Remote Work Drives Desktop-as-a-Service

By Drew Robb April 14, 2021
woman working from home

​When businesses began to issue work-from-home (WFM) orders in March 2020, IT and HR had no time to lose. U.K.-based financial services firm Kreston Reeves, for example, had to ramp up overnight from 50 remote workers, accountants and CPAs to 600.

The company was already using Citrix Workspace to serve up personalized access to systems, information and virtual desktop tools. "There is no difference when working at home," said Chris Madden, IT and operations director at Kreston Reeves. "Employees log in to the same desktop with the same software and do the same thing. Location has no impact on users' ability to work productively."

The deployment of desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) technology enabled the rapid move to WFH without the need to reconfigure IT systems or make major changes. "The firm could concentrate on supporting clients rather than trying to resolve how to work from home," Madden said.

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Remote Work

DaaS Is One of Several Tactics

There are several ways to provide WFH services:

BYOD. Some companies prefer a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy. Whatever device the user has at home, it is up to IT to enable employees to use it to perform their work. Organizations purchase, distribute and configure the desktop software, load the applications and data onto each user's device, and manage maintenance and support. This option works for organizations with a large IT team well-schooled in procuring, building, managing and operating the underlying infrastructure.

Corporate laptops. Many organizations issue laptops for employees to use on the road, in the office or while working remotely. Because the devices are company property, IT can control them. Management can set up security barriers to prevent gaming, entertainment, and nonwork-related applications or websites from being accessed. Again, a well-staffed IT department with the requisite skills for remote desktop management is needed. IT does all the heavy lifting.

Virtual desktops. Desktop virtualization is a way to separate the desktop environment and associated applications and data from the user's device. No data or applications exist on the device; they are all in the cloud. This provides greater flexibility and simpler disaster recovery and reduces the IT burden. Users access applications and information by logging in to the cloud, and they can use any device to do so. The function can be managed either internally or outsourced.

DaaS. Desktop-as-a-service providers take over the responsibility for remote desktop management from IT. Cloud-hosted desktops are easier to move, patch, upgrade and restore. Vendors such as VMware, Microsoft and Citrix, as well as managed services providers (MSPs) such as Cox Business Solutions, provide DaaS.  

"For IT organizations with the right experience, strong security knowledge and sufficient time, the implementation of DaaS might not be a major challenge," said Chris Pierdominici, senior product marketing manager for Cox Business Cloud Solutions. "Otherwise, an experienced MSP can make the task less daunting." 

Cox offers VMware, Citrix and Windows platforms, as well as deployment and support options. The MSP helps organizations integrate DaaS into cloud services such as Microsoft Office 365, security, disaster recovery, backup and telephony services.

Windows Virtual Desktop was the choice of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP). In March 2020, the department needed to move quickly from a virtual private network (VPN) serving a small number of remote workers to a solution that could accommodate 2,000 remote workers. 

"If we'd had to provide remote access strictly through VPN connections to on-premises resources, we would only have been able to offer maybe one-tenth of the access and performance," said Cecil McMaster, the city's deputy commissioner for business information technology at NYC DEP.

Future of the Office

According to consulting firm Gartner, 74 percent of chief financial officers expect telecommuting to continue well after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. For the foreseeable future, workers will still need to be as productive at home as they were in the office.

Andrew Hewitt, an analyst at Forrester Research, expects the growth of DaaS to continue. "The majority of organizations are going to invest in DaaS over the next year," he said. "DaaS offerings increasingly include a host of services that allow organizations to equip employees with their devices and apps of choice on day one."

Hewitt encapsulated the value of DaaS in onboarding with a story from his days in IT. In 2013, he made sure new hires had what they needed. Imaging PCs, provisioning, setting policies, mapping drives, setting up printer connections, preinstalling apps and fielding help desk requests from new hires became a full-time job. DaaS is a welcome change, he said.

Hewitt believes DaaS can also improve offboarding processes. "In a traditional model, you have to worry about getting the actual device back from the employee; sometimes that requires an extra data cleaning process on the device and recycling," he said. "Those issues don't exist with DaaS."

IT benefits via reduced administration, simplified updating and patching, rapid desktop provisioning, and improved disaster recovery procedures.

"The future of work includes more organizations adopting flexible models that empower employees to choose where and how they work best, whether that is from home, an office or both," said Traci Palmer, vice president of people at Citrix. "Offices will become hubs for team collaboration, connection and innovation, while working from home will focus on individual activities." 

Drew Robb is a freelance writer in Clearwater, Fla., specializing in IT and business.

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