VMware announced VMware Horizon DaaS as a service. Brian Madden believes that the new offering beats Amazon WorkSpaces. I totally disagree. There wasn’t even a match.
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First of all, there is no typo in the intro. VMware really did announce Horizon DaaS as a service. Yes, it is funny to offer Desktop-as-a-Service as a service. It appears the naming confusion in the cloud has no limits. Horizon DaaS was already available before this announcement.

Horizon DaaS is based on Desktone’s desktop virtualization product, which VMware snatched up last year. The desktop virtualization product was available as a service from VMware partners and as an on-premises solution that goes by the name Horizon Workspace. Thus, the whole thing about the announcement is that VMware now competes with their partners by offering Horizon DaaS as an online service from their own datacenters.

VMware Horizon DaaS specs

Before I tell you why VMware Horizon DaaS doesn’t even play in the same league as Amazon WorkSpaces, let’s first summarize the main points about the product:

  • A virtual machine has one CPU, 2GB of RAM, and 30GB of storage.
  • VMware Horizon uses the Teradici PCoIP desktop sharing protocol.
  • On the client side, VMware supports zero clients, PCs, Macs, iPads, Android devices, smartphones, Amazon Kindle Fires, HTML5 browsers and Google Chromebooks.
  • The guest OS can be Windows XP, Windows 7 Enterprise, 32- and 64-bit versions of Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows Server with a client interface.
  • The virtual desktops can be persistent or non-persistent.
  • Admins can use a single client to manage Horizon Workspace and Horizon DaaS VMs.

For more technical details, have a look at VMware Horizon DaaS FAQ (PDF).

The specs are certainly all very nice. Horizon DaaS supports more clients than Amazon WorkSpaces supports. However, considering that Amazon is using the same protocol, it is quite possible that Amazon will soon also support smartphones and HTML5 devices.

The list of guest operating systems is impressive; in particular, the fact that you can also run a real Windows client, and not just a Windows Server, with the Desktop Experience is an advantage. If I understand Brian correctly, this is the reason why he thinks that VMware “beat” Amazon.

In my view, this advantage of running a Windows client version instead of the server edition is not really that big. Only if you are really such a daredevil and intend to replace all your physical desktops with virtual desktops could this be a plus. In most scenarios, VDI is only used to provision a few important applications centrally for branch offices, partners, or customers. Even if you need VDI because you run a non-Windows OS on your devices, you probably only have a few Windows applications that you want to run on your virtual desktops. In that case, all you have to do is test these applications under Windows Server and you are done. Since server-based computing has been around for quite a while, the likelihood that you will bump into an application that feels unhappy in a server environment is not that great.

In my opinion, this slight technical advantage is essentially nullified by the fact that you have to mess with Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) licenses (PDF). This brings me straight to my main argument against VMware Horizon DaaS.

VMware Horizon DaaS is no cloud service

I admit that is quite debatable that a service that forces customers to pay an extra charge for third-party licenses can hardly be seen as a cloud service. But this is not my main point. There is an easy way to find out if a service provider just slaps “cloud” on its products for marketing reasons or if real cloud technology comes into play.

The text above the arrows in the screenshot below can be translated as “sorry, we don’t offer cloud computing technology at this time.”

VMware Horizon DaaS is no cloud service

It’s easy, right? Whenever you see “contact sales” on an infrastructure service provider’s site, you know that no cloud computing technology is involved and you just stumbled upon an old-fashioned, boring online service provider. This difference is crucial, as I outlined in my article about the definition of cloud computing. With VMware Horizon DaaS, you don’t get the main advantages of cloud computing: on-demand service, agility, and pay-as-you-go pricing.

Implementing cloud technology is difficult and highly complex, which is why we only have a handful of cloud-based infrastructure service providers in the market, and all of them are real IT behemoths. By contrast, DaaS is technically relatively simple. Buy yourself a Windows Server, install Hyper-V, connect that thing to the Internet, and you’ve entered the DaaS market—a crowded place with many questionable offers.

The fact that Horizon DaaS is not cloud-based comes with quite a few downsides, and I can’t cover all of them here. Let’s talk about pricing. The VMware announcement claims that:

Pricing starts at $35 per month per user for a full Windows client experience.

A friendly way to judge this sentence is to say that it states an untruth by hiding the snag of this offer. Horizon DaaS pricing does not start at $35; rather, it starts at $21,000! Uh huh, that’s quite a difference, isn’t it? If you want to enjoy the “full Windows client experience,” you have to at least “order” 50 virtual desktops, and you have to commit for at least one year. And there goes your cloud agility.

Imagine you have your 50 full Windows client experience desktops running and, a month later, employee 51 joins the company. Can you just add a new virtual desktop as with Amazon’s cloud? And, if so, do you have to commit to an additional year for this one desktop? What if employee 52 joins the company two days later? Will you need an Excel sheet to keep track of all your commitments? And what if you want to add another department with 500 desktops tomorrow? And what if you want to add a couple of desktops in Europe and Asia? And what if you just want to try five desktops for a few months and see how it goes? And what if you want to add a few Windows Servers and a couple of petabytes of storage to your virtual infrastructure? And what…well, I think you got the point.

I am sure you can always discuss these things with your friendly and ambitious VMware sales representative. The other option is that, whenever an “and what” question comes up, you just log on to Amazon’s cloud and discuss your problem with the AWS Management Console.

I think you are beginning to understand why VMware can’t beat Amazon. There is not even a match between the two because they play in different leagues. Amazon is a real cloud provider and, therefore, plays in the premier league of infrastructure service providers, whereas VMware is just an old-fashioned online service provider.

  1. Avatar
    Bill Wraith 9 years ago

    I completely agree with your analysis. Is anyone but Amazon allowing the purchase of just 1 or 2 virtual desktops in the cloud? Also, I have run a whole slew of different software on their Windows 2008 server with “Windows 7 experience”, and it all works just fine. I haven’t encountered any issues at all with any number of applications, including even encrypted virtual drives. I have done this for months using Ericom Server for remote access from my Chromebook tunneled to an ssh linux server I launched into the same VPC as the virtual desktop. All works great, and for some time now. I even use it on Amtrak trips from NYC to Boston or Syracuse NY.

  2. Avatar

    Yeah, it is amazing how reliable how Amazon’s cloud is considering how complex their IT is. BTW, I have been using Amazon’s cloud in the clouds in flights from Europe to Asia. Sometimes when I looked out of the window I thought I spotted my server. 😉

  3. Avatar
    Ranvir Rai 8 years ago

    I like your analysis and argument. I saw a different blog which was quite biased toward VMWare (they were touting VMWare has more features than Amazon Workspaces); I know i’ve found the facts that I was looking for when I stumbled across your blog. Like you mentioned above, the cloud means being on demand and agile.

    Another thing is when weighing up the risk/reward in my mind is the fact that you can manage all cloud solutions in one AWS console, rather than having to deal with 2 different providers. It just makes things simple to have DaaS included with everything else in AWS; I cant see enough advantages with VMWare now to justify dealing with 2 seperate providers in this space, as DaaS is a large but small subsection of overall cloud solutions.

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