Both DaaS and VDI are solutions positioned to deliver software to groups of users on both managed and non-managed devices. They are very similar on paper when it comes to what they can achieve…

…but is there any actual difference between DaaS and VDI? If so, what is it, and how do you go about identifying which is best for your use cases? Keep reading to clear up any misconceptions between DaaS and VDI and understand their places in software delivery stacks.

What is VDI?

VDI is the breakout software delivery technology of the 2000s. It completely changed the landscape of what’s possible when it comes to delivering university software to students. VDI creates virtual machines on which to run apps. The resulting visual data is then streamed from servers to endpoints for users to interact with.

Generally, the specific benefits of VDI over DaaS for Higher Ed are as follows:

  • Data staying on-site is secure and subject to fewer security risks
  • Universities have more control and flexibility over how they scale their VDI deployment
  • Minus soft costs and implementation costs, in-house resources are usually cheaper than outsource service-based resources.

What is DaaS?

Desktop-as-a-Service, or DaaS, is the concept of delivering virtual machines to organizations as a service. Organizations, instead of investing heavily in on-premise VDI and associated hardware, pay for a service from DaaS providers in the form of access to virtual machines. DaaS providers are often referred to as MSPs, or managed service providers. DaaS is, on paper, a powerful and robust solution but the fact remains that most MSPs do not serve higher education. DaaS usually can’t be scaled to Higher Ed numbers of users.

DaaS usually can’t be scaled to Higher Ed numbers of users.

Generally, the specific benefits of DaaS over VDI for Higher Ed are as follows:

  • No large, upfront investment
  • Management, maintenance, and upgrade are pretty much handled for you
  • Often, you only pay for what you use
  • You know you’re getting top-notch VDI specialists when buying DaaS from an MSP

Key differences between VDI and DaaS

Largely, VDI and DaaS aren’t too comparable for Higher Ed. For commercial enterprises, there is much more of a cost/benefit analysis to be made, as DaaS is a more suitable solution for the number of users usually seen in medium-to-large businesses. When looking at higher ed user numbers though, DaaS can become inviable. It also doesn’t help that each DaaS provider has a slightly different offering. With this in mind, we’ll stay general when comparing DaaS and VDI.

Largely, VDI and DaaS aren’t too comparable for Higher Ed.


Legacy VDI and most cloud-hosted solutions can only provide single-user Windows 10 sessions. Windows Virtual Desktop is the only solution capable of providing multisession Windows 10. In addition, it is the only solution running on DesktopOS rather than ServerOS, helping to avoid compatibility issues.

When it comes to DaaS and whether multi-tenant is possible, that depends upon the solutions they use to provide their DaaS. In short, some DaaS providers can offer multi-tenant, some can’t.


Legacy VDI carries a higher upfront investment, usually costs more to manage and maintain, but costs can be lower and/or easier to get approved than DaaS platforms, given the fact costs tend to be itemized with VDI. DaaS’ single-item quotes can seem like a bigger investment than VDI to some of the decision makers involved.

With that said, the itemized nature of VDI and the fact that you’ll also need to invest in associated technologies/resources that aren’t included in your VDI costs, can lead to VDI costs running up way higher than anticipated. This explains VDI’s notoriety for ‘hidden’ costs…

Control, Agility and elasticity

As is the case for all industries and businesses, in-house/on-premise results in greater control, and also greater cost. With legacy, on-premise VDI, HEIT will have more control over their virtual desktops and will be able to customize the way they’re used to better suit university needs to a higher degree than if they were using DaaS.

When it comes to agility and elasticity, DaaS and cloud-solutions often offer the most preferable solution. They can sometimes offer pay-as-you-go usage models, allowing universities to pay for only what they use, and to change their expenditure at any time as they see fit.

Location – where users and data are

VDI has historically helped to solve tricky license challenges when it comes to delivering to users on their own devices, or off-site. Many license agreements prohibit the running or executing of software off-premise. With VDI, every app is run on-site with the resulting data streamed to end devices. However, many software vendors are beginning to take notice of this and add new stipulations to their license agreements forbidding this. They are mistakenly seeing off-site users as lost profit, rather than potential lifetime customers!

DaaS doesn’t necessarily offer a solution to this, and could potentially complicate things further. That being said, your DaaS provider may have an existing relationship or agreement with software vendors and may be able to help you get your apps licensed for affordable, off-site delivery!

User experience

There isn’t really a general theme to discuss when it comes to either DaaS or VDI being better for user experience. At the highest level, they are the same except VDI is sold as a product and DaaS is sold as a service, though DaaS may also use slightly different technologies such as RDSH to function.

It is worth noting that an experienced MSP is probably capable of delivering a better user experience through their hardware and server infrastructure than some of the most experienced VDI teams in universities. It is also worth noting that this will be reflected in cost.


As previously mentioned, on-premise VDI tends to be more secure than competing technologies for two reasons:

  1. Data stays on-site. With proper protection, only physical server access could result in breach.
  2. It is a known quantity. IT has visibility of all data, all access to files. Everything.

However, most MSPs are masters of data security and use some of the most secure cloud-storage solutions such as Azure and AWS. While they aren’t on-site and data isn’t as much of a known quantity, even the most cynical in HEIT would trust their data in an Azure or AWS server implicitly.

Data back-up

With DaaS, back-up will be totally managed for you, dependent on your subscription level and extras. Multiple data-centers also help to avoid disaster should the worst happen. With on-premise VDI, the responsibility is on HEIT to put in place appropriate back up systems and processes.

What is the difference between DaaS and fully hosted VDI?

DaaS refers to virtual desktops being provided to organizations as a service-based solution. It will include support for managing, upgrading and maintaining virtual machines. It is a more complete out-of-the-box solution with a price tag to match.

Fully-hosted VDI is just like legacy VDI, except you don’t need on-premise server infrastructure, and they are often pay-as-you-go. Fully-hosted solutions are also referred to cloud-hosted solutions and they are the same as VDI, except hosted for you, as the name suggests.

Which is better: DaaS or VDI?

As is the theme throughout the rest of this article, there isn’t really an objective victor in DaaS vs. VDI. However, when it comes to Higher Ed, we rarely see full DaaS deployments. They’re often saved for more limited use cases, such as temporary BYOD access, or delivering to satellite campuses.

For the scale of delivery required by HEIT, VDI will usually come out on top. However, you still need to decide whether to go for legacy VDI, or newer, hosted solutions…

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