Lenovo, Microsoft Stepping into Growing Desktop-as-a-Service Space

The COVID-19 pandemic that forced a massive shift to remote work has helped fuel adoption of virtual and cloud-based PC technologies by enterprises looking for ways to ensure secure access to corporate networks and data by their work-from-home employees.

Vendors are pushing out products to meet that demand, particularly as it becomes clearer that many people will continue to work remotely at least part of the time even after the global public health crisis lifts. Lenovo and Nutanix this week unveiled a joint desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) that will give organizations a choice of Lenovo clients that include virtual desktop environments from vendors like Citrix Systems and ThinkAgile HX Series systems powered by Nutanix software.

Meanwhile, Microsoft reportedly is getting ready to launch its Azure-based Cloud PC service, which was first written about a year ago and now could be available in June or July, according to unnamed sources speaking with ZDNet, which first reported on the project. The service will be built atop Microsoft’s Windows Virtual Desktop technology and will enable users to use their own devices as thin clients and remotely access Windows 10 and software like Office 365.

Remote Workforce Won’t Disappear

Such services are becoming increasingly important as remote work gets sewn into the fabric of a post-pandemic business environment. In its Future of Work and Digital Transformation study released last month, Lenovo found that 83 percent of businesses expect work after the COVID-19 outbreak subsides will be remote at least half the time.

Further reading: Growth of Enterprise Cloud Adoption Not Slowing Down

“Many organizations are modernizing their IT infrastructures to support the growing demands remote work continues to place on their IT systems,” Kirk Skaugen, executive vice president of Lenovo Group and president of its Infrastructure Solutions Group, said in a statement. “We are seeing a shift where customers are more interested in as-a-service models to help offset the investment associated with upgrading their IT systems quickly.”

Tarkan Maner, chief commercial officer at Nutanix, said in a statement that as businesses emerge from the immediate challenges presented by the pandemic, they will need the services and tools “to help them embrace the future of work and thrive in a hybrid work model which will be the standard for many organizations.”

Lenovo and Nutanix Team Up

Lenovo’s TruScale for Hosted Desktops with Nutanix leverages its hardware expertise and growing use of pay-as-you-go consumption models with Nutanix’s cloud platform software. The full solution includes the ThinkAgile HX hyperconverged system with Nutanix software and Lenovo client devices, such as thin clients and PCs, that come with a choice of virtual desktop environments, such as Citrix. The DaaS solutions will be available as a managed service via Lenovo’s TruScale as-a-service program.

The goal is to offer a virtual desktop experience that combines the performance of on-premises systems with the conveniences and security that come with a cloud environment. Through Lenovo devices, data center infrastructure and managed services and the Nutanix cloud platform software, enterprises get fixed monthly charges and lower upfront expenses. The hosted environment through Lenovo Managed Services means fewer management costs.

Microsoft’s PC Cloud

Like Lenovo’s offering, Microsoft’s PC Cloud effort – reportedly dubbed “Project Deschutes” – is designed to be a managed service through Microsoft 365, though it will be available with a flat per-user price. That is unlike Microsoft’s existing Windows Virtual Desktop offering, which is priced based on Azure consumption.

According to a job posting viewed by ZDNet, Cloud PC will enable “all users to be productive from anywhere, on any device with a cloud-powered, secure, and always up to date Windows experience. It also seamlessly allows endpoint managers to instantly provision cloud hosted PCs and manage physical and virtual devices through a unified portal and a fixed and predictable price.”

Industry observers expect the DaaS market to expand quickly in the coming years. Gartner analysts in a report last year noted that the pandemic had accelerated the demand for cloud services in general and that the DaaS segment would benefit from that demand the most. They predicted that spending on DaaS would hit $1.2 billion in 2020, a 95.4 percent year-over-year increase, due primarily to the rapid expansion of remote work.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, there were a few initial hiccups, but cloud ultimately delivered exactly what it was supposed to,” Sid Nag, research vice president at Gartner, said in a statement. “It responded to increased demand and catered to customers’ preference of elastic, pay-as-you-go consumption models.”

Large, Midsize Companies Embracing DaaS

Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, said he sees most of the interest in DaaS and PC-as-a-service (PCaaS) coming from midsize to large organizations.

“The get-what-you-need [and] pay-as-you-go financing model is particularly attractive to businesses that need to constrain costs, King told InternetNews. “Plus, it’s simple for organizations to start small, see how well an offering suits their needs, then expand the program or look for another vendor. Over time, I expect to see smaller businesses pick up on these offerings as vendors’ channel partners get more involved.”

Beyond simply the need for cloud-based desktop services due to the pandemic, adoption of PCaaS has been a natural step in the growing comfort enterprises have after a decade using hosted services and outsourcing IT management and maintenance functions to cloud providers, the analyst said.

“Microsoft also helped accelerate this process by shifting from packaged software to Office 365 and similar solutions,” King said. “So far as Covid goes, the inclusive deployment, management and maintenance services that are included in most PCaaS packages was highly efficient and cost effective for supporting [work-from-home] employees. Add that to the minimal capital outlay required and it’s easy to see why so many businesses are adopting DaaS and PCaaS.”

King noted that some vendors also increasingly are expanding the cloud-like pay-as-you-go consumption model seen with PCaaS to other hardware solutions and platforms. Hewlett Packard Enterprise in 2019 announced plans to offer its entire portfolio as a service by next year. In addition, Dell (with its Project Apex), Cisco Systems and Lenovo (with TruScale) are making similar moves.

Crowded DaaS Market

The DaaS space is a crowded one. Along with Lenovo, Citrix (with its Managed Desktops) and Nutanix (Xi solution), Microsoft and other cloud providers – such as Amazon Web Services’ WorkSpaces – also are offering such services. Other players include VMware and its Horizon Cloud service, dinCloud.

DaaS is not the only option for organizations looking to ease their PC management and security burdens. Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) has been in use for more than a decade, with similar goals as DaaS. However, there are key differences, the primary one being that VDI environments are run on premises and solutions are traditionally operated and maintained by a company’s in-house IT personnel. DaaS is completely outsourced to the vendor or cloud provider, including the management of the technology.

Some vendors are looking to offer VDI as a service. HPE in April 2020 rolled out a series of VDI offerings to help organizations adapt to their broadly distributed workforces and in November 2020 expanded its GreenLake cloud services platform to include VDI-as-a-service.

Jeff Burt
Jeffrey Burt has been a journalist for more than three decades, the last 20-plus years covering technology. During more than 16 years with eWEEK, he covered everything from data center infrastructure and collaboration technology to AI, cloud, quantum computing and cybersecurity. A freelance journalist since 2017, his articles have appeared on such sites as eWEEK, eSecurity Planet, Enterprise Networking Planet, Enterprise Storage Forum, InternetNews, The Next Platform, ITPro Today, Channel Futures, Channelnomics, SecurityNow, and Data Breach Today.

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