The Costs of Implementing a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure for your Clients

By now, I am sure all of you are convinced of the cost and convenience savings of virtualizing your client’s server infrastructure. If you have hardware refresh plans for any of your clients, at one point you must have thought “What about VDI?” VDI of course is virtual desktop infrastructure and it allows you to extend the benefits you have gained with server virtualization to your user’s workstations.

When I initially looked into VDI, it was a cacophony of different choices and required multiple servers. All in all, it didn’t look like a good fit for SMB IT. Most VDI solutions require a SAN (which tend to cost a lot of money), multiple hyper-visors, load-balancers and separate gateway servers. All of that equipment is not going to save your SMB clients money and alleviate management hassle for you.  One solution I came across that fits very well for small clients is “VDI in a box” from Citrix. Purchased from Kaviza in 2011, “VDI in a box” is a single server solution that scales well, designed for the SMB market. You can start with one box (no SAN required!) and add more as you need. This makes planning and deploying virtualization for desktops very easy and affordable.

“VDI in a Box’s” grid architecture makes scaling easy. It is as simple as plugging in another “VDI in a Box” server on the network and configuring it. Load balancing is automatic and seamless. The grid can also provide redundancy to your VDI solution. The question is, how much does it cost to install a VDI solution for a small business? Let’s do the math for a 20 user setup:

The retail price of a perpetual “VDI in a box” license is $160.00 / user. The minimum purchase is 10 user licenses but since we need 20, that is not a problem. Cost for “VDI in a Box” Licenses – $3200.00

Support from Citrix is $35.00 per year/per user license.

Then we need our operating system to virtualize. Windows 7 Professional volume licenses come in around $150.00 each, so we are looking at $3000.00 for that.

For all our software licensing costs, we are sitting at $6200.00. Not too bad.

Now we need some hardware to run all of this software on. We obviously need a thin client of some form. A thin client is a computer that relies on a server to fulfill its computational needs. Since we do not need a lot of power, you can save a lot of money reusing old desktop computers of your clients.

If you use the existing desktops your client already has, you have zero cost for thin clients. Remember that the speed of the machines isn’t really an issue, so just about anything should do.

If you are interested in thin client workstations, 10Zig has a lot of certified “VDI in a Box” thin client machines, with a price tag under $200.00. If you want to get really fancy, check out the Jack PC - 

The last hardware requirement we have is a server to host the VDI solution.

Server requirements for “VDI in a Box” are as follows:

A Hypervisor – Either Citrix XenServer, Microsoft Hyper-V or VMWare VSphere.

Hardware requirements obviously depend on what kind of work your clients are doing on their virtualized desktops, but you should comfortably be able to get 10 desktops per CPU core and require around 512 – 2GB of ram for each desktop. 1 TB of disk space should be enough to comfortably sit 10 – 30 desktops.

For this example, I am going to pick a Dell PowerEdge R710. The PowerEdge R710 comes in just under $6000.00. We will have to add the cost of hard drives on top of that. For a basic setup, I will add 3 – 600 GB 10K SAS Drives to put into a RAID 5 Array. So with this setup, we have all the components needed to create a basic VDI solution. You may want to consider two servers, as the main downsite of VDI solutions is the single point of failure (server goes down, everyone’s workstation goes down) as the grid adds redundancy and load balancing automatically.

Let’s take a look at our costs for a really basic VDI solution for 20 users:

VDI in a box licenses: $3200.00

Windows Volume Licenses: $3000.00

Poweredge R710: $6000.00

Citrix XenServer: Free!

3 – 600 GB 10 K SAS Drives (RAID 5) – $1737.00

Total Cost per desktop: just under $700.00 if you use the existing desktops as thin clients.

Add an additional $200 to the cost per desktop if you want to purchase thin client machines for each desktop.

So the costs are pretty comparable to a physical desktop refresh. Once you have the VDI solution implemented, there will be cost savings when adding more desktops. Another benefit is that desktop maintenance has become a whole lot easier for your company, making your managed services contracts a lot more valuable. You and your team will also love deploying new desktops from a single image effortlessly and adore the simplified backup scenario.

Your clients will love additional features like accessing their virtual desktops from an iPad or iPhone (), increased mobility and enhanced data security.

VDI also aids in implementing a “bring your own pc” hardware programs and telecommuting for your clients.