In the last post of my VDI series, I discussed the Microsoft's VDI licensing. Since VDI is licensed per year, it will get more expensive than traditional desktop licensing in the long run. However, we all know that licensing costs are more or less negligible when it comes to calculating the TCO (Total Costs of Ownership).
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People often think that desktop virtualization, like server virtualization, is a way to reduce costs in IT. I think, this is a misunderstanding, which I will try to clear up in this post. I will also say a few words about the so-called Microsoft VDI tax debate.
VDI hardware costs
The typical thin client argument that your client hardware can be less powerful and, therefore, cheaper doesn't count when it comes to VDI because you need expensive additional server hardware for VDI. Obviously, your server infrastructure needs a lot more horsepower than with session virtualization (Terminal Server) because each user runs a virtual machine with a full-blown operating system on the server.
This is also true if you take into account that virtualization technology allows you to use resources more efficiently. 1GB RAM for a desktop PC is so much cheaper than 1GB RAM for a server that all this resource sharing can't compensate. Of course, this does not only apply to memory but to every little chip or screw in your servers. Servers are expensive. Very!
Nevertheless analysts often claim that you can reduce hardware costs with VDI. However, I have never seen a concrete calculation that would really prove this. Such claims are usually based on interviews with CIOs who introduced VDI. But do you really think that a CIO would admit that costs were raised because of his decision? Excel is a very useful application. Change a number here and a number there, and you get exactly the result you wanted.
VDI and central management
The central management benefits that VDI appears to offer are often overestimated. Since end users need hardware to access their virtual desktops, you still have to manage devices outside your datacenter. And because maintaining a VDI environment is technically even more complex than traditional desktop management, I have serious doubts that you can reduce software management costs just because your desktops are running in the datacenter.
When it comes to central management, it is relatively unimportant if all your desktops are in a central place. Central management means that the admin — not the desktops — is at the center. That said, central desktop management was introduced long ago when we gave up sneaker administration. A desktop is a desktop, virtual or physical. Whether you deploy an OS image through Ethernet or Fiber Channel makes no big difference.
VDI and flexibility
Even Microsoft acknowledges that VDI can't help you reduce costs:
VDI does not reduce desktop costs because it can represent a significant up-front investment in infrastructure, including hardware, software, storage, and network.
Believe me, if a Microsoft marketer admits that you can't reduce costs with a certain Microsoft product, it is really true. So why would you need VDI if you can't reduce costs?
It is the extra flexibility that VDI has to offer, i.e. the ability for end users to access their desktop environment from everywhere, that makes this technology interesting. And of course, flexibility always has its price. Thus VDI can improve productivity in some environments. But this improved productivity comes with higher costs.
The VDI tax
Some rumors are going around that Microsoft only axed VECD because they now have their own VDI products. Thus, VECD for SA customers was considered as a VDI tax to impede rivals such as VMware that entered the VDI market long before Microsoft.
Considering that Microsoft didn't take VDI serious until recently, it is more likely they just saw VECD as an additional way to cash in some license fees. I mean, they did the same thing with Terminal Server, so why not with VDI? The philosophy behind this strategy is, if you want to use Microsoft software in an environment with enhanced capabilities, you should also pay more.
The point is that third-party VDI solutions were competing with Microsoft Terminal Server, which Microsoft always viewed as a form of desktop virtualization. And since you have to pay extra fees if you want to run Windows in a Terminal Server environment, then you also have to pay for VDI. Of course, the part that Microsoft's VDI competitors disliked was that customers had to pay extra licenses for capabilities provided by software that wasn’t developed by Microsoft.
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But why did Microsoft reduce the costs for desktop virtualization even though they added this new VDI technology to Windows Server 2008 R2? I think, it is simply because now, as Microsoft has VDI products, someone in Redmond has spent a little more time with calculating the overall VDI costs and realized how damn expensive the whole thing is. Thus, reducing at least the licensing costs was the most natural thing to do because otherwise all these new wonderful VDI products would just be non-sellers.