VDI at the Desktop: Thin Clients or PCs for Better TCO?

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), a platform that uses various virtualization technology aspects to implement a rich IT platform through a central, virtualized back end that hosts virtual machines (VMs).

VDI architectures include everything from server virtualization to storage, application virtualization, connections, protocols and more. One of the last aspects of VDI typically considered is the desktop and its user.

VDI requires upfront costs, so by the time IT gets to the desktop side; further upfront costs need to be minimized. Keeping existing PCs appears to be “cheaper” then switching to thin clients for VDI. Is that really the case? Do thin clients or PCs for VDI have a better total cost of ownership (TCO)?

Comparing Desktop Hardware – Components, Factors, and Cost

A PC also known as a thick client, is comprised of a lot of components compared to a thin client. With each PC you have (at minimum) a hard drive, media ports, OS, applications and anti-virus software. Then a thin client only has the thin client OS and a small about of applications if required.

PCs typically have a 4 year expected life where thin clients have a 6 year expected life. The media ports and hard drive open up the possibilities for a security breach. At the same time the user then can install their software which also increases security risks. PCs are typically un-managed desktop devices limiting the security capabilities for the desktop user. Thin clients are locked down devices eliminated the users’ ability to download unless permitted and all devices can be managed through a thin client management console such as Echo.

When looking at hardware cost it’s simple. Thin Clients are cheaper then PCs. PCs typically start pricing at around $599. With thin clients, the cost per unit really depends on the unit each user requires. Someone whose daily tasks entail the use of simple applications such as outlook and they can use a device such as the Ceptor that will come in around $99. Where as a user that runs multiple applications continuously may require a more advanced device that supports high performance visuals such as the Veriton N2110G and comes in under $300.

Exploring the Cost per User for VDI

In most VDI deployments, organizations transition from PCs to thin clients over time. While every organization is different, we have typically seen around 1/3 of VDI users move to thin client devices and the other 2/3s utilize software options such as VDI Blaster. This software converts PCs that are towards the end of their life spans to make them (functionally) into thin clients.

Then there are software licensing costs that are always tough to estimate. Vendors have many different programs and license types and many customers are able to negotiate their own special pricing. However on average we see this cost is roughly $150 per user. But for Microsoft licensing, customers only need to purchase VDA licenses for the percentage of their devices that are thin clients or not covered under Microsoft SA licensing as they start replacing their PCs over time.

*The initial cost analysis that follows is based on 1/3 of the devices as thin clients and the other 2/3 as repurposed PCs.

Hardware Cost

  • Thin Client Software for Physical PCs (66% of devices) = $35 per repurposed PC
  • Thin Clients (33% of devices) = $200 per thin client
  • Average Cost Per User of Thin Client Device or Software = $66 ($200 x 33% of users) + $23 ($35 x 66%) = $89 per user

Licensing Costs

  • VDI Software = $150 per user
  • Microsoft VDA License (33% of devices) = $33 per user

Overall VDI Initial Cost per User Comparison

Thin Client

Thin Client Comparison Chart

PC

PC Comparison Chart


When creating VDI environment, no one environment is the same and each will have different requirements and priorities. The process itself can be time consuming and complex. It is extremely important to look at all the technologies and aspects involved right down to the desktop. Request a more complete TCO analysis on your specific environment. We take real company data and give you a report as shown below.


Sample VDI Assessment & TCO Calculation
Sample of TCO Calculator

Also for other things to look out for in a VDI deployment check out our Infographic: 11 Steps to Roll-Out a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure.

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