What is the Real Cost of VDI?

In the immediate wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with so many employees and students suddenly working from home, many IT teams turned to virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to equip their end users with essential applications. A Computerworld article from September 2020 took note of this shift, stating that the pandemic had given “a new lease on life” to technologies that had been kicking around for years but had not met with widespread adoption.

Such is the case with Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), also known as desktop virtualization or thin-client computing. Led by vendors such as Citrix, Microsoft, Cisco, and VMware, it has been around for decades and hasn’t changed much in that time. But with companies’ entire workforces now connecting to corporate networks from home, sometimes without a company-issued laptop with a VPN and all the necessary settings for secure access, VDI is getting a second look.

This renewed interest in VDI—not to mention its cloud-computing companion, desktop-as-a-service (DaaS)—helped bridge the rapid transition from traditional on-premises work to its more pandemic-safe variants. Remote end users were generally able to access the Windows apps that were key to their productivity, and that’s what mattered in the short term.

However, as more time passed, many of these organizations came to the conclusion that VDI just isn’t sustainable in the long term for many of the most common use cases. Owing to drawbacks like a cumbersome user experience, vendor lock-in and security issues, they’ve begun to realize that virtual desktop infrastructure is actually standing in the way of their digital transformation rather than facilitating it.

Nor can they justify VDI from a financial standpoint. Once you account for the total cost of a desktop virtualization solution, it can seriously outweigh the many advantages of remote & hybrid work.

Why Does VDI Cost So Much?

When IT teams and CTOs are considering VDI solutions, it’s hard not to hear “thin client” or “DaaS” and immediately think “cost-effective.” Those terms suggest something streamlined and lightweight.

But there are actually layers upon layers of hardware costs and licensing costs associated with VDI software. Even desktop-as-a-service, which touts all the benefits of cloud optimization, comes with a lot of the same baggage as classic VDI implementations.

Broadly speaking, the cost of VDI can be grouped into four categories.

  • Licensing costs: First, there’s a licensing fee for the VDI software itself. In most cases, this is the number of seats (calculated by workstations, sessions or number of users) that the VDI solution will serve. On top of that, customers will need to license a virtual delivery agent (VDA) to access virtual machines. And finally, there’s the cost of licensing the software titles and the operating system used in the VDI environment.
  • Server infrastructure costs: VDI and other remote desktop services (RDS) rely on considerable data center infrastructure. This isn’t just the servers for the virtual machines (VMs) but also the servers that handle licensing and storage. Beyond that, there are the servers and peripherals that power the virtual private networks (VPNs) so end users can connect securely.
  • Endpoint hardware costs: No matter how slender they might be, thin clients and zero clients cost money. Any virtual environment will call for these user-facing endpoints. Because of the challenge of provisioning virtual desktops to a heterogeneous fleet of clients, it’s rare to find cost-saving BYOD policies working seamlessly alongside VDI.
  • Operational costs: This amalgamation of services and hardware needs to be managed and maintained, and it usually takes a dedicated IT team to do it. Organizations also need to factor in helpdesk and support costs should the user experience prove too difficult for remote users.

When added together, these compounded expenditures drive up the total cost of ownership (TCO) of even the smallest-scale VDI environment.

Is the Cost of VDI Worth It?

After tallying those hardware costs, licensing costs, operational costs and all the other related factors, it might seem like VDI doesn’t make any financial sense despite the savings it might yield relative to conventional desktop costs.

But VDI is the right choice for digital workspaces in select use cases. Some ultra-power users need a virtual environment that gives them access to full-fledged desktop virtualization. For example, engineers with compute-heavy workloads or remote users who rely on graphics-intensive video editing software may need to be able to leverage a VDI implementation that’s up to the task.

At the same time, most users aren’t working with Hollywood-style visual effects or plugging complex simulations into modeling software. What their use case calls for isn’t an entire operating system but easy access to specific applications: Microsoft Excel, legacy Windows ERP/billing software, Adobe Creative Cloud titles, or thousands of other SaaS, legacy Windows, and internal apps. Provisioning these users with full VMs is overkill.

When assessing the total cost of VDI, it’s also important not to forget about the security implications of VDI. The well-documented vulnerabilities of VPNs and the remote desktop protocol (RDP) create an attractive attack surface for malicious actors. And that can impact the bottom line as well. The Ponemon Institute’s Cost of a Data Breach Report 2021 found that the data breach costs jumped from $3.86 to $4.24 million year over year. That marks the highest average total cost in the report’s 17-year history. In breaches where remote work was a factor, the average cost was $1.07 million higher than cases where remote work wasn’t a factor.

VDI Alternatives

With all the hype surrounding cloud computing, desktop-as-a-service is often floated as a more agile, budget-friendly alternative to traditional on-premises VDI. Yet, as we’ve already seen, DaaS doesn’t magically make setup and licensing costs vanish. It also doesn’t drastically improve the user experience. AWS-based solutions like Amazon WorkSpaces or Azure-based ones like Windows Virtual Desktop/Azure Virtual Desktop might slightly reduce infrastructure deployment, but they still end up saddling both IT teams and end users with a lot of extra bells and whistles that they simply don’t need.

Compared to desktop virtualization, Virtual Application Delivery (VAD) has emerged as a far more sensible and right-sized solution in the vast majority of use cases. And Cameyo’s Virtual App Delivery platform realizes all the benefits of VAD. It allows any user on any device to access just the apps they need—quickly, easily and ultra-securely.

With Cameyo, IT teams can publish apps in a matter of minutes. Users can then access the full desktop version of those apps through a secure HTTPS-encrypted browser session, even on BYOD and mobile devices. That speed of provisioning and ease of use doesn’t just make Cameyo a right-sized alternative to VDI and DaaS. It also makes it incredibly cost-effective, and far more secure.

“Cameyo’s Virtual App Delivery platform provides us with cost savings in a variety of ways,” said Mario Zúñiga, IT Director, Digital Workplace at Sanmina, a Fortune 500 integrated manufacturing services leader. “Previously, with PC laptops, we’d have to purchase a new device, get that device set up, install all the applications and drivers, etc. Now we can just provide users with a Chromebook and they are up and running in minutes.”

Adam Nerell, Head of IT for Sweden’s Klarahill consortium, evaluated Cameyo against Citrix’s suite of virtual desktop products. “We were looking at tens of thousands of dollars just for the set up fees, and that’s without the actual cost of the product licenses, third-party infrastructure, and ongoing maintenance costs,” he said. “And all of that just to enable access to five critical apps! It became clear that the VDI or DaaS options were going to be far too costly and complex to be a feasible option.”

Testimonies like that are what led Computerworld to describe Cameyo as “the new alternative to Citrix.”

You don’t have to take their word for it, though. We offer a free, no-strings trial of Cameyo so you can evaluate the potential cost savings of virtual app delivery firsthand. If you’re willing to tell us a bit about your use case, you can also request a quote and see how a streamlined Cameyo deployment stacks up against the real cost of VDI or DaaS.