SaaS Holds Promise – but You Still Need a Desktop, Right?

It’s easy to forget that the first and often the last interaction most of us have each day with our legal technology involves logging into – or out of – our trusty desktop machine. And that makes a lot of sense, because it’s typically the nexus of practically all that we do each day, from e-mail to web research to practice management and beyond. And yet the legal technology press is abuzz about how to ‘get into the cloud’ or ‘the perils of entering the cloud’ or the latest SaaS application that enables practice management for the price of a few cups of coffee each month.

Don’t get me wrong – there is a tremendous torrent of innovation occurring in the SaaS space; there are now SaaS delivered applications for most of the major pillars required to run your law practice, and they are comprehensive and increasingly feature rich. But it’s also important to remember that the web browser – when running an interactive SaaS application – is really just acting like a proxy for some small part of a remote desktop. A remote desktop, you say? Yes, just like a remote desktop, except one which delivers a relatively limited subset of the functionality we’ve come to expect from our desktop PCs. Certainly, there’s nothing particularly surprising about that – except to note that you still need your actual local desktop to stitch together the results: someplace to word process, someplace to crunch your spreadsheets, someplace to craft your next slide deck. And sure, you could just use Google Apps for that, but where are you saving the result at the end of the day? How are you going to get your Google document from Google’s world into your Document Management System without having it pass through your local desktop? And so long as it’s traversing your local desktop universe, why not simply consider moving your entire desktop into the cloud at the same time?

And so I come to the crux of the argument for hosted desktops, or at least a hosted desktop infrastructure: Gartner recons that no fewer than 66 million desktops will be virtualized and hosted by 2014, representing 15% of all professional desktops, period. Those would either exist in the enterprise datacenter or be delivered by a 3rd party service provider, or managed jointly with infrastructure offered by a managed service provider. And the beauty of it all is that you don’t have to give up anything: you get to access everything in the cloud from anyplace, and you get to best of the SaaS applications integrated all on the very same desktop. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the key benefit to our firm is the fact this model literally enables our virtual practice for the flexibility to hire and retain work-from-home talent. But the benefits apply equally to larger firms interested in consolidating infrastructure, reducing IT management costs, and enabling increased remote worker flexibility.

And so if you consider SaaS and hosted desktops mutually exclusive, you may want to think again.


  1. Yes, you are absolutely correct. We will continue to need desktops. However, it is important to note that the desktops will not be the same. They will not take 10 minutes to reboot and consume a lot of power. This trend is similar to the old mainframe computing. Per “most thin client devices used to connect to the hosted virtual desktop have
    significantly lower energy footprints than their PC counterparts. With as little as 4 watts consumption for a thin client, compared to 150 watts for a PC, companies can cut the cost of their electricity bills.

    There is a potential that desktop applications running on HVDs would compete with Saas applications.