-tenant, multi-site Citrix farm, according to Calvin Hsu, senior director of product marketing at Citrix. The console enables cloud providers to "create a cookbook" of DaaS packages, coordinating the servers and applications on the back end.

"You can think of it as a design studio for a Desktop-as-a-Service offering," Hsu said. "It does for desktops what other cloud orchestration layers do for cloud storage and VMs."

The software upgrade also eases lifecycle management of Desktop-as-a-Service customers by automating various tasks, such as patch management, he said. Additionally, the orchestration layer integrates with Citrix's CloudPortal Services Manager to enable automated self-provisioning.

The new orchestration software is playing a large part in nGenx's roadmap for its Desktop-as-a-Service offering, Bye said. Along with other technologies, it will enable him to take advantage of some of his larger partners' excess capacity by federating his data centers with theirs, centrally managing his DaaS platform from nGenx's network operations center.

"That's a huge step in the cloud," Bye said. "Now we're not just virtualizing the app through Microsoft App-V or virtualizing the desktop with Citrix. Now we're abstracting the data center, so it doesn't matter where the hardware is anymore, and we're truly providing a service instead of a combination of technologies."

The second feature set in the software pack, which Citrix calls its "Seamless Apps" technology, enables cloud providers to better support their Desktop-as-a-Service customers with a hybrid cloud strategy, Hsu said. Whereas end users would previously have to flip between two different desktop environments to use cloud-based and local applications, end users can now access both through the cloud desktop

The third feature set provides upgrades to Citrix's XenApp 6.5 Mobility Pack, released in December, making Desktop as a Service more "touchscreen- and tablet-friendly," Hsu said. The update "re-skins [the mobile desktop] to look more native to the device," moving menus around and enlarging shortcut icons, he said. It also includes a software development kit (SDK) if cloud providers want to customize the environment further.

Overall, the Cloud Provider Pack is a step in the right direction for Citrix and its Desktop-as-a-Service providers, said Karin Kelley, an analyst at 451 Research.

"I think the single console that can orchestrate and manage applications across a hybrid infrastructure is key and will be very helpful for service providers," she said. "The seamless app stuff is pretty cool, too, [as it] eliminates an extra hop between private and public clouds."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, Site Editor.

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