VDI licensing: Beware the under-$40-per-desktop promise

Some data storage vendors claim VDI licensing at under $40 per desktop. But how big does your VDI storage implementation have to be to get that price point?

Data storage vendors have been paying a lot of attention to VDI licensing costs lately, and several have put together reference architectures claiming to enable VDI storage for under $40 per desktop.

EMC Corp. claims it can enable a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) for $38 per client, Xiotech Corp. says it can come in at $25 per user, while FalconStor Software Inc. claims pricing of between $30 and $40 per desktop for customers of its FalconStor Network Storage Server (NSS) SAN Accelerator for VMware View system. But those numbers apply to large implementations with thousands of desktops. For instance, EMC's reference architecture is for 2,250 or more desktops.

Erick Moore, senior server engineer, network services at a pharmacy benefit management company in Chicago and a storage blogger, said his company is planning a VDI pilot program for a handful of users this year. He said before rolling out a large-scale implementation he'll probably add Flash Cache (formerly PAM) to his NetApp storage, and said there's no way it would cost anywhere near what some vendors are claiming. Still, he anticipates long-range "soft" savings from VDI.

"Based on our rough estimates, I don't see us getting anywhere close to that number," Moore said of the under $40 per desktop claims. "The cost does drop when you can stack more VMs on the same spindles. The real value of VDI still has a lot of soft savings like provisioning, management, procurement, security, etc., and that's how we're selling it internally."

Systems integrator Force 3 has a reference system for VDI consisting of the FalconStor storage system, Cisco Systems Inc.'s Unified Computing System (UCS), VMware View and Windows 7. The company's cost analysis comes in at $700 per user for 380 users and drops to $615 per user for 1,500 users. That includes everything, not just storage.

Sam Lee, Force 3's senior solutions architect, said his firm doesn't break down the cost of storage alone, but he laughs when asked if VDI storage can cost as low as $40 per desktop. "They haven't done any benchmarking for those numbers," he said. "Let's say you have 1,000 users. That's $40,000 at $40 per desktop. For 10,000 users, it would cost $400,000. You can't support 10,000 users for $400,000. There's a big difference between the marketing and the engineering."

But he said VDI licensing makes sense at under $900 per desktop because it would cost at least that much for a physical workstation, software, management and power over a five-year period.

"So if you're under $900, you can save," he said. "Companies would pay more than that for desktops alone. Just the difference in the cost in power between a desktop and thin client [used for VDI] can pay for the thin client over four years."

Ray Lucchesi, president at Broomfield, Colo.-based Silverton Consulting Inc., said VDI remains an economy of scale model. "Some big companies with thousands of desktops have seen an economical advantage from virtual desktops," he said. "I'd say a lot of people are still kicking it around and looking at it. The big guys are looking at it seriously, midrange guys are thinking about it and small guys are saying 'No way.'"


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