IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

The Benefits of Workspace as a Service

With its pay-as-you-go pricing and ease of “right sizing” access to data and applications, you might expect WaaS to be going gangbusters. The holdup? Channel pros. By Megan Santosus

From the data center to the desktop, virtualization has had a significant impact on how the channel delivers products and services to clients. With the maturity of the cloud and the proliferation of mobility—trends that go hand-in-hand with BYOD—virtualization is now reshaping the world of work. Think of workspace as a service (WaaS) as a new level of desktop virtualization, one that encompasses the desktop as well as any other device in use to provide employees with all the data and applications they need, wherever and whenever they need them.

Using virtualization to deliver IT services to employees is not a new concept. Virtual desktop interface (VDI) “is an on-premise deployment that is customer-owned,” says Andrew Klos, a cloud aggregation specialist at CDW, a technology solutions provider in Vernon Hills, Ill. As such, VDI enables employees to access their desktops from a data center as long as they are connected to the network. Desktop as a service (DaaS) essentially is the same concept except that it adds cloud to the mix, enabling the channel to offer hosted solutions. Virtual applications allow employees access to discrete applications—and only applications. The situation today “is that you sometimes need more than that—you have applications that have relationships with other applications, so you need the full desktop experience,” says Klos.

It is that full desktop experience that has evolved to what is called the virtualized workspace. “WaaS is really the next iteration of VDI or desktop as a service,” says Scott Markley, senior vice president of sales at Itopia Inc., a Miami-based provider of WaaS solutions for the channel. “With VDI, you create a one-to-one environment—to one organization, or one server to one user,” he says. “WaaS or DaaS is one-to-many, typically terminal server–based, session-based virtualization with potentially many clients and many users,” Markley explains.

As Markley sees it, WaaS takes a more holistic approach in that it can deliver data and applications to employees whether they are sitting at a desktop or out in the field with a tablet or smartphone. In addition to virtualization for the desktop and applications, WaaS encompasses backup, the cloud, VPN access, security policies, endpoint protection, printing—everything typical in a workplace environment—that then connects any device, anywhere. “WaaS really takes these pieces and packages them together and delivers them as one product,” Markley explains. In effect, WaaS enables the creation of an entire workplace environment that end users can access from any location and any device with an internet connection.

Significant Growth Ahead
Given the all-encompassing nature of WaaS, the market is set to grow significantly. According to Transparency Market Research, the worldwide market for WaaS solutions will surpass $18 billion by 2022, up from just under $7.5 billion in 2014. The maturity of the cloud, the continued expansion of virtualization beyond the data center, and the increasing use of mobile, employee-owned devices have all converged to create a market primed for WaaS.

In addition, high bandwidth today is both economical and available—not so the case when VDI first came on the scene. Finally, the growth of shadow IT as well as the need to allow access to data and applications among contractors or temporary employees are also factors propelling the WaaS market, according to Markley.

Of course, WaaS has to be more than trendy if the market forecasts are anywhere close to being accurate. There have to be significant benefits to migrating to hosted workspaces, since this approach represents a significant departure from the traditional on-premises, hardware-centric deployment model. One such benefit is cost. “With WaaS, we’ve eliminated the complexity and greatly reduced up-front investment,” says David Graffia, vice president of sales at dinCloud Inc., a cloud services provider in Los Angeles. “Everything in the [WaaS] environment is operational. Everything comes right off the balance sheet and goes to the expense account,” he adds.

A related advantage for SMBs is the ability to extend the life of their existing hardware, and thereby reduce capital expense. SMBs can “stop that refresh cycle of buying desktops and laptops every two to three years, because all the processing is being done in the data center—the laptop or desktop is just an endpoint,” Graffia explains. Ongoing, there are operational cost advantages as well; as an on-demand solution, WaaS is available in a pay-as-you-go, consumption-based pricing model, allowing SMBs to exert much more control over their computing costs.

Another key advantage for SMBs is flexibility. Workspace environments can be stood up and turned off quickly. This ability to essentially “right size” access to data and applications is ideal for organizations that employ contractors or have seasonal spikes in employees. As for drawbacks, Graffia says that one persistent issue is latency; depending on where the data center that is hosting WaaS is located in relation to the endpoints, there can be some delays when accessing data and applications. In addition, Graffia says that the market, while growing, remains immature—there are fewer options in terms of vendors and features than with traditional end-user computing.

A Shift for the Channel
For the channel, WaaS represents a fundamental shift away from selling hardware, and one concern is that the “as a service” model will only serve to untether partners from their clients. It is this concern, rather than any significant technical challenges, that makes getting into the WaaS market difficult. However, on the flip side, WaaS can provide channel partners with an ideal way to become more entrenched with their clients’ overall business goals.

“Channel partners just need to understand the business drivers behind why a potential customer would look at virtualized desktops and then translate those drivers into benefits,” says Klos. Among the key drivers: reducing costs, decreasing complexity, and enabling mobility—goals that WaaS certainly can help SMBs achieve.

One significant advantage of selling WaaS versus traditional hardware solutions is profitability. As margins for selling hardware erode, WaaS is becoming more attractive. “The typical margin for WaaS ranges from 10 to 30 percent,” says Billy Forte, CEO of CloudTitan, a provider of cloud automation services for the channel in Jacksonville, Fla. “And rather than a one-time sale,” he adds, “WaaS results in monthly recurring revenue.”

At the moment, Graffia sees most WaaS adoption taking place in M&A situations or where computing demands fluctuate, such as with seasonal employment or events. However, he envisions the market for WaaS quickly expanding to encompass “task workers and much longer-term needs.” Indeed, “Within the next 18 to 24 months, workspaces will become the default environment for new deployments,” he predicts.

About the Author

Megan Santosus's picture

Megan Santosus is a Boston-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to The ChannelPro Network.

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