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Feature: The money question

Feature: The money question

The money question: Will virtual desktops be seen as a plausible cost saving technology in this economic downturn and get beyond its hyped past to some real uptake? If you ask the vendors the answer is unsurprisingly affirmative. The technology is now mature enough to be deployed en masse across broad sections of the economy and is attracting significant interest, they say. But throw in a couple of analysts and the responses get a lot more interesting. Back-end infrastructure costs and changes to business processes are just too pricey, their alternative view states. The final answer though, will not be locked in for many moons to come.

The nay sayers

One of the most vocal critics of the claims by virtual desktop vendors in Australia has been IBRS advisor, Dr Kevin McIsaac. For this analyst, there has been lots of misinformation about virtual desktops and the actual cost savings need to be proved.

“This misconception, or I should say, the misleading statements by the vendors indicate virtual desktops are cheaper. The truth of the matter is the organisations I have spoken to that have tried to implement it, tell me it is more expensive than their traditional desktops,” McIsaac said.

“So in a cost-conscious environment it will be harder to get going and for a few reasons. One, the overall TCO is perhaps more expensive or perhaps more the same. It is very hard to know as everybody’s TCO is different. But it requires a massive capital expenditure upfront and who has that?”

McIsaac also pointed to the differences between fat and thin clients, claiming there has been something of a misnomer the slimmer variety are cheaper.

“You go back and look at any of the Gartner studies and you’ll find that a best practice thin client is about 10 per cent cheaper than a best practice full client one. When you move to a virtual desktop, the amount of back-end hardware you need is much higher than you need for a traditional Citrix Terminal Services,” he noted.

“The reason is that with a virtual desktop you can only get about between five and six desktops per CPU core and when you are using Terminal Services you might be getting as high as 25. So back-end infrastructure costs can be quite high. The thin clients themselves, they might be slightly cheaper and you might be able to keep them a little longer but they’re not a big part of the overall cost. The software costs are pretty high and frankly, unless you do something very radical, and they are only just starting to talk about this now at Citrix and at VMware, operational costs are largely the same.”

The bottom line, for McIsaac is, if you want a lower TCO you need to change the way you manage and build the desktop image. Whether you do that with a full desktop, Terminal Services or VDI, doesn’t make a big difference.

“What you are starting to see now is, certainly Citrix but I’m not so sure about VMware, a new model for building the desktop image. You stream the operating system, you virtualise the application and then you separate out the user data and the application data out from the actual device. That is what you need to do, but that has nothing to do with virtual desktops,” he said.

Aside from the back-end costs inherent in migrating to a virtual desktop environment, companies also have to weigh up the issue of personalisation. Do they allow staff to customise the way their desktop appears? Do they restrict it and if so, what are the impacts? At first glance it may seem trivial, but take away a father’s photo of his child on the desktop or a designer’s workspace set-up and productivity may drop.


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