Defining Cloud Desktops

Jo Peterson Donna Kruse**Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from the Digital Issue, “
Virtualizing Desktops in the Cloud,” which is available for download from Channel Partners Cloud Insights .**

By Jo Peterson and Donna Kruse

Cloud desktops, known as hosted virtual desktops (HVD) or desktops-as-a-service (DaaS), is the outsourcing of a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to a third-party service provider. Typically, DaaS features a multitenancy architecture and the service is purchased on a subscription basis. The service provider manages the back-end responsibilities of data storage, backup, security and upgrades. Meantime, the customer’s personal data is copied to and from the virtual desktop during logon and logoff, and access to the desktop is device-, location- and network-independent.

How It Works

In the simplest form, DaaS is like remote desktop protocol (RDP), virtual network control (VNC) and similar setups dating back to the PCAnywhere days. In this model an end user had a screen, keyboard and mouse (at minimum) connected to a remote computer, so as to use that system as though they were sitting comfortably nearby. 

Today’s iteration includes those basics plus sound, local drive and local ports, such as USB. DaaS’s selling points are hosted external applications, shared storage resources, extended existing (or new) Active Directory infrastructure and extended device compatibility for a mobile workforce. For the administrator, rolling out a new desktop user is simplified since the user profile is created in the cloud and accessible from any device. Additionally, since client data is not stored at the device level, it is secured in the event of theft, loss or failure.

Note that DaaS works best for clients with Windows 7 and Windows 2008R2 terminal sessions. Mac OS is not supported due to Apple’s licensing constraints and hosted Linux is difficult to find.

How It’s Sold

DaaS pricing is based on the amount of desktop RAM, CPU, bandwidth and persistent storage, and ranges from $30-$80 a month per user. Some pricing will not include Microsoft licenses, so it’s important to verify with the provider.

Some providers have different pricing packages for users based on the resources needed. An example of this model is offered by TuCloud, which breaks users down into three distinct categories:

  • A Cloud User Desktop is a very small footprint, light desktop meant to run only Web browsers, document readers (Adobe Reader, Microsoft Reader, etc.), light applications suck as Skype or MSN, streamed virtualized applications or browser applications (SaaS). This desktop is non-persistent, meaning that every time the user logs out of his desktop, it is refreshed back to its “virgin” state. This prevents a virus or malware infection and “illegal” applications cannot be installed for any longer than a session.
  • A Knowledge User Desktop is meant for the average user who needs to run applications such as Office, Acrobat or Sage natively on the desktop. It can be persistent/non-persistent and is designed to work with shared cloud file servers, rather than provide local storage.
  • A Power User Desktop provides double the usual RAM and an extra CPU. This is the desktop option for those who need power to run audio/video/graphic intensive and/or heavy applications.

Why Cloud Desktops?

It comes down to cost, productivity and security. In a DaaS environment, IT can manage and support the end-to-end virtualized desktop environment centrally, with all processing and data remaining securely within the data center. The desktop is presented and usable on the end-user device, optimizing network bandwidth and improving information security.

Benefits of virtual desktop solutions include:

  • Session mobility
  • “Follow me” printing
  • Device independence
  • Improved security
  • Single sign-on
  • Reduced network load
  • Centralized processing

DaaS enables desktop computing costs to scale dynamically with the workforce, converting capital costs into a predictable, monthly operating expense. DaaS allows for new, less costly and longer lasting desktop devices, reducing the cost and frequency of purchases as well as reducing internal labor costs needed to maintain and refresh the equipment.

Donna Kruse is region manager-network specialist for


, which she joined in 2009 to move the firm upmarket into the large enterprise space with expertise in colocation, cloud computing and data center connectivity. She has more than 20 years of technology industry experience working with companies including AT&T, Lucent Technologies and Qwest Communications.


Jo Peterson is director of converged cloud and data services at TeleProviders, a master agency and cloud broker, where she is responsible for implementing a go-to-market strategy in the cloud services space. Peterson also is the founding co-shair of CloudGirls, a vendor-neutral community of female technology advocates focused on cloud education.


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