Desktop Virtualization No Cost Saver?

Don't ignore added costs VDI brings to the data center when calculating ROI on a virtualization project, warns consultant in Interop session.

Paul McDougall

October 4, 2012

3 Min Read
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An industry consultant has a message for IT organizations looking to bring the benefits of virtualization to the PC: Don't believe the hype when it comes to VDI.

Don Krueger, principal consultant at GlassHouse Technologies, said that while Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) can bring lots of benefits to the enterprise and to knowledge workers, cost savings isn't one of them.

"ROI is kind of a myth" when it comes to VDI, Krueger said during a session Wednesday at the Interop Conference & Expo in New York.

Krueger said vendors often promise that a VDI deployment will pay for itself in as little as nine months. Hardware acquisition and maintenance costs are supposedly reduced since VDI users can typically get by with lower-end PCs or even dumb terminals as data crunching is shifted to back-end servers.

According to Krueger, that analysis is too narrow because it ignores significant costs that VDI can add to the data center in terms of virtualization software, storage and additional server capacity. "It may be a lot cheaper to keep your existing desktops, especially if they are relatively new," said Krueger.

[VMware View 5.1 attempts to ease storage requirements and management chores. Read more at VMware's New Bid To Simplify Desktop Virtualization. ]

"Anything you have to add to the data center works against you," Krueger added, pointing out that the typical enterprise PC sells for $400, while a typical generic server might cost $20,000.

And while a single VDI server can support multiple clients, those savings can be quickly eroded by license fees. Microsoft, which offers its own Hyper-V VDI technology in competition with rivals like Citrix and VMware, charges about $100 per device for access to the Windows desktop through a virtual interface, according to Krueger. That's true whether the user is getting their virtual Windows environment through a PC, iPad or some other device.

Next: VDI Costs Vs. BenefitsEarlier this year Microsoft announced a new VDI license plan for Windows 8, called Companion Device License, which will apply to all users who access Windows through non-Windows devices. The company has yet to announce full pricing details.

Microsoft itself supports the view that VDI's total costs are higher than a traditional PC setup. The software maker recently published a study that found that VDI costs were, on average, 11% higher per user.

"While VDI reduced hardware and service desk costs, new software and engineering costs offset those savings, actually increasing overall costs," according to the study, which Microsoft said was conducted on its behalf by "independent TCO experts."

VDI can also put a strain on storage cost and capacity as data that was once maintained on workers' PCs is moved to the data center.

"There are ways you can drive down the cost, but storage is still a very big consideration in the overall cost [of a VDI deployment],"said Krueger.

So if VDI can actually be a more expensive setup than a traditional desktop environment, why undertake it? "It really expands some of the things you can do with your organization," said Krueger.

One benefit is that VDI can give users access to their full enterprise desktop from any location. That's key for road warriors, who could be freed from lugging heavy laptops through airport security. Another is that VDI plays to the growing BYOD trend. Workers who prefer to get to their enterprise apps through an iPad or some other tablet would have the option to do so.

VDI may also make it easier for IT departments to centrally manage desktop provisioning and security.

That's no small benefit for organizations like one GlassHouse customer, a defense contractor that wanted to move 30,000 desktops to VDI. The company found it couldn't justify the project from an ROI standpoint, but proceeded anyway to obtain the other benefits. "VDI will touch every existing component of your IT infrastructure," said Krueger.

About the Author(s)

Paul McDougall

Editor At Large, InformationWeek

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