VDI Has Many Advantages and Challenges

It’s clear why government agencies should be using virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to reduce costs, increase security, and streamline operations. And many do indeed find advantages in the centralized and flexible nature of virtual desktops. A sizable minority, however, do not appear interested.

A recent study by the 1105 Public Sector Media Group found less than one quarter of respondents had little or no interest in VDI. Of those responding, fully 48 percent claimed the lack of a compelling business case, insufficient return-on-invest­ment (ROI), and unsatisfactory total-cost-of-ownership (TCO) as the main reason.

Nearly one third of the agencies surveyed cited other complaints about potential VDI deployment, including lack of funding, concerns about security, and end-user resistance. Federal agencies with larger desktop PC environments were mostly likely to cite lack of an ROI as the primary reason for that lack of interest.

VDI Is Not Without Its Challenges

That runs counter to many recent studies of the VDI market, which consistently find both ROI and TCO as the primary advantages when comparing traditional desk­tops to VDI environments. Market watcher Technavio, for example, estimates the TCO of on-premises VDI at around $950 and cloud-based VDI at $700, versus $1,150 for a traditional commercial PC desktop deployment.

However, the survey found even 36 percent of those agencies who do see the attraction of VDI and are considering deployment still rank lack of an ROI-based business case as a major concern. Show­ing that VDI does have that kind of TCO can prove dif­ficult. “It can be a challenging conversation if you just look at the upfront cost of a VDI installation,” says Troy Massey, director, enterprise engage­ments for Iron Bow. It’s a large investment when seen through the lens of the first year, which is the usual focus of technology procure­ments. And that makes it a tough sell.

However, that’s the wrong way to look at VDI. It’s not the same type of straightforward buy-and-replace program as traditional desktops. Desktops or laptops may be turned over every three years. In the case of VDI, much of the existing equipment can be repurposed, such as desktops going from local resources to being used as “thin client” desktops attached to centralized servers.

VDI Has Many Benefits

“So with VDI, you have to look at TCO and ROI as a 10-year investment,” says Massey. “A $500,000 price tag for VDI, which might seem prohibitive from that first year viewpoint, becomes much more attractive when looked at over 10 years.” That may be one of the main reasons the survey found the majority of those agencies considering or having already deployed VDI expect to increase budget allocations for VDI initiatives over the next 12 months. Only seven percent said they would cut their allocations.

Many of the current TCO and ROI models also take into account such things as cooling and electrical costs, as well as upfront capital expenditures. In its study of the VDI market, Technavio found with respect to ongoing operating expenditures, VDI can help cut energy consumption in an enterprise office environment by as much as 90 percent. A thin-client will consume around three to five watts, compared to a “full” desktop PC that can use as much as 100 watts over the same period. Many of these kinds of environmental savings only start to be realized around year three of a VDI deployment.

The problem for many of the agencies not yet considering or using VDI is that these more nuanced and longer-term reasons are difficult for IT to use when trying to justify investments to agency executives. For the most part, says Massey, technology refresh is still the best understood and easiest argument to use. So the potential for VDI remains relatively untapped.