Blog post

Attacking the High Costs of Desktop Virtualization: Part 1

By Gunnar Berger | September 03, 2013 | 9 Comments

I’ve been out and about a lot this year presenting my researching on “Attacking the High Costs of Desktop Virtualization” and although I could give this presentation in my sleep I realized after my presentation at Gartner Catalyst that I needed to address a question that has come up in every presentation during Q/A:

What about the license cost for Microsoft?

I’m not sure why I didn’t address this question earlier. I talk about it in my research but when I present on it I skip over it. Maybe I’m externalizing an internal debate “there is nothing I can do about it so why bother” the problem is that’s Gunnar Berger talking, not Research Director at Gartner, Gunnar Berger. At some point before VMworld I decided that its my job, as a voice in the industry, to fight for my clients and to say out loud what they say to me in private. So I took to the stage with my traditional material on VDI cost (storage, storage and more storage) and I added something new: #FixVDA!

#FixVDA is simple to understand in a single hashtag: something is broken in the Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) license and needs to be fixed. I created a couple slides in my presentation that pointed to some of the fundamental flaws of this license. The first slide points to the exponential cost difference between using Windows Server “as a desktop” utilizing the RDS CAL versus using Windows Client OS as a desktop:


Then I summed up this cost difference in a few words:


There are a lot of things that have caused virtual desktop technology to stall in its adoption. However as I point out in my presentation, many of these things (storage/clients/software) are cost driven and are being addressed. As a whole, VDI is getting closer to the point where a virtual desktop is cost equivalent to a physical desktop. I believe the game changer in this industry happens when it is common knowledge that a virtual desktop is cheaper than a physical desktop. That’s what happened with servers, that hasn’t happened with desktops… at least not yet. To get there we need lots of vendors to work together to make this stuff more cost effective but one thing we really need is for Microsoft to get on board.

I have some thoughts as to how this can be done, but for this first blog I wanted to summarize that which I have already said.

Gunnar Berger


See Part 2

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  • Guise Bule says:

    Good article, short, sweet and makes the right points.

    I have to say Gunnar that it makes a VDI man happy to see an esteemed member of Gartner raise the issue of VDA.

    You are right, its been broken for a long time and it makes absolutely zero sense, it just screws VDI early adopters and customers.

    You have my support. #FixVDA

  • Carl Stalhood says:

    Doesn’t VDA include software assurance whereas RDS CAL does not? For a fairer comparison, you would need to add software assurance to the cost of an RDS CAL.

    Also, with RDS, you need Windows Server licenses – typically Windows Server Datacenter for each hypervisor host physical processor. With VDA, no Microsoft licensing is needed on the hypervisor host.

    If Windows on the client device is covered under software assurance then you can completely skip VDA licensing. This is not possible with RDS CALs.

    What bothers me is deployments where users connect to both RDS and VDI. I wish one license could be used for both.

    • Gunnar Berger says:

      You have a good point but not all orgs get (or should get) SA on their desktops. Regardless the cost difference for SA on RDS would be $150 with a YOY of about $40, so it would still be 60% less to use Server. Your second point is something I bring up when I speak publicly about Server vs Client and it will be something I cover in my forthcoming research. There is a cost to the Server OS, however I was discussing the cost of “accessing the OS” IE RDS Client Access License (CAL) not the OS itself. To get a cost of the OS itself I’ll do some very basic math.

      Lets say we can do 150 VMs on a box and I use Datacenter for that box at a list price of roughly $6000 (LIST mind you). That’s $40 for the first year per VM. Now most orgs pay 30% for SA on that so 30% of $40 = $12 YOY. In this case you have SA on your server for $12 YOY verse VDA of $100 YOY. You could increase you SA cost and add it to RDS making it a grand total of $42 YOY, which is still significantly cheaper than VDA (but I’m not sure, without knowing the business case, if I would bother with SA on an RDS CAL). Furthermore I did that on an estimated list price, street price tends to be much better. No matter how you slice this stuff up VDA is much higher than Server OS.

      On your final point, that is EXACTLY what I’m going to get into in my next blog. I agree, one license should be used for both. Businesses are using it for the same purpose, so it would be nice if Microsoft created a license that treated Client OS as an equal citizen, more to come here.

      BTW: Thank you for your questions they are very good ones that I skipped because I was trying to keep my blog short and to the point. There is a lot more we could discuss on how these two approaches can be licensed, I’m not going to have that conversation on my blog though, that will happen through research.

  • Carl Stalhood says:

    With your example pricing, initial capital per user is: $100 (RDS CAL) + $40 (RDS SA 1st year) + $40 (Windows Data Center) + $12 (Windows Server SA 1st year) = $192.

    Subsequent years = $12 (Windows Server SA) + $40 (RDS SA) = $52 per year.

    RDS total cost for three years = $296.

    VDA total cost for three years = $300

    It’s not until year 4 when the costs diverge.

    • Gunnar Berger says:

      Based on those numbers that is accurate, real world numbers tell a very different story. I can’t post “street price” but I’d encourage you to look at a traditional discount on this stuff. (If your a client, give me a call, it gets really interesting when you look at the hard numbers).

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